Survey: Awareness Gap Threatens Impact of Employee Health and Wellness Strategies

Survey: Awareness Gap Threatens Impact of Employee Health and Wellness Strategies

Leading US organizations are turning to prevention-based employee health benefits to improve workforce health and reduce healthcare costs. Yet, according to a survey released today by Virgin HealthMiles, there’s a critical awareness gap threatening that strategy’s success.

Most organizations surveyed (83%) say they offer employee health and wellness benefits, with 81% citing “reducing healthcare costs” as top priority. But there’s a gap between employers’ perceptions of employee awareness and understanding of these benefits, and what employees say.

More than half of employers believe employees have a good understanding of their range of health and wellness benefits and how they can participate. Not so, say employees. Only 41% of employees say they had a good awareness of available programs. And fewer than 50% say they understand how to participate. Other leading organizations like Forrester Research have found similar results.

The bottom line, according to Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin HealthMiles: “If employees aren’t aware of their employers’ programs and how to participate, health behaviors won’t change. This is a traditional problem with how employee health and wellness has historically been done. If organizations don’t get this right, they won’t get the business impact they seek from their employee health investments.”

The survey was released to mark June’s fourth annual National Employee Wellness Month. Created in 2009 by Virgin HealthMiles in partnership with the Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance, this year’s initiative is also sponsored by the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease and WorldatWork. More than 140 organizations across the country and over 65,000 of their employees have pledged their support for this important initiative.

“Progressive employers know employee health and wellness benefits are vital in helping to lower healthcare costs and retain top talent,” said Tom Abshire, SVP, Products and Marketing of Virgin HealthMiles. “Our research shows most employees want to engage. But employers really need to focus on how to promote and manage these programs, and how to get the data they need from their providers so they can make actionable decisions that improve their employee health strategies.”

5 Key Survey Findings:

        --  Employers Struggling with Recruitment and Retention, Pay Heed: More
            than 89% of employees say an employer's range of health and wellness
            benefits are either "very" or "somewhat" important in their choice of

        --  Confusion Reigns Regarding Available Benefits: Employers say the top
            employee health benefits they offer include smoking cessation, HRAs
            and physical activity programs. But employees often responded "I don't
            know" when asked if their employers offered certain programs, further
            highlighting the awareness challenge employers face.

        --  Few Organizations Use Social Media to Promote Benefits: While social
            media is a hot topic for HR, few organizations (9%) have adopted new
            consumer-driven communication channels like it to promote their
            employee health programs. Even though the awareness issue continues to
            flag, employers primarily turn to traditional methods to promote
            benefits. Top methods include periodic emails, intranets/websites,
            on-site posters/signage, newsletters/ company publications and health
            fairs/on-site events.

        --  Incentives a Key Strategy for Driving Employee Engagement, Outcomes:
            More than two-thirds of employers say they offer incentives to drive
            employee participation in health-related programs. Nearly 39% align
            incentives for a combination of program participation and outcomes;
            26% align incentives for program participation only and 2% for
            outcomes only. It's working: 58% of employees say incentives are a
            "very important" factor in their participation.

        --  Employers Lack Data to Make Actionable Decisions about Employee Health
            Strategies: Only 36% of employers say they get the information they
            need to make strategic, actionable decisions about their strategies.
            And just 13% are "very satisfied" with their provider's ability to
            help measure the impact of their investments. This lack of insight
            further impacts service provider satisfaction levels: only 16% of
            employers are "very satisfied" with their provider's impact on helping
            employees change behaviors.

The survey was conducted April 25-May 11, 2012. The employer portion was conducted via email by Workforce Management magazine, which surveyed 772 employers across the US. The employee portion was conducted via email and completed by 6,756 Virgin HealthMiles members. Download a free summary of the survey findings:

June is National Employee Wellness Month Now in its fourth year, National Employee Wellness Month showcases how prevention, coupled with supportive social communities like the workplace, helps to improve employee health and productivity, lower healthcare costs and create a workplace culture of health. This annual initiative helps employers learn from best practices of how companies are developing successful strategies around prevention and good health. Here’s what this year’s sponsors have to say about the issue:

“Closing the gap between a business’ desire for a culture of good health and actually achieving one is essential to making a sustainable impact on workforce health and business performance,” said Chris Boyce, CEO, Virgin HealthMiles. “This June, we’re pleased to once again sponsor National Employee Wellness Month, which showcases the impact successful companies are realizing from their employee health investments.”

“The STOP Obesity Alliance is proud to continue its support of National Employee Wellness Month as the initiative helps create awareness that the workplace is another area where we can work together to manage and support efforts to reduce weight and weight-related chronic diseases,” said Christine Ferguson, director of the STOP Obesity Alliance and Associate Research Professor, The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.

“Our support of National Employee Wellness Month speaks to the core of PFCD’s mission — to raise awareness of the escalating costs and implications of chronic disease,” said Kenneth Thorpe, Ph.D., Chairman, Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease. “That’s why it’s essential for business leaders to reserve a spot for workplace wellness in their overall corporate strategy, as these programs not only help prevent and manage chronic disease but also make a positive impact on companies’ bottom-lines.”

“Health-care costs and an unhealthy workforce are straining organizations and employees,” said Anne C. Ruddy, CCP, president and CEO, WorldatWork. “Prevention and wellness strategies can and do make a difference for both companies and the valuable people who work for them by reducing costs, stress and turnover.”

Learn more at

About Virgin HealthMiles

Virgin HealthMiles, part of Sir Richard Branson’s famed Virgin Group, provides programs and technologies that engage your workforce in good health. Leveraging Virgin’s deep consumer roots, we create compelling, personalized digital health experiences that drive long-term healthy behavior change and employee engagement rates more than three times the industry average. Our range of Pay-for-Prevention(TM) solutions and program integration capabilities: drive higher awareness and engagement across multiple providers and programs; deliver better measurement and insight into the impact of your investments; and power your overall employee health strategy. Learn more at .

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