Employee ‘Well-Being’ Programs Climb Higher on CEOs’ Priority Lists

That is among the major findings of a new survey of 1,076 HR-management professionals across a broad range of industries and organization sizes by Virgin Pulse in collaboration with the Human Capital Media Research and Advisory Group.

“Well-being” programs typically cover not only programs and benefits that help employees increase physical activity but also those that help manage employee stress and assess employee engagement, Virgin Pulse said. They can include weight-loss programs, meditation resources, healthy on-site food resources, and flexible work arrangements such as telecommunications.

“More senior executives than managers believe that better employee morale should be a desired outcome for well-being programs.”

Other key findings of the Virgin Pulse study included that more senior executives than managers believe that better employee morale should be a desired outcome for well-being programs across the board, rather than just targeting cost savings. “This emphasis on productivity and morale over cost savings,” study authors said, “highlights senior executives’ strategic thinking regarding well-being programs.”

In keeping with that, in fact, the survey found that respondents expect the top challenge next year for well-being programs will be to effectively communicate their offerings to employees.

WeddingWire, for example, an online marketplace for wedding planners and their customers, offers a $250 “treat yourself” reimbursement that employees can use for anything that either increases their knowledge or improves physical fitness, according to the Washington Post. And the staff of the Nuclear Energy Institute offers well-being perks ranging from on-site dance lessons to Weight Watchers meetings.

Overall, CEOs either are increasing or keeping stable their companies’ budgets for well-being programs, and they’re approving efforts to look for new ways to keep their workforces holistically healthy and thus more engaged, the Virgin Pulse survey found.

Its conclusions were largely in keeping with a greater appreciation for wellness programs by CEOs over the last several years, as they understand such efforts can become important to a company’s culture and overall appeal to employees—not just a cost-saver.

That said, cost savings can still be a hugely important benefit of wellness, and more comprehensively, well-being programs. A 2014 Harvard Business Review study of 20 companies found an average annual health-cost increase of just 1%-2% for companies with wellness programs, compared with a 7% national average, according to Fortune.

“There’s been a move away from just thinking about wellness as something that can lower health-care costs,” Jeff Levin-Scherz, a Harvard Medical School professor and Towers Watson consultant, told the Post earlier this year. “People are thinking about wellness programs more as a way to create an environment and culture that is more health conscious.”

Or, as the newspaper put it, in many CEOs’ views, “’wellness’ is giving way to ‘well-being.’”

With an ever-tightening labor market, expect CEOs to show more interest than ever in pursuing a well-being strategy for their companies.

Dale Buss :Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other business publications. He lives in Michigan.