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Employers sweetening the wellness pot

Employers sweetening the wellness pot

More employers are offering financial incentives through wellness programs to improve employees' health, while many are boosting the value of those incentives.

Seventy-nine percent of employers participating in the National Business Group on Health and Fidelity Investments survey — up from 74% in 2014 — said they now offer financial incentives to encourage employees to participate in wellness programs.

Employers said they expect to spend an average of $693 per employee on wellness incentive programs this year, up from $594 in 2014 and $430 five years ago.

“It's extremely encouraging to see an ever-increasing number of companies embrace corporate wellness programs as a way to promote a healthy workforce,” Washington-based NBGH President Brian Marcotte said in a statement.

Of employers offering wellness incentive programs, big employers spent the most. For example, employers with more than 20,000 employees spent an average of $879 per employee, up from $717 last year, while employers with between 5,000 and 20,000 employees expect to spend an average of $661 per employee in 2015, up from $493 in 2014.

In such programs, employers typically offer such financial incentives as cash, gift cards, reduced health care premiums or contributions to health savings accounts to encourage employees to participate in a range of wellness-related activities.

The most popular incentive-based employer-sponsored wellness programs this year are biometric screenings, which 72% of employers said they plan to offer, while 70% of employers said they intend to offer health risk assessment programs in 2015.

Still, just because employers offer the programs doesn't mean that employees will take advantage of them.

Less than half — 47% — of employees earned their full wellness incentive amount last year, while 26% earned a partial amount.

“The next challenge for companies is to continue to find ways to increase participation in these programs and encourage employees to earn the full incentive amount available to them, which will contribute to their financial well-being as well as their physical health,” Robert Kennedy, a Fidelity health and welfare practice leader in Boston, said in a statement.

The survey, conducted in December and January, is based on the responses of 121 employers.

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