Corporate fitness growth data released by Fidelity, NBGH

Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) have released a study that found financial incentives have taken on greater importance in the drive to increase employee participation in health improvement programs. The survey looked at the behaviors and offerings of 147 mid- to large-size companies in various industries nationwide.

According to the study, employers utilized several different types of incentives in 2010 to encourage employees to participate in health improvement programs. These included offering cash and gift cards and making additional contributions to health savings accounts, along with more punitive efforts such as reducing employer contributions to health plans if employees didn’t engage in any programs. The incentives provided by employers averaged a total of $430 per employee in 2010, which was a 65% increase from $260 in 2009.

Half of all companies that provided such incentives in 2010 also offered them to dependents of employees, at an average value of $420. A small number of companies (12%) utilized negative incentives to encourage participation (reducing employer contributions to health plans for those not participating). More employers (62%) offered incentives last year than in 2009 (57%).

“Employers know that a healthier workforce is more productive in the long term,” said Sunit Patel, senior vice president of Fidelity’s Benefits Consulting business, which commissioned the study with NBGH. “Wellness programs in the past have typically had modest impact because of low participation rates, but our study indicated that incentives are starting to make a real difference in employee interest and engagement.”

According to the research, the majority of employers surveyed (56%) agreed that incentive-based programs had a better than expected success rate at increasing employee participation.

In exchange for incentives, employees participated in a variety of wellness programs in four main categories: health-risk management (e.g., on-site flu shots); lifestyle management (e.g., smoking cessation programs); condition management (e.g., nurse phone lines) and communication/education (e.g., company intranet wellness websites).

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