The availability of wellness programs to improve employee physical health has risen significantly among employers from 27 percent in 2005 to 44 percent in 2011, and wellness program expansion has also grown year-over-year, especially at larger companies, according to the 10th Annual MetLife Study of Employee Benefits Trends.
Expanding Wellness to Include Financial Wellness
“We’ve seen a number of employers opting for financial wellness programs after examining their employee health data. The term financial wellness was relatively unknown ten years ago, but progressive employers now recognize the effect of workforce financial health on productivity and health costs, so the definition has expanded to include financial wellness,” says Lockton’s Director of Health Risk Management Kate Hansum.
Today’s wellness programs include lifestyle management programs and healthy exercise challenges with employee teams formed to drive engagement. Progressive employers now also make sure healthy employees stay healthy, using new ways to engage Gen-Xers like gamification health challenges, says Hansum.
“The need to control spiraling health care costs during a recession drives these program implementations, as do lifestyle issues—employee health continues to decline due to poor diet, risky behaviors and unprecedented levels of workforce obesity, heart disease, hypertension and high cholesterol,” she adds.
Calculating the Cost of Financial Insecurity
Many employers recognize that a distracted, stressed workforce is less likely to perform at desired levels if preoccupied with money worries. In this regard, progressive employers seem more aware of the effect this has on company productivity and health costs.
The MetLife report notes that employee financial stress contributes to employee absences and health problems, while increasing company health care costs and decreasing employee productivity.
Respondents who agree that wellness initiatives could reduce employee health costs and absences also agreed that wellness programs should include a component to help workers manage financial stress. Three programs for financial wellness incorporate counseling, investment advice and health education.
I. Counseling For Stress & Depression
In terms of the recession and its impact on personal financial security, the report says nearly two out of three Americans now feel the ability to achieve the American dream is no longer within their control, and nearly two-thirds of workers report financial and/or job-related stress—concerns which translate into greater distractions at work. Counseling could help, but many workers won’t ask for it, Hansum explains:
“Workers feel stress due to the number of lost jobs. Folks are doing two jobs at work, and staying in them because they’re afraid to leave. Unfortunately, this leads to a stress and depression cycle, where stress leads to depression. Our data indicates increased prevalence and cost arising from these factors, with many instances underreported. Many won’t go to a doctor for risk factors like stress and depression, even though it may lead to chronic disease.”
II. Investment Advice for Financial Wellness
Making sure employees are investing the right way is another way to offset financial insecurity. Hansum describes a proactive approach where workers, especially younger workers, receive a call from a benefits financial advisor, who could help them set aside the right amount of savings in proportion to what they earn.
“Many workers don’t even know how to choose basic pay deductions, so assigning financial counselors to the employee population is useful to reduce financial stress. A counselor can help workers to take a more holistic view of their financial future,” she says.
III. Health Risk Cost Education
Education about health risk cost implications is another approach to financial wellness. Hansum concludes: “Workers need to understand the true cost of letting themselves go and not paying attention to chronic risk factors. They need to understand that they’re going to wind up spending double or triple the amount of the healthy person next to him or her. They need to understand the financial implications of increased out of pocket costs, higher premiums, deductibles and copays that come from requiring more healthcare. The more healthcare services they require the more they will pay.”
Thoughts? What’s your experience with financial wellness programs? Share your comments below, and feel free to reach out to me at RRuotolo@Lockton.com if I can be of further assistance.