A recent Willis Towers Watson survey paints a not so stellar report on employee views of workplace health and well-being programs; however, it may not be all that surprising to many. Only 1/3 of employees globally responded that their employers’ programs have helped them live healthier lives, with only 2 in 5 stating that employer programs met their needs. What is noted as more concerning, is that in the U.S. employees have become more negative over time – that’s despite the strong focus on health and well-being.

A whopping 74% – 3/4ths of those surveyed – prefer to manage their health and well-being on their own; however, still state that it is important for employers to encourage healthier lifestyle choices.

The question is then, why the contradictions? Actually, the message is loud and clear that employees want opportunity, a motivating environment, coaching, and autonomy. Based on recent lawsuits and employee backlash, they don’t want prying, coercion, or meddling from their employer. It really isn’t all that surprising.

Below is a list of other findings from the survey, with a few hints at solutions to such dismal reactions to workplace health and well-being initiatives. The list provides a window as to why the results aren’t contradictory. The items on the list include more choice and flexibility, financial security, a more robust multi-dimensional approach to well-being, and leveraging the work environment.

The other contributing issues worth considering is the recent publicity related to carrot and stick incentives, a perception of an invasion of privacy related to annual biometric screenings and health risk assessments, and whether or not ‘voluntary’ wellness programs are in fact voluntary with such high incentives attached to participate. It seems that the obvious issue isn’t encouraging healthy lifestyles and making healthier choices easier, but rather ‘managing employee health’ that is the concern.

Simple changes may be enough to encourage healthier lifestyle choices without invading privacy:

  • Begin eliminating all carrot and stick – punishments and rewards – for participating or not participating in wellness programs; or worse – having to meet imposed outcomes.
  • Consider ending annual biometric screenings and health risk assessments for open enrollment or at least changing how these are implemented.
  • Implement a robust, multi-dimensional wellness model.
  • Include the work environment – the physical, social and psychological environment – as part of the wellness program. Employees can’t be well if the environment isn’t well. The two are inextricably connected.
  • Consider establishing an occupational health center and offering well-being coaching initiatives.
  • Review the recent decision regarding the AARP’s lawsuit against the EEOC regarding the definition of voluntary.

Other Willis Towers Watson Health & Well-Being Findings:

  1. Employees – particularly younger employees – want more benefit choices. Those with choice and flexibility today are twice as likely to feel their benefit program meets their needs.
  2. In many countries, employees are increasingly concerned about their finances, both immediate and long term.
  3. More than one-fifth of employees expect to still be working at age 70 or later. Over 60% say their employer retirement plan is their primary means of saving for retirement.
  4. Employees look to their employers for support in improving their health and well-being, and becoming more financially secure.
  5. Although companies are responding with programs that support physical, emotional, financial and social well-being, employees are lukewarm about what they have seen so far.
  6. Employee engagement in well-being programs remains low. Employers could likely boost engagement by designing programs that leverage the workplace environment and promote the use of new technologies.

Contact us for a link to the Full Report.