Workplace wellness programs fare well during economic downturn

Many employers are increasing their employee wellness communications and most expect wellness budget cuts will be no greater than other cutbacks, because these programs help employees cope with issues brought about by the economic downturn. These are among the survey findings released today by Buck Consultants, an ACS company and one of the world's leading human resource and benefits consulting firms.

"Despite pressure to reduce costs in many other areas of operations, 45 per cent of respondents report increasing their wellness communications to highlight available services that can assist employees with issues brought on by the economic downturn," says Ruth Hunt, a principal in Buck's Communication practice who co-directed the survey. Areas of support include employee assistance plan counselling for stress or depression, and the need for financial planning resources.

Buck conducted its interactive audience survey with employer delegates attending the 4th Annual Employer Health & Human Capital Congress, held in February 2009.

"Our findings suggest that wellness has 'come of age' as a vital benefit offering, especially during financially difficult times," says Barry Hall, Buck principal and global wellness leader who also directed the survey. "Since the onset of the financial crisis, workers' use of wellness services has increased for 53 per cent of respondents, and only five per cent have seen a decrease."

In terms of wellness budgets, 19 per cent are likely to increase spending on wellness. Another 59 per cent have experienced no budget changes, but many are nervous about the possible need to make cuts in the future. However, among those expecting cuts, 78 per cent expect them to be no larger than other corporate cutbacks.

"This study confirms our experience in consulting with clients that wellness programs have not been an early target for budget cuts," says Hall.

In preparation for the 4th Annual Employer Health & Human Capital Congress, Buck conducted a separate survey of employer delegates to examine the "culture of health" in today's workplace. The study defined culture of health as an environment that promotes healthy lifestyle choices.

Findings include:
  • Only one-third of respondents have a culture of health today, but 87 per cent intend to pursue this philosophy for the future.
  • The top priority for enhancing wellness programs is measuring outcomes (56 per cent) - in terms of cost effectiveness, employee behaviour, and health status.
  • The biggest barrier to achieving a culture of health is leadership commitment (47 per cent).

In addition to the studies above, Buck Consultants conducts an annual survey of wellness programs titled "WORKING WELL: A Global Survey of Health Promotion and Workplace Wellness Strategies." It can be ordered online a