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National Council on Strength & Fitness
National Council on Strength & Fitness
 
 
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Employee Benefit Programs and Workplace Productivity in Challenging Economic Times
 
 
 

The economic downturn has prompted many employers to implement business spending (modification) plans to stay afloat while in a slow market. A few of these strategies include implementing daily cost-cutting measures and reducing the benefit packages and programs offered to new employees. In some cases, even current employee benefit packages have been slashed for a determined period of time. It appears that controlling benefits costs is a primary objective for employers rather than employee retention for the first time since 2006. The findings of the recently published MetLife’s 8th annual Employee Benefit Trends Study reveal however that reducing employee wellness, work-life balance, and/or financial guidance programs may be significantly counterintuitive from a productivity standpoint. This presents a challenging dynamic, as 84% of employers report employee productivity as a very important benefits’ objective. It seems that economic pressures currently confronting employees may be negatively impacting productivity. Interestingly, the majority of the workforce believes that enhanced employee benefit programs could essentially neutralize these pressures.

 

According to the updated MetLife study, health and wellness programs, work-life balance programs, and financial guidance programs may be significantly beneficial for employers and employees alike:

  • 77% of employees stated financial guidance programs would favorably impact their productivity
  • 81% stated health and wellness programs would favorably impact their productivity
  • 82% stated that work-life balance programs would favorably impact their productivity
  • 66% stated that the benefits received at work reduced the negative mental impact and distraction of worrying about unexpected health and financial issues and job security

 

All of these aforementioned programs have been statistically shown to provide great returns for the funds invested. For example, if a company invests $100-$150 per employee each year for participation in a workplace wellness program, it is projected to save $300-$450 per employee each year in medical and absenteeism costs. Furthermore, the Wellness Councils of America reported a $24 return for every $1 spent on a company wellness program for small businesses.

 

Impact of Wellness Programs

Workplace health or wellness programs are designed to reduce absenteeism, control increasing health care costs, improve productivity, improve presenteeism (employee is at work but at reduced productivity due to stress, depression, injury, or illness), reduce injuries, improve employee morale and retention, all of which consequently save the company money.

 

Common services provided in a corporate wellness program include:

  • Health screening
  • Healthy lifestyle training/education seminars or literature
  • Access to exclusive online health management software
  • Worksite fitness center management
  • Health fairs on popular health and wellness topics
  • Health Risk Assessment (HRA) questionnaire dissemination with positive reinforcement provided for employees with longitudinal increases in health measures

 

The recognition of wellness programs is gradually increasing among employers. According to this year’s annual MetLife study, 37% of employers now offer a wellness program; demonstrating a significant increase from 27% in 2005. It appears that larger employers (500 or more employees) have embraced the benefits of keeping employees healthy, with 61% now offering wellness programs. As stated by Dr. Ronald Leopold, the vice president of U.S. Business for MetLife, “…employers are recognizing the value of a healthy workforce and are viewing wellness programs as an investment to help address their business objectives.” Nearly half (48%) of current employers who offer wellness programs state that they appear quite effective at improving productivity. Employees who participated in wellness programs reported significant success (>63% success rate) with the following goals; getting regular checkups, losing weight, increasing participation in exercise, improving diet and nutritional habits, managing blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress levels, lowering alcohol consumption, and cessation of smoking.

 

Impact of Life-Balance Programs

Based on current economic conditions it appears that employees perceive work-life balance programs more beneficial than ever. These programs strive to create a flexible and productive work environment that allows a challenging career to be balanced with life responsibilities. The initial influx of these types of corporate programs was influenced by the number of women in the U.S. workforce, which has doubled since 1970. Additionally, a great deal more women remain in the workforce after marriage and bearing children; making life-work balance programs necessary for efficient workers and capable caregivers.

Programs and benefits that directly attend to work-life balance issues may include:

  • Dependent care (e.g. child-care and elder-care)
  • Flexible work schedules (e.g. flex-time, compressed work weeks, telecommuting, job sharing, vacations and sabbaticals, and part time employment)
  • Leave of absence (e.g. paid or unpaid family care leaves, maternity leave and phase-back)
  • Support groups
  • Work travel and entertainment discounts

 

Impact of Financial Guidance Programs

Financial concerns spill over into all aspects of life. Therefore easing financial worries may translate into increased employee output. There appears to be a strong correlation between health status, financial status, and workplace productivity. Essentially, employees who report financial concerns usually perceive their health status to be poor, and consequently become less productive and increasingly distracted while on the job. For example, 65% of employees who evaluate their medical health as poor state that they live paycheck-to-paycheck, compared to 43% of individuals who perceive they are in good medical health. It appears that this correlation is becoming increasingly recognized, as 65% of employers believe that productivity decreases and 52% believe that absenteeism increases when employees are concerned with financial troubles. To further illustrate the current need for employers to embrace financial guidance programs, only 37% of employees expressed assurance concerning their capability to make prudent financial decisions.

 

The recent economic crisis has caused employees to refocus on their long-term financial health. Over half (54%) of employees report that the events that have transpired in the previous fiscal year have made them become conscious to the need of actively managing savings for retirement; yet only 35% of employers currently offer retirement planning seminars or other comparable financial guidance avenues. Dr. Leopold states, “Employers have an opportunity to slow the ‘snowballing effect’ that….employee health and wealth concerns can have on their bottom line.” As an expert, he believes that if employers allow employees to empower themselves through corporate financial and health programs, employers will ultimately reap the desirable benefit of a more productive, loyal workforce. To illustrate this statistically, 81% of employees highly satisfied with their benefits were also satisfied with their jobs; while only 23% of employees not satisfied with their benefits stated being content with their jobs.

 

Conclusion

It appears that according to current statistics provided in the 8th Annual MetLife Study of Employee Benefit Trends, employees may need corporate benefit programs to deal with health and financial concerns more now than ever to maintain workplace productivity and efficiency. The MetLife analysis consisted of two divergent studies fielded by GfK Custom Research North America. The sample size utilized was substantial for providing applicable data as 1,503 interviews were implemented with benefit managers of companies with staff sizes of at least two employees, and 1,305 interviews were implemented with full-time employees of companies with a minimum of two employees over 21 years of age.