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Survey Report

Enhancing physical, financial, emotional and social wellbeing

Benefits Administration and Outsourcing|Health and Benefits|Talent|Total Rewards
N/A

April 3, 2020

Organizations with higher levels of wellbeing achieve better business outcomes; higher levels of employee engagement, improved revenue, greater customer satisfaction and fewer safety incidents.

Strong commitment to wellbeing

Employers remain committed to wellbeing programs, although they are reevaluating traditional programs that are focused only on physical wellbeing. They are moving to a more comprehensive approach focused on physical as well as financial, emotional and social wellbeing, thereby demonstrating their commitment to meeting diverse employee needs and providing a differentiated employee value proposition.

Employees who are physically thriving, financially secure, emotionally balanced and socially connected are more engaged and productive. Willis Towers Watson research reveals that organizations with higher levels of wellbeing achieve better business outcomes, including higher levels of employee engagement, improved revenue per employee, greater customer satisfaction and fewer safety incidents.

A culture of wellbeing can be a source of competitive advantage as employers compete for talent. Such a culture helps employees to thrive and be their best selves.

Recognizing the challenge

Employers recognize that wellbeing has been one of their most challenging priorities. While 83% indicate that wellbeing will be a priority over the next three years, only half report making progress in this area over the past three years. Moreover, just 41% of employers agree that their wellbeing programs meet employees’ needs, and only 30% report that these programs inspire employees to achieve their personal goals (30%).

To improve employee engagement in wellbeing programs overall, over half of employers plan to develop a formal technology strategy to support their wellbeing programs and goals (55%).

Additionally, employers are planning a wide range of actions in each wellbeing category (Figure 1). These key actions include:

  • Sponsoring programs that target specific conditions or high-cost cases to promote physical wellbeing
  • Redesigning employee assistance programs (EAPs) to better address emotional and financial wellbeing
  • Using workforce analytics to develop an inclusion and diversity strategy to promote social wellbeing
  • Using metrics and objectives in financial wellbeing programs at pivotal decision points and with at-risk segments
Strong increases in 4 wellbeing categories (physical, emotional, social and financial)--2 top actions apiece--are being planned or considered in the next 3 years.
Figure 1. Top two actions in each wellbeing category that employers are planning or considering in the next three years

Sample: Companies with at least 100 employees
Source: 2019 Willis Towers Watson Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey

Physical wellbeing

Employers are moving beyond offering physical activity programs and tools that are reaching a saturation point (72% today growing to 85% by 2021) (Figure 2). Given the emphasis on key clinical conditions, including mental/behavioral health, metabolic syndrome/diabetes, musculoskeletal and cancer, more companies plan to sponsor programs or pilots that target specific conditions or high-cost cases (55% today growing to 86% by 2021). To encourage healthy eating habits, an increasing number of employers plan to offer nutrition programs and tools (61% today growing to 79% by 2021). In addition, employers are adding apps/programs to support sleep/relaxation (27% today growing to 52% by 2021), and health and wellbeing affinity groups either onsite or through social media (33% today growing to 55% by 2021).

3 top actions in place, planned or considered by 2021 to improve employee wellbeing include: programs that target specific conditions or high-cost cases (86%); physical activity programs or tools (85%) and nutrition programs or tools (79%).
Figure 2. Employers expand their focus on physical wellbeing

Sample: Companies with at least 100 employees
Source: 2019 Willis Towers Watson Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey

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Emotional wellbeing

Mental/behavioral health is the top clinical area that employers plan to target; therefore, actions to improve emotional wellbeing are top of mind. Companies plan to focus on four key areas (Figure 3):

  • Strategy. Currently, only a quarter of employers have an organization-wide behavioral health strategy. But employers plan to make quick progress in this area as 68% expect to have such a strategy by 2021.
  • Training. Managers play a critical role in identifying issues in the workplace that can negatively affect an employee’s emotional wellbeing; therefore, a growing number of employers are planning to provide training and coaching to managers to identify emotional health issues, stress and episodic life events that impact work performance (25% today growing to 62% by 2021).
  • Stress. By 2021, over half of employers will measure the stress of the workforce and its key causes, up from 16% today. Proactively addressing stress and anxiety will help prevent these issues from evolving into more costly clinical conditions.
  • Redesign EAP. In two years, nearly three-quarters of employers (74%) plan to redesign their EAPs to better address emotional and financial wellbeing for both employees and their dependents, up from 33% today.
68% of employers are expected to develop an emotional wellbeing strategy by 2021, up from 25% in 2019. Other anticipated growth includes: training (62%, up from 25%); stress measurement (53%, up from 16%); and redesign of employee assistance program (74%, up from 33%).
Figure 3. Two-thirds of employers are expected to develop an emotional wellbeing strategy within the next 18 months

Sample: Companies with at least 100 employees
Source: 2019 Willis Towers Watson Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey

Financial wellbeing

Many employees in today’s workforce face financial stress caused by a range of issues, from escalating health care costs to student loan and consumer debt to retirement readiness. In response, employers are taking a broad set of actions (Figure 4). The number of companies planning to establish and track specific financial wellbeing metrics and objectives at pivotal financial decision points — “the moments that matter” (e.g., new family, first home, young children) — and within segments most at risk is set to jump from 12% today to 43% by 2021. Moreover, two-fifths of employers are focused on supporting employees with student loans. While 8% currently offer subsidies toward the payoff or refinancing of student loans and/ or the purchase of a first home, the prevalence of this practice is expected to rise to 38% by 2021. More employers also expect to offer personalized financial decision support to help set and track goals for spending, borrowing and saving (43% today growing to 67% by 2021). In addition, companies expect to increase services promoting family financial decision making (31% today growing to 53% by 2021) to encourage good financial habits.

