Translate increased investment into improved employee wellbeing

Employers know corporate success starts with and depends on a healthy workforce. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact employees and their wellbeing, many companies plan to increase their investment in health and wellbeing (H&W) programmes. But how can you ensure your spending truly improves employee wellbeing? The Optum 2021 International Wellness in the Workplace Benchmark Study answers this question and more.

Consider employee demographics

The Optum study asked more than 600 employees of large companies (3,000+ employees) around the world about their satisfaction and engagement with their employer’s H&W programmes. Findings show younger and healthier employees are more apt to participate in programmes, particularly when it comes to virtual programmes.

To get the most out of your H&W programmes, engaging employees who rate their health status less positively is crucial. According to the Optum employee survey, perception of personal health starts to change around age 55.

When asked about their health compared to people their own age, fewer rate their health as very good or excellent, and one in four consider their health as fair or poor. Employees in this age range are less satisfied with their employer’s H&W offerings, perhaps because programmes don’t address their specific needs.

Physical health is particularly important to those 55+. Their highest participation programmes include flu shots, onsite/worksite medical clinics and H&W websites. Flu shots have the highest participation rates across all age groups and self-reported health statuses.

Ask employees what they want

Optum also interviewed more than 350 large companies across the globe about wellness, and in some areas, employers and employees were misaligned. Employee respondents suggested companies launch information campaigns and ask about employee needs. One respondent said, “The company should create H&W management programmes more proactively, ask employees’ opinions, and move into action.”

Employers say their H&W strategy addresses physical health (63%), social health (62%), mental health (60%) and financial health (53%), but employees say social health is the least important dimension for programme offerings. More and more employees want their employer to provide mental health support and stress-reduction activities. Financial health programmes are also a growing area of interest.

Engage employees effectively

One way companies can measure the effectiveness of H&W programmes is through employee participation and engagement. Eighty-two percent of employers surveyed said their programmes are successful in terms of participation.

Which channels do companies believe drive engagement? Overall, employers think emails and mobile apps are the most effective, followed by digital engagement/social media and on-site meetings. On the other hand, employers consider channels like posters, wallet cards, webinars, intranets, e-newsletters and hard-copy brochures as less effective. Mobile apps are trending up in effectiveness. In companies with a remote or dispersed workforce such as telecommuters and transportation environments, apps can drive higher engagement.

Email is the most popular and the most preferred communication method according to employees, particularly amongst those age 55+.

Having staff dedicated to H&W promotion can also improve communication effectiveness. Seventy-eight percent of employers have a full-time person dedicated to H&W programme promotion.

Measure programme impact

You can’t improve what you don’t measure. When it comes to evaluating programme performance, 43% of employers strongly agree they can effectively track programme metrics. The most popular metrics are productivity and employee engagement scores. If your programmes aren’t moving the needle, it might be time to consult employees again.

Two in three employees believe their company’s H&W programmes are successful at:

  • Improving employee health (73%)
  • Demonstrating employer-supports-employee wellbeing (72%)
  • Increasing employee productivity (71%)
  • Creating a sense of community amongst employees (70%)
  • Improving employee job satisfaction (70%)
  • Increasing employee loyalty (69%)
  • Improving business performance (67%)
  • Making it easier to attract new employees (66%)

Establish a culture of health

Employees know it’s easier to make healthy choices when their work environment gives them healthy options. As one survey respondent put it, “I would like the company to create an environment that is essential [for] maintaining our health.” More employers (74%) believe a culture of health is important now than before the pandemic, however, only 56% believe they have established one. What about yours?

Another employee suggested “moving care closer to the workplace, giving options for healthy lifestyles, healthy cafeterias or food services, and relaxation exercises