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Most employees unsatisfied with employers' well-being programs


Willis Towers Watson research finds a dramatic increase among employers seeking to differentiate their health and well-being programs for competitive advantage.

A sizable disconnect exists between employers and employees on the effectiveness of their current health and well-being programs, according to findings of a recent employer survey and a concurrent employee survey.

The Willis Towers Watson 22nd annual Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey, surveyed employers on a wide range of topics related to U.S. employers’ health program decisions and strategies. The 2017 Willis Towers Watson Global Benefits Attitudes Survey examines attitudes toward the health and retirement benefits of more than 30,000 private sector employees in 22 countries. A total of 4,983 U.S. workers participated in the survey.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of U.S. employers aim to improve their health and well-being strategies and programs over the next three years to differentiate themselves from organizations with which they compete for talent, according to the 22nd annual Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey. This is up from the 18% that say they do so now. Findings show from the concurrent Global Benefits Attitudes Survey, that while 56% of employers believe their current health and well-being programs encourage employees to live a healthier lifestyle, just 32% of employees agree. With regard to well-being initiatives specifically, 61% of employees say their employers’ programs do not meet their needs.

When it comes to whether core medical plans meet employee needs, the gap is smaller (81% of employers believe they do compared with 66% of employees), according to results from both the 2017 Willis Towers Watson Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey and the 2017 Willis Towers Watson Global Benefits Trend Survey.

On the topic of whether employers should take an active role in encouraging employees to live healthy lifestyles, nearly nine out of 10 employers (87%) say they should, compared with 54% of employees, according to results from both surveys.


“Our research shows that there is considerable opportunity for employers to improve their health and well-being programs in the eyes of employees,” says Shelly Wolff, a senior healthcare consultant at Willis Towers Watson. “Not only is there a gap between employers’ and employees’ perceptions of the effectiveness of existing programs, there is also disagreement over how involved employers should be in encouraging employees to make lifestyle changes to improve their health. Employers that listen to their employees and formulate strategies that take their needs into account will have the most success re-designing existing programs and introducing new ones.”

Other unique findings

To escalate efforts to support employee well-being, employers report that over the next three years they will focus on all four components of well-being, including physical, emotional, social, and financial well-being.


Of these, after physical health, emotional well-being is emerging as the number one priority: Nearly six times the number of employers (71%) expect to take steps to improve employees’ emotional well-bring over the next three years, compared with 12% today. Employers plan to start by redesigning existing employee assistance programs (EAPs): 25% have already done so; 14% plan to in 2018; and 23% are considering it for 2019, according to the Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey.


Regarding employers’ plans to increase support for the remaining components of well-being over the next three years, dramatic shifts are expected to continue: 84% plan steps to improve employees’ physical well-being, up from 27% today; 66% are increasing support to improve financial well-being, up from 16%; and 49% expect to encourage improved social well-being, up from 12%.

“With 44% of employers saying they do not have a formally articulated health and well-being strategy in place today, most will have to move quickly over the next three years to reach the goal of creating an advantage in the competition for talent,” says Julie Stone, a national healthcare practice leader at Willis Towers Watson. “It’s important for employers to start with a holistic, integrated strategy to guide the development of programs across all four dimensions of well-being-physical, emotional, financial, and social-for a healthy, high-performing workforce.”

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