Employers offering health and wellness programs are looking beyond the financial bottom line to evaluate success, according to a new study released this month.

Employers are putting a broader focus on the overall value of health management within a workplace, according to the ninth annual Willis Health and Productivity Survey. The survey was published by Willis North America's Human Capital Practice, a unit of Willis Group Holdings plc, a global risk advisor, insurance broker and reinsurance broker.

The survey called 2015 a "watershed year" for employer-sponsored health and wellness programs. Willis saw two different mindsets emerging in how organizations approach the measurement of wellness program success.

More organizations are realizing the expectation of an immediate return on investment (ROI) for their wellness programs though medical cost reduction is unlikely, the report states. The survey showed more organizations are focusing on the value of investment (VOI) of a program, which is based on factors that include employee morale, worksite productivity, employee absence and safety.

The survey of 703 respondents showed 64 percent with VOI-focused wellness programs compared to 28 percent with ROI-focused programs.

Forty-three percent of the respondents have implemented a health club reimbursement subsidy or corporate discount, and 35 percent have implemented a health club corporate discount. Sixty-one percent of respondents do not have an on-site fitness center.

The top wellness program offering continues to be annual on-site flu vaccinations (83 percent), according to the survey. However, physical activity (64 percent), healthy eating (57 percent) and weight loss/management (54 percent) landed in the top five wellness programs offered among respondents.

Respondents from ROI-focused organizations spent about the same amount as VOI-focused organizations with 83 percent of responding organizations funding their own wellness programs. Twenty-seven percent of organizations allocated between $26 and $149 per employee, per year, for wellness programs (not including incentives), with 10 percent of organizations allocating $150 or more. Fifty percent do not have an allocated budget or have yet to define a budget.

The majority of respondents used participation-based incentives to drive engagement in the organization's wellness program (72 percent).  Health contingent activities, such as complete physical activity programs (41 percent), and health contingent outcomes, such as meeting biometric measures (30 percent), were also cited as incentive criteria.

Motivating employees to take better care of themselves, encouraging employees to be better healthcare consumers and reducing tobacco use were listed as the top three incentive strategies. 

Other key findings:

  • Nearly half of all respondents are “more concerned about medical costs in the next three years than in the last three years.”
  • Of those organizations without a wellness program, the majority of respondents (29 percent) reported that they do not have enough time or staff to start a program.
  • Only 25 percent of survey respondents were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the business impact of their wellness program.
  • Respondents valued “building a culture of health” over “targeting specific risks” and valued “targeting specific risks” over “shifting costs.”
  • Given a choice, respondents focused on the value of a health management program (66 percent) over program cost. Additionally, given a choice, respondents valued program cost (33 percent) over ease of program administration (6 percent).

Read the full report below: