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Wellness programs evolving to mental and financial health

Wellness programs evolving to mental and financial health

Employers are expanding wellness programs to address issues that affect worker productivity, such as stress, emotional resilience and financial health, a new survey reveals.

The survey released Friday by Boston-based Fidelity Investments and Washington-based National Business Group on Health showed that employers are focused not only on promoting workers' physical health at work, but also mental and financial health.

Eighty-seven percent of employers surveyed offer emotional or mental well-being programs in 2016, and 76% provide financial health programs, the survey of 129 midsize employers showed.

For the future, 67% plan to expand their wellness program efforts and an additional 17% plan to maintain at the current level.

Fifty-four percent of employers offer stress management programs — the most popular emotional well-being program — and 12% more plan to in 2017.

Additionally, 27% of employers provide resiliency training, which helps employees manage setbacks in the workplace or outside of work, and another 20% plan to next year.

Still, participation in emotional well-being programs remains low. According to the survey, employers report 5% employee participation in stress management programs and 3% participation in resiliency training.

To keep employees financially healthy, 73% of companies surveyed offer on-site financial seminars, 31% hold financial health challenges, and 59% offer one-on-one financial planning with an adviser or coach.

Participation in financial wellness programs is slightly higher than in emotional wellbeing programs. Employers report 8% participation in financial seminars and 7% participation in financial health challenges, according to the survey.

This year, 13% of employers are helping employees pay back their student loans — the latest high-profile employee benefit creating a buzz. Another 21% are considering offering a student loan repayment assistance program in the future.

More workers earning incentives

As employers expand wellness programs to address an array of issues and provide employees more ways to earn incentives, the number of employees participating in the programs to receive the incentives is growing.

For example, in 2015, 81% of employees received some type of incentive compared with 73% the year before.

Overall, though, the percentage of employers offering wellness program incentives decreased slightly to 72% in 2016 from 79% in 2015.

Employers are also moving away from outcomes-based incentives and focusing more on creating incentives for participation. According to the survey, only 24% of employers provide outcomes-based incentives, down from 44% in 2015.

The survey did not ask why employers are abandoning outcomes-based incentives, but Robert Kennedy, senior vice president at Fidelity Benefits Consulting, said in an email that the shift is in line with the movement toward “holistic” wellness programs.

“Companies pursuing this strategy tend to view their well-being program as part of their culture and as an element of the overall brand. And they view a move away from outcomes-based incentives as consistent with this shift in emphasis,” Mr. Kennedy said in the email.

“Social factors and one's environment play an important role in employee engagement and in one's view of their overall well-being,” NBGH CEO and President Brian Marcotte said in the statement announcing the survey results. “We are seeing more companies step up their efforts to integrate financial and emotional well-being, social connectedness and job satisfaction with their more traditional efforts to support physical health.”

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