Your employer wants you at your best, and 61 percent of companies have put their money where their mouth is, according to a recent human resources survey, funding wellness programs that aim to keep employees healthy and happy.
Here are some of the most common wellness benefits offered, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and other health and fitness sources, along with some tips from an expert to get the most out of them.1
Wellness resources and information
Ranging from websites to videos to e-newsletters with tips and advice to improve your health, these informational resources are offered by 72 percent of employers, according to SHRM. Some companies create their own in-house publications, focusing on employees and their successes. Others, created by third-parties like American Cancer Society, provide scientifically vetted information on general wellness as well as ways to motivate the pursuit of better health.
“There is a wealth of information for employees, a lot more than what people think,” said Anne Marie Ludovici-Connolly, a nationally recognized employee well-being expert, author, and consultant for the Segal Group. In an interview, she suggested employees read the emails that come from their benefits department, follow them on social media, and “if newsletters and publications are mailed to your home, share them with your entire family.”
On-site seasonal flu vaccinations
If you’re concerned about the flu, the good news is that getting vaccinated lowers the risk by 40-60 percent, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).2 Many health insurance providers don’t charge for flu vaccinations. But you would still have to take time from your schedule to visit your doctor or clinic. On-site employer flu vaccinations and clinics included in an employer's benefit plan provide a convenient solution.
“Clinics usually follow the open enrollment cycles,” said Ludovici-Connolly. “They’re very convenient, so they’ll save you time and could reduce risk of the flu.”
A full 50 percent of companies offer training that can help employees save a life, according to SHRM. It’s a skill that can pay off at work, at home, or anywhere you find yourself. It’s a wellness benefit that extends beyond yourself.
24-Hour nurse line
For 69 percent of employees, a skilled nurse or provider is never more than a phone call away under their wellness plan, offering free, confidential medical help, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.3
Obviously, employees should call 9-1-1 or go to an emergency room for life-threatening situations. But if you’re not sure whether to see a doctor, visit an urgent care clinic, or try an over-the-counter remedy, it’s nice to have the option of giving a nurse line a call. Many health insurance providers put a phone number on the back of their ID cards.
Annual Health Risk Assessment (HRA)
For an accurate understanding of your health, this questionnaire collects information on demographics, lifestyle, family medical history, physiological data (like height, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol) and your willingness to make changes. The assessment should be followed up with feedback, usually through a printed or online report.
“If you’re at high risk, you may get a call directly from a health coach or nurse who can provide tailored information,” said Ludovici-Connolly.
Completing an HRA each year gives you and your medical provider a starting point toward better health. here's another plus – 50 percent of companies that offer HRAs under their wellness benefit plans also offer financial and other incentives to complete the self-assessment, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Related: How a personal health record can lower costs)
For those concerned about confidentiality, Ludovici-Connolly noted “the work is usually performed by a third party or your health insurance provider who has to adhere to the HIPA Act, which protects patient privacy.”
Financial rewards for wellness participation
In addition to offering incentives for completing an HRA, 41 percent of employers offer financial incentives for participation and/or completion of wellness programs, according to SHRM.
These incentives can boost interest, and help employees take the first step toward better health. “People need three times more pros than cons to motivate them to action,” said Ludovici-Connolly. So even if it doesn’t seem like a large incentive dollarwise, it’s essentially like getting paid to care more about your health.”
Smoking cessation programs
More than 50 years after the U.S. Surgeon General released the first report chronicling the health risks of tobacco, people are still trying to quit smoking.
“The average smoker who wants to quit will have to try seven times before being successful,” said Ludovici-Connolly.
Fortunately, 41 percent of employers offer smoking cessation programs, according to the SHRM survey. The programs come in many forms, from telephone support and online programs to support groups and Nicotine Anonymous.
“Don’t let past failure cloud your judgment; you have much better efficacy with a program compared to trying on your own,” said Ludovici-Connolly. “If your employer offers nicotine patches, which can be very costly, take advantage of them along with a program for best outcomes. Even getting all of the information on the offerings is a good first step toward quitting."
Health and lifestyle coaching
Anyone who’s ever played a team sport or worked with a trainer in a gym can appreciate the motivational value a coach brings. Health and lifestyle coaches, offered under some wellness programs, are people with special training to support employees pursuing lifestyle changes. A coach will likely not only motivate you, but provide education and help structure a plan that is likely to be followed.
Through a series of questions, a coach can help you understand the underlying causes for your current lifestyle, health, and attitudes.
“It’s OK if you’re not ready to change all of the identified behaviors, maybe change one or two. This could help prevent a chronic condition,” said Ludovici-Connolly.
Employer health fairs are events where your benefits team brings in health and wellness professionals: representatives from your insurance provider, nutrition experts, fitness professionals and even local businesses. One obvious benefit of health fairs is that you get to talk to providers face to face, giving you information and advice quickly.
Preventive programs for chronic health issues
The CDC reports that about half of all the country’s adults suffer from at least one chronic illness, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, or arthritis.4 But the good news is that many issues are preventable or treatable through lifestyle changes and medication.
Through various employer offerings you’ll find suggestions to get more exercise, reduce sodium intake, eat a healthy diet, quit smoking, and cut back on alcohol consumption.
If you’re hesitant because you and your doctor are already working together, Ludovici-Connolly suggested you reconsider.
“This is day-to-day help that can build on a doctor’s treatment,” she said. “And there are tips and advice he or she may be too busy to discuss during your office visit.”
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This article was first published in October 2016. It has been updated.
1 Society for Human Resource Management, “2016 Employee Survey: Looking Back at 20 Years of Employee Benefits Offerings in the U.S.”, June 20, 2016.
2 Centers for Disease Control, “Vaccine Effectiveness —How Well Does the Flu Vaccine Work?” August 31, 2016.
3 Kaiser Family Foundation, “2019 Employer Health Benefits Survey,” September 25, 2019.
4 Centers for Disease Control, “Chronic Diseases: The Leading Causes of Death and Disability in the United States,” February 23, 2016.