Your employer wants you at your best, with most companies putting their money where their mouth is, funding wellness programs designed to improve and promote health and fitness. According to Zippia, an online career research company, 83 percent of large companies (those with 200 or more employees) offer wellness programs, as do 58 percent of companies with 3-199 employees.1
Traditional wellness benefits range from informational resources, like newsletters and intranets to on-site vaccinations, smoking cessation programs and round-the-clock hotline access to medical professionals.
“Wellness programs fundamentally have two drivers: reducing healthcare costs for the employer and improving workforce happiness. Both goals are achieved when wellness programs are successfully designed and administered,” said Allyson Hay, a human resource expert and consultant for Innovo Benefits Group.
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 the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM).2 Some companies create their own publications, either in-house, or with the help of a benefits broker.
“Since people’s needs constantly change ― especially though the pandemic ― we provide employers with content that is up to date and reflects what matters most to their employees today,” said Hay. “If your employer offers these resources, it’s definitely worth checking them out because they are written by health, fitness, wellness, and nutritional experts.”
On-site flu vaccinations
While Covid-19 has taken focus away from the flu in recent years, it’s still considered a serious respiratory illness. 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).3 Many health insurance providers don’t charge for flu vaccinations. If your employer's benefits plan provides on-site flu vaccinations and clinics, you won’t even have to visit your doctor for the vaccination.
A shifting view on wellness
Hay said that the pandemic has greatly changed how people think about wellness, and employers are responding.
“Today it’s about meeting the needs of the whole employee ― their health, but also paid and unpaid leaves like parental leave, as well as disability, family care, more flexible work situations, and career development,” Hay said. (Related: Benefits aimed at a hybrid workplace)
The data supports this evolving trend. SHRM reports that 62 percent of employees ranked “wellness” as a very or extremely important benefit in 2020 and 2021, but for 2022, that figure was down to 46 percent.
The result is that more employers are widening the scope of their wellness offerings, often pairing them with Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). SHRM defines an EAP as “a work-based intervention program designed to assist employees in resolving personal problems that may be adversely affecting the employee's performance.”4
EAPs can help employees deal with issues like alcohol or substance abuse, as well as other stressors such as child or elder care, financial issues, and even legal problems. A 2022 survey by SHRM found that 73 percent of U.S. companies offered an EAP.5
How EAPs work
Many employers make Employee Assistance Programs available at no cost to their organizations, since the programs are administered via third-party vendors who are compensated by life and disability insurance plans. And more frequently, employers are purchasing additional benefits or even a more robust stand-alone plan.
“It’s an add-on through insurance that your employer is already providing,” said Hay. “Absolutely take advantage of these services ― you often find very good resources and you don’t pay for it. And it’s confidential.”
Child and elder care
The global pandemic has increased the stress of employees with children needing daily care. Roughly half of Americans have trouble finding childcare, and 27 percent of them say it’s because there just aren’t enough available childcare openings at area centers.6
An EAP can provide parents resources to help find a slot for their children. Some EAPs also offer an annual stipend that employees can use on costs like childcare. This benefit is different than a Flexible Spending Account since the funds are set aside by the employer, not the employee. Hay said, “Non-traditional benefits like this are rare, but valuable. One note of caution, if one is offered where you work, find out if the funds are provided pre-tax, and if you have a tax liability.”
More than 53 million Americans provide care for someone over the age of 65, according one report.7 EAPs can put them in touch with elder care specialists who can help assess the individual need, and arrange referrals to area support services.
Financial wellness and counseling
These services are designed to help the 43 percent of people identified by the Milken Institute as being “financially illiterate” – lacking knowledge of at least 3 out of 4 basic financial concepts.8 Employees who tap into this resource can get advice when making large purchases (such as a car or home), creating family budgets, and financial planning, saving, and investing strategies.
Benefits such as legal assistance are available to help employees work through complex or unfamiliar situations. Harvard University, for instance, offers employees 30 minutes with an attorney free of charge. If the employee wants to retain legal representation, the EAP will refer the employee to an attorney who offers a discounted rate.9
According to Wellness Workdays, an organization that designs wellness programs, it can take two to five years for a wellness program to significantly impact healthcare cost trends.10 This means that it’s in employers’ best interest to create programs that keep employees engaged over the long haul. Two tactics to help achieve long-term goals are annual heath risk assessments and incentivizing wellness participation.
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.
Completing an HRA each year gives you and your medical provider a starting point toward better health, and a framework to continue to improve it. Here's another plus ― 50 percent of companies that offer HRAs under their wellness benefit plans also offer financial incentives to complete the self-assessment, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.11 (Related: How a personal health record can lower costs)
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.
“Overall, the shift to a holistic view of health maintenance can help improve the whole person,” Hay said. “The available options support a wider variety of needs, help educate employees and keep people more active in their own care. My advice is to be proactive to ensure you’re getting the most from the services provided to you for little or no cost.”
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This article was first published in October 2016. It has been updated.