Employer health and well-being initiatives fall short with employees, Willis Towers Watson survey finds

Employers overestimate impact of programs and incentives on their employees’ health behavior

Annandale, Virginia, UNITED STATES

ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 22, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) --

Despite U.S. employers and employees placing a high priority on health and well-being, employees say that employer efforts are falling short of employees’ expectations, according to research from leading global advisory, broking and solutions company Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ:WLTW). A majority of employers (56%) believe their well-being programs have encouraged employees to live a healthier lifestyle. Only 32% of employees agree.

Both employers and employees start with similar views on the importance of health. According to the Willis Towers Watson 2017 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey, nearly two-thirds of employees (65%) surveyed say managing their health is a top priority. At the same time, 87% of employers who participated in the 22nd annual Willis Towers Watson Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey say increasing employee engagement in health and well-being is a top priority. 

“Employers remain committed to their health and well-being programs because they understand the advantages of having a healthy and engaged workforce,” said Shelly Wolff, a senior health care consultant at Willis Towers Watson. “However, employers understand that existing approaches have not been effective and so are looking at new directions to change employees’ health behaviors.”

Employees in poor health are twice as likely to be disengaged at work and take almost three times as many days off as employees who are in very good health. The research shows employers have been using programs with significant financial incentives and believe employees are on board with this approach as 54% of employees say their employers should financially reward them for living a healthy lifestyle. Increasingly, though, employees say they would participate only if offered incentives: 46% currently versus 35% in 2011.    

“More employees are looking at financial incentives as an entitlement, which means it can be difficult for employers to take the incentives away. Yet, our research and experience show these rewards are not effective except when used in specific ways, such as discrete tasks that offer an immediate payout,” said Steve Nyce, a senior economist at Willis Towers Watson. “We suggest that employers rethink how their programs are designed and incented to create longer-term behavior changes. Employees do not want to be told what to do; rather, they want to be supported with programs that lead to improved well-being. It’s an essential balance that’s not very easy to achieve.”

To do so, employers can leverage technology in their health and well-being programs, policies and culture. The survey found three in five employees use technology to manage their health. Just over four in 10 (41%) use wearables to monitor fitness activity or sleep while 30% use technology to track eating habits. 

“Online tools are critical in helping employees of all ages make decisions about health care choices in a complex market,” noted Cara McNulty, a senior health care consultant at Willis Towers Watson. “The real change, however, will come from point solutions that connect with individuals. Technology can be key to integrate these programs that link multiple areas of an employee’s life and help to create a consumer-grade experience that is critical to attracting employees and sustaining employee engagement.”

Employers can improve health behavior through designing the workplace environment to make it easier for employees to stay fit, eat well, breathe fresh air and address stress. Many employers are also offering onsite or near-site services, which are effective avenues to boost their health and well-being initiatives. The survey found that providing onsite or near-site services is valued so highly by employees that they respond positively to their employer’s broader well-being initiatives as a result. For example, 58% of employees whose employers offer onsite or near-site well-being programs agree their employers’ overall initiatives meet their needs versus 25% whose employers do not offer these programs.

“Onsite services and activities have a halo effect by generating positive perceptions and engagement around other aspects of an employer’s health and well-being program, even for those not directly affected or even using those services or activities. This is a critical component for employers that want to build a healthy workplace culture,” added Nyce.  

“If there was ever a time for employers to rethink their approach to well-being, it’s now. High-performing companies are already revamping their approaches by targeting chronic conditions, evaluating the workplace environment to better support well-being and using social networks to engage employees more effectively. We fully expect other employers will begin to adopt new approaches that examine workforce generational needs, target and personalize programs, and emphasize flexibility and mobilization to meet employees where they are,” concluded Wolff.

About the surveys

The 2017 Willis Towers Watson Global Benefits Attitudes Survey examines attitudes toward the health and retirement benefits of over 30,000 private sector employees in 22 countries. A total of 4,983 U.S. workers participated in the survey, which was conducted in July and August 2017.

The 22nd annual Willis Towers Watson Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey was completed by 698 U.S. employers between June and July 2017 and reflects respondents’ 2017 health program decisions and strategies. Respondents collectively employ 11.9 million employees and operate in all major industry sectors. Results provided are based on 555 employers with at least 1,000 employees.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ:WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has more than 40,000 employees serving more than 140 countries. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential. Learn more at willistowerswatson.com.

Media contact

Ed Emerman: +1 609 275 5162