While some employers may move toward elimination of health care coverage for their employees or offer defined contribution plans, others will "double down" on their efforts to "bend the cost curve" through such things as wellness programs. "However, this will not be easy."
The survey of 1,000 consumers found that only 21 percent had changed their behavior as a result of their employer's wellness programs or changing benefit offerings. A separate survey shows consumers have a vastly inflated view of their own health.
"Employees want to be healthy, but many have an overly rosy perception of their health and may not see an urgent need to take action," said Joann Hall Swenson, health engagement leader at Aon Hewitt. The company partnered with the National Business Group on Health and The Futures Company in releasing its second annual survey of more than 2,800 employees and their dependents to determine their perspectives, behaviors, and attitudes toward health and wellness.
The results of the surveys, along with recent research, point to rising rates of obesity and other chronic conditions among workers, and higher costs and more frustration among employers. To meet the challenge, some employers are looking for new approaches to their wellness programs.
An overwhelming majority -- 87 percent -- of consumers surveyed for the Aon Hewitt Consumer Health Mindset survey say their health is good, and less than one-quarter say they are overweight or obese. At the same time, more than half of those same consumers who report being in good health reported health and weight that categorize them in the body mass index as overweight or obese.
"These survey results underscore the challenges employers face as they seek to engage employees and their families in health improvement as a means to better managing rising health care costs," said Helen Darling, president and CEO of the NBGH. "It is critical for employers to bridge the knowledge gap evident in this survey."
According to the survey report, research shows there are eight risks and behaviors, all of which can be modified, that lead to 15 chronic conditions and account for 80 percent of total costs for all chronic illnesses worldwide.
Getting employees to participate in wellness programs that target unhealthy behaviors does not need to be expensive. The survey showed one-third to one-half of consumers said they would consider participating in a wellness program just for the benefit of doing it. However, the key to employee participation is making it engaging and convenient.
A previous study by the NBGH in conjunction with Towers Watson found employers are increasingly turning to online gaming as a means to improve the health of their workforces. That survey, released earlier in 2012, said 60 percent of the sample of 500 employers indicated they would leverage online games as part of their effort to engage employees in wellness programs.
The study identified a group of employers, called consistent performers, that had maintained health care cost increases at or below that of other respondents in each of the last four years. The consistent performers had taken significant steps in several areas, including employee engagement and technology.
Engaging employees. "Rewarding people, championing their expertise among friends, giving them context and connecting them in a social context -- that's how you drive engagement," said Chandar Pattabhiram, vice president of worldwide marketing at Badgeville, a leading global provider of gamification.
Badgeville is among several companies that are leveraging gaming principles to increase employee and customer involvement. In terms of wellness programs, client companies use gamification to motivate employees to participate. As Pattabhiram explains, psychology and technology is incorporated in an entertaining forum that relies on several motivational factors for human behavior.
"The first way it increases engagement is through game mechanics," Pattabhiram said. "You reinforce the right set of behaviors. You give badges, points, achievements."
Another way is through reputation mechanics. "That is, you are championing your users' expertise among their peers," he said. The community of employees is made aware of the achievements of one another.
Finally, the users follow one another, much like they do on Facebook or other social media venues. "You are giving people access to relevant activities happening in their touch point they are engaged in," Pattabhiram said. "That lets me engage more."
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
March 11, 2013
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