Employers Shake Up Wellness Benefits Programs

Leave the weight-loss program. Take the standing desk.

Standing desks are in, and onsite health screenings are out as employers continue to tinker with their wellness benefits for workers to find the right mix that keeps them healthy and on the job for as little financial expense as possible.

That’s the takeaway from a new report on employee benefit trends released this week by the Society for Human Resource Management. The 88-page report is based on annual surveys of HR professionals conducted by the SHRM for the past 20 years. This year’s results are based on answers from 3,490 respondents.

Employers have been remarkably consistent in offering medical benefits to their employees with 96 percent of companies doing so this year, according to the report. Of the companies offering health benefits this year:

  • 84 percent offered a PPO
  • 32 percent offered an HMO
  • 26 percent offered a consumer-directed health plan linked to a health savings account
  • 21 percent offered a point-of-service, or POS, plan
  • 17 percent offered a high-deductible health plan not linked to an HSA
  • 9 percent offered an exclusive provider organization, or EPO, option
  • 7 percent continued to offer a traditional indemnity, or fee-for-service, option

The breakdown of health plan options is relatively unchanged over the past five years, according to data included in the SHRM report. What is changing is the type of prevention and wellness benefits offered to employees as part of their health plan options. Of the 35 prevention and wellness benefits tracked by the SHRM, 26 either were unchanged or declined between 2015 and 2016.

For example, 61 percent of employers offered employees a general wellness program benefit this year. That’s down from 70 percent last year. The number of employers offering workers an onsite flu vaccine declined to 54 percent this year from 61 percent last year. Coverage of health/lifestyle coaching services dropped to 37 percent from 46 percent. Employers offering onsite health screening programs declined to 31 percent from 43 percent. Even a benefit for weight loss programs dipped to 31 percent this year from 33 percent in 2015.

One of the biggest wellness benefit gainers was standing desks. Some 33 percent of employers offered employees a standing desk this year, up from 25 percent last year. If workers got tired from standing, 4 percent of employers offered them an onsite nap room this year, up from 2 percent in 2015.