Workplace Wellness Benefit Programs on the Decline

While the range of workplace benefits offered by employers to encourage health and wellness among office workers has skyrocketed since the turn of the 21st century, new data indicates that such programs are dropping off dramatically within the past few years, as employers fail to see their long-term financial justification.

The latest annual survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), now in its 20th year, compiled data from some 3,490 companies in regards to the kinds of perks and benefits offered to employees.

While the number of core employee benefits, such as health care coverage and retirement savings plans, has remained fairly constant since SHRM first began gathering data in 1996, other benefits — subsidized childcare, health coaching, on-site flu vaccinations, and on-call nursing assistance — are all on the decline.

Granted, the overall presence of wellness programs has witnessed a significant boom: 78% of surveyed businesses currently offer wellness benefits, such as healthcare premiums for weight loss or quitting tobacco, compared to just 54% two decades ago.

This “could be an indication that organizations are being more strategic in selecting effective wellness programs for their employees,” the study’s authors wrote. Still on the rise are benefits like gym memberships, standing desks, and nap rooms.

Wellness benefits aren’t necessarily just about employee health and productivity, though. Separate research indicates that 66% of workers who are offered benefits would recommend their employers to other people as a great place to work.

The cost-benefit trade-offs of such programs, however, seem to vary widely in their effectiveness and results. One analysis of a Fortune 100 company’s lifestyle-management wellness program was found to cost the company an additional 50 cents for every dollar spent.

After experimenting with various benefits for a few years, says Evren Esen, director of survey programs at SHRM, employers “may be taking a step back” to analyze the return on investment of such programs. Only 37% of employers now offer health coaching, compared to nearly 50% last year. Similarly, there was a 7% decline in on-site flu vaccinations.

Overall, however, the large majority of companies with wellness programs — 77% — considered them to be “somewhat or very effective in reducing health care costs,” and perks like telecommunication options, 401(k)s, educational assistance, and paid parental leave are all on the rise.

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