Picture 003Stress kills. We all know this.  So it makes good sense that executives who want to keep health costs to a minimum during the shift toward the new U.S. health care program would focus on employee health and engagement goals.

As companies strive to keep workers healthier and stem the tide of higher health care costs, it is sensible to embrace health and productivity programs as a solution. According to the 2013/2014 Staying@Work Survey, conducted by Towers Watson, a global professional services company, and the National Business Group on Health, employers will have to address lifestyle risk issues, improve employee engagement and articulate a strategy to establish a workplace health culture, an essential factor for success.

“More than ever, employers view health as a total business issue that links to worker performance. Highly effective organizations do a number of things differently, and their results are far better than those of their peers”

Respondents in nearly all of the countries or regions that participated in this first ever global version of the study reported the same three lifestyle risks as the biggest workforce issues: stress, obesity and lack of physical activity. These risk factors result in increased employee illness, higher medical costs and lost productivity due to unplanned absence and decreased efficiency at work.

To combat these issues, companies have to overcome poor employee engagement. Nearly eight in 10 (77%) employers view a lack of employee engagement as the biggest obstacle to changing behavior. Despite offering a variety of health and productivity programs, employers report that actual program participation is low.

“Companies have long maintained that a healthier workforce is a more productive workforce, and many are considering innovative tactics to improve employee health and well-being,” said Shelly Wolff, senior health care consultant at Towers Watson. “But along with the urgency of health care reform and the coming excise tax, there is a realization that companies need to manage these programs more effectively and encourage employee participation and engagement. An essential part of increasing engagement and success is for companies to link a health and productivity strategy to their overall employee value proposition.”

A good working example of this Zappos, the online shoe store. Zappos’ policy is to stock the break room with natural food selections so that instead of hitting the vending machine, employees have excellent food choices to select from — for free.

Use Rewards to Hold Employees Accountable

Seven in 10 U.S. companies identify developing a workplace culture where employees are responsible for their health as necessary and understand its importance as a top priority of their health and productivity programs. Employers are increasing use of financial incentives, specifically penalties and outcome-based incentives, to hold workers more accountable and improve health outcomes.

In 2014, almost four in 10 (36%) U.S. companies will use penalties such as an increase in premiums and deductibles for individuals who do not complete the requirements of health management activities (with a jump to 61% for 2015/2016). Outcome-based incentives that reward or penalize employees based on tobacco use will grow from 54% next year to 71% in 2015/2016. What’s more, rewards or penalties for other biometric outcomes (e.g., health-contingent targets such as BMI, blood pressure or cholesterol level) will dramatically increase from 26% in 2014 to 68% in 2015/2016.

Strategies Must Be Clearly Articulated

Nearly half of U.S. respondents (49%) believe that health and productivity programs are essential, and 84% plan to increase support of these programs over the next two years. However, only three in 10 respond that they have effectively communicated a strategy and value proposition, making it difficult for employees to understand the purpose of these programs and their roles in them.

Driven by the imperative to have a high-performing health care program that is cost effective, avoids the 2018 excise tax and encourages a healthy workforce, companies are beginning to understand the importance and value of an organized approach. Virtually all employers (94%) plan to articulate a health and productivity strategy with stated objectives in the next three years.

Behavior Change Requires Support

In the U.S., highly effective companies (where employees are more engaged in their health and well-being) have a differential in annual health care costs of more than $1,600 per employee. According to the survey, these companies are

  • Gaining the commitment of senior leadership
  • Developing a comprehensive strategy
  • Implementing employee engagement strategies
  • Engaging managers as role models
  • Communicating frequently to employees
  • Reducing employee stress
  • Providing easy access to high-quality health care services
  • Understanding health and productivity outcomes by establishing metrics

“More than ever, employers view health as a total business issue that links to worker performance. Highly effective organizations do a number of things differently, and their results are far better than those of their peers,” said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health. “They take a holistic view of health and productivity programs and benefits to foster a culture of health in their workplaces and promote healthy lifestyles, and that approach will serve them well in the years to come.”

About the Survey

The 2013/2014 Towers Watson Staying@Work Survey was conducted between May and July 2013 in North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia by a total of 892 employers. The countries with the leading number of responses include: the U.S. (199), Canada (114), China (85), Singapore (87) and India (87). Half of the respondents have their workforces located in multiple countries, and respondents operate in all major industry sectors.

In the U.S., Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health jointly sponsored the survey. Of the 199 participants in the U.S., 59% are public, 22% are private and 19% are nonprofit or government agencies.

Copyright TIGERS Success Series By Dianne Crampton

key-to-teamworkDo You Work With Business Wellness Initiatives Offering Team Facilitation?

We offer TIGERS Certification which includes team surveys, work culture surveys and team development tools and methods that measure and track the team development process and team goals. These are perfect resources for companies interested in improving employee health and wellness initiatives.