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Employers look beyond cost savings for wellness success

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A majority of employers are using metrics beyond health care cost savings in order to determine the total value of their investment in workplace wellness programs, according to new survey results.

Nearly two-thirds of the 703 employers polled in May and June of this year for Willis North America Inc.'s 2015 Health and Productivity Survey said they rely primarily on value-of-investment measurements — such as health risk reduction, worksite productivity, employee morale, absenteeism and workplace safety — to gauge the relative success of their wellness efforts, while 28% of employers said they remain focused on generating a financial return on their investment in employee wellness by reducing medical costs.

Ninety percent of the respondent employers in Willis' survey were firms with fewer than 5,000 employees.

“More organizations are realizing that the expectation of an immediate return on investment (ROI) for their wellness programs through medical cost reduction is unlikely,” Dr. Ron Leopold, Willis' national health outcomes practice leader in Atlanta, said Tuesday in a statement released alongside the survey's results.

Adopting a broader view of the potential to positively affect a company and its employees appears to increase the likelihood of employers' satisfaction with their wellness program's results, according to the survey's findings.

Sixty-nine percent of employers using VOI metrics to measure their wellness program's efficacy said they were at least somewhat satisfied with the business impacts reflected in their results, versus 61% of employers using ROI metrics.

Additionally, employers using VOI metrics reported higher levels of confidence that their wellness efforts have reduced both health care costs and employee health risks.

Willis' survey results also revealed correlations between the metrics employers use to evaluate their wellness programs and their underlying priorities in offering them to employees.

Three-quarters of employers that primarily use VOI measurements said their top objective was to improve employee health and build an enterprise-wide culture of wellness, while just 17% said their program's primary goal was to reduce medical costs.

Comparatively, 41% of employers that principally focus on their program's financial return-on-investment said their program's main goal was to reduce costs, with the same percentage reporting that their goals were centered on improving employees' health and establishing a culture of wellness.

“Worksite wellness requires a sustained effort, including annual program review and long-term program management,” Dr. Leopold said in the statement. “Companies who adopt a true culture of health better position themselves for increased profitability in the long run.”