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Fewer employers measuring wellness outcomes: Study

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The number of U.S.-based employers measuring specific outcomes of their health promotion and wellness programs shrank slightly in 2012, according to a study released Wednesday by Buck Consultants L.L.C.

The New York-based benefit consultancy's survey, “Working Well: A Global Survey of Health Promotion and Workplace Wellness Strategies,” indicated that 35% of U.S.-based firms surveyed measured their workplace wellness programs for specific health outcomes, compared with 37% in 2010.

Globally, 36% of employers said they measured specific health and wellness outcomes in 2012, down slightly from 37% in 2010. Large firms with more than 20,000 employees were 13% more likely to have measured their wellness programs in 2012 than small and midsize firms with less than 1,000 workers, the study indicated.

“Employers who measure program outcomes do so with a greater focus on driving business results,” David Ratcliffe, a Washington-based principal at Buck Consultants. “A healthier workforce is a more productive workforce, which produces greater revenue that is sustainable over the long term. So these employers understand the value of continuing their wellness initiatives even during hard economic times.”

Diminished resources were a bigger detriment to employers' efforts to measure their wellness programs' performance in 2012 than had been reported two years ago, the study found. Among the 64% of employers that did not measure wellness outcomes last year, 68% cited insufficient resources as a primary impediment, compared with 59% in 2010.

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Conversely, fewer employers cited comprehension of wellness metrics, support from senior leadership and perceptions of the program's ability to generate a measurable return as a reason for their decision not to apply performance metrics to their program.

More than half of U.S. employers polled — 54% — said they did not know if their wellness program had impacted their health care cost trend rate. Among the 23% of U.S. employers that reported a reduction in their cost trend rate, 62% said their rates had been lowered by 2 percentage points or more, while 13% said their wellness program had generated a cost trend rate reduction of 6 percentage points or more.

Fifty-seven percent of employers that reported no reductions in their health care cost trend rates said their program was too new to generate a positive effect on costs. Forty-two percent cited low participation as the main roadblock to cost improvements.

Consistently, wellness programs that have been in place for five years or more were shown to have the greatest positive impact on key organizational success metrics, including overall employee health, productivity and morale, talent attraction and retention, population health risk frequency, health care costs, workplace safety, and employee absences due to illness or disability.