Employees of small businesses who want help losing weight or making sure that their blood-sugar levels are not off the charts are increasingly turning to their employers for assistance, a new study on workplace wellness finds.
U.S. workers seem especially keen on wellness offerings that can help them slim down and get into shape, according to a Principal Financial Group survey conducted by Harris Interactive that was released Wednesday. The Principal Financial Well-Being Index survey honed in on employees at small and midsize U.S. businesses that employ anywhere from 10 to 1,000 employees.
The number of workers who used weight-management programs offered by employers rose dramatically to 53 percent this year, a 25 percent boost over last year. Weight-loss-related benefits were also among the top-three most desired perks, according to the survey, which found that 27 percent of respondents wanted their employer to offer fitness facilities. Twenty-four percent wanted fitness-center discounts, and 17 percent wanted to see a weight-management program instituted at the office.
“Americans in general are more aware of the impact of obesity on their health,” explained Lee Dukes, president of Principal Wellness Company, a subsidiary of the Principal Financial Group. “Employers and employees are asking for these programs more than in the past. Also, these programs are easy to implement and readily available.”
This trend of staffers seeking greater company involvement in health is also evident by the 68 percent who took advantage of their employer’s personalized action plan for high-risk conditions, a 21 percentage point rise over last year, and the increase in the number of workers who took advantage of blood-sugar screenings from 66 percent in 2009 to 84 percent in 2010. Dukes said the sharp increase in the percentage of workers seeking out wellness benefits “is indicative of Americans’ greater sense of personal responsibility towards their own health.”
It also shows that given rising health care costs and greater awareness of illnesses like diabetes and heart disease, Americans are taking advantage of any deals they can get when it comes to staying healthy.
For small businesses, investing in wellness programs can actually save money, experts say, because healthier employees file fewer claims, suffer less work-related injuries, and are more productive overall. Generally, though, small businesses have fewer resources when it comes to offering such initiatives. They instead often rely on programs offered by local hospitals or, in more recent years, their health care plans, although the latter is often limited to a wellness website.
Because their health insurance plans are often less flexible, small employers have fewer options for incentives tied to the health plan, but they can still use premium reductions, health savings account, and health reimbursement account contributions to encourage wellness.
Some of the survey’s other key findings:
• For 43 percent of workers at small-to-medium businesses “achieving better overall health” was their prime reason for participating in wellness programs.
• Other workers were worried about doctor bills, with 33 percent indicating that “reduced personal health costs” were their prime motivation for taking part in a workplace wellness program.
• Asked if wellness benefits motivated them to work harder and perform better, 43 percent of employees agreed with the statement and nearly half (48 percent) said that benefits encourage them to stay with their employer, although 36 percent said it had no impact on whether they would stay on at a job, and 16 percent disagreed with the idea that wellness would help their company retain them.
• More than one third—38 percent of workers surveyed—attributed wellness programs to having improved energy and productivity at work, and 28 percent said they missed fewer workdays as a result of being part of a wellness program.
While it may seem more difficult, working in a smaller company can also be an advantage.
“There’s often a tight-knit culture where things like wellness catch on more easily,” Dukes says. “One of the best tips we can give to small employers is to find out what their employees want. Because of the culture, these employers can benefit from identifying wellness champions within the company. Employers should also ensure there’s continuity and year-round effort for wellness so it stays top of mind.”
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