Mhlnews 3618 Health

How to Help Employees Stay Healthy in 2015

Jan. 22, 2015
Incentives and wearable technology are spurring employees to make healthier lifestyle choices.

As 2015 kicks off, so too does the annual search for new ideas to help employees stay healthy. The good news is that these efforts are appreciated by employees and are getting results. 

Employees who work for companies that have a strong emphasis on health are happier with their lives (66% versus 32% at companies where health is less of a priority). They also were less likely (25% versus 49%) to report that stress has a negative impact on their work, according to a study from Aon Hewitt.

Not surprisingly these happier employees are much more willing to participate in activities that could help them maintain and improve their health. Seventy-two percent had an annual physical in the past year, and 62% exercised at least three days a week, compared to just 64% and 49%, respectively, of employees at organizations with weak cultures of health consciousness. Seventy-seven percent participated in wellness programs, compared to just 46% of those employed at companies where health is not a high priority.

Part of this success can be linked to the willingness of employers to use incentive-based programs. While the numbers for this year aren't out yet, the National Business Group on Health estimates that corporate employers spent an average of $594 per employee on wellness-based incentives in 2014. This amount would represent an increase of 15% from the average of $521 reported for 2013, and is more than double the average of $260 reported five years ago. 

The use of incentives will play a large role in the next evolution of healthcare as technology is expected to burst through to the forefront of wellness programs over the next few years. Wearable technology in the form of fit bands and smart watches is just beginning to be adopted. And if an employer were to provide a wearable that streams anonymous data to a database in exchange for breaks on insurance premiums, 68% of employees would sign up, according to a survey by PwC. 

What benefits do consumers see in this technology? 

Expectations are quite high, as 56% believe that the average life expectancy will grow by 10 years due to wearable-enabled monitoring of vital signs, according to a 2014 survey by HRI/CIS. Wearing these devices will decrease obesity by allowing the measurement of exercise and nutrition, say 46% of the survey respondents. 

From an employers' perspective the gathering of this analytical data could lead to a variety of new ways of increasing health as well as reducing costs. One such example would be remote patient monitoring. Data gathered could also support outcomes-based reimbursement, a subject under discussion in healthcare circles.

How can employers create this culture?

Here are a few suggestions from the Consumer Health Mindset survey:

  • Employers should demonstrate that they support workplace initiatives that improve employee health, not only those that might save money. According to the report, 94% of employees in organizations with strong cultures of health say health and wellness programs are a good business investment, while only 60% of those in weak cultures agree. 
  • Actively encourage healthy activities during the workday. Companies should think through a day in the life of their employees and identify and remove barriers to good health choices and habits. For example, they may allow employees to attend wellness programs during work hours, incorporate walking and standing meetings or provide access to foods that are healthy and drive creative energy to support employee focus and performance. 
  • Recognize progress and results. Recognition had the fourth highest influence in driving perceptions of a strong health culture in the report. Conversely, the lack of recognition had the second highest impact in driving perceptions of weak culture of health. Companies should celebrate employees who have made significant health strides.

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