Organizations improving employee wellbeing through measurement, decision support, debt management and connections such as offering and promoting financial decision making. Decision support has been the primary means of improving financial wellbeing.
Figure 4. Decision support has been the primary means of improving employees’ financial wellbeing

Sample: Companies with at least 100 employees
Source: 2019 Willis Towers Watson Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey

Social wellbeing

Employers are also paying increasing attention to employees’ social wellbeing, which involves being connected to the workplace and broader community, collaborating with others, accepting diversity and being inclusive. Companies are focusing on three key areas to support social wellbeing:

  • Corporate social responsibility. By 2021, two-thirds of employers expect to integrate wellbeing in their organization’s corporate social responsibility strategy and mission, up from 41% today.
  • Inclusion and diversity. The number of companies set to incorporate inclusion and diversity priorities in their benefit program design is expected to almost double from 33% today to 62% by 2021.
  • Workforce data and analytics. An increasing number of companies plan to use workforce analytics to inform a strategy to improve inclusion and diversity (41% today growing to 68% by 2021).

Inclusion and diversity initiatives promote a sense of belonging that enables employees to bring their full self to work and feel vested in a common purpose. These efforts also involve developing an inclusive environment for remote employees and enabling these workers to cultivate meaningful social connections.

A greater emphasis on health culture

Employers are focusing on improving health culture by building a workplace environment that encourages employees to live healthier lives and to thrive at work. While only 35% of employers report making progress in the area of health culture, almost three-quarters (73%) say they will make health culture a top priority over the next three years.

Employers are utilizing different measures to build a healthy workplace environment (Figure 5):

  • Almost three-fifths of companies (58%) sponsor worksite wellbeing campaigns to promote healthy behaviors, a number that is expected to rise to 80% by 2021.
  • More employers expect to align health and wellbeing programs with an organization’s culture (51% today growing to 77% by 2021).
  • By 2021, more than two-thirds of companies (70%) expect to offer paid parental leave that exceeds the time or paid leave mandated by law, up from 51% today.
Employers are fostering a healthy workplace in many ways, led by ergonomic work stations (89% using, planning or considering by 2021), followed by worksite wellbeing campaigns (80%) and alignment of health and wellbeing programs with organizational culture (77%).
Figure 5. Employers are using various ways to build a healthy workplace environment

Sample: Companies with at least 100 employees
Source: 2019 Willis Towers Watson Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey

The number of employers committed to building health and wellbeing into their employee value propositions (EVPs) is expected to rise steadily from slightly under two-fifths (39%) today to almost three-quarters (72%) by 2021 (Figure 6). To achieve this objective, employers plan to take various actions, including designing policies and programs to include stay at work and early return to work following disability (55% growing to 72%), enlisting local health champions and/ or committees to promote a healthy workplace (41% growing to 69%), and highlighting employee stories and moments that matter (40% growing to 68%).

An area that employers have not sufficiently prioritized is assessing manager support of wellbeing programs. Managers play a vital role in ensuring the success of wellbeing initiatives, yet only 9% of companies are measuring manager support of these programs — although this figure could rise to 41% by 2021.

Employers are connecting wellbeing programs to the employee value proposition (EVP). This is currently led by efforts to design ways for employees to stay at work and return to work earlier following a disability (55%); local representatives to promote a healthy workplace (41%); highlight employee stories and moments that matter (40%) and build health and wellbeing into an organization's EVP (39%).
Figure 6. Employers take actions to support a healthy workplace culture

Sample: Companies with at least 100 employees
Source: 2019 Willis Towers Watson Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey

Incentives to support building a health culture

As employers focus on building a culture of health and wellbeing, their use of incentives for individuals who participate in health management programs/activities is leveling off. Although financial rewards remain the most widely used incentives to encourage healthy behavior, with slightly more than half of employers (52%) offering such incentives today, this number is expected to increase by only a modest 15% by 2021.

52%
of employers are offering financial reward incentives today. This number is expected to increase by only a modest 15% by 2021.

While still important, incentives to reward or penalize tobacco use also appear to be plateauing. Almost two-fifths (39%) of employers use these incentives with tobacco users today, but only another 9% are planning to do so by 2021. The median annual tobacco surcharge (reward or penalty) per employee is $600.

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Best Practices: integrated wellbeing

Offer one-on-one financial counseling on short-term financial issues.

Best performers 62%, High-cost companies 48%, Best performers’ lead +14%
Figure 7a. Best performer advantage

Sponsor programs that target specific conditions or high-cost cases

Best performers 41%, High-cost companies 28%, Best performers’ lead +13%
Figure 7b. Best performer advantage

Enlist local health champions/committees to promote a healthy workplace

Best performers 34%, High-cost companies 16%, Best performers’ lead +18%
Figure 7c. Best performer advantage

Offer training and coaching to managers specifically to identify emotional health issues, stress and episodic life events that impact work performance


Best performers 50%, High-cost companies 39%, Best performers’ lead +11%
Figure 7d. Best performer advantage

Assess policies and procedures for response to workplace behavioral health emergencies

Best performers 54%, High-cost companies 43%, Best performers’ lead +11%
Figure 7e. Best performer advantage

Offer paid parental leave beyond the time or paid leave required by law


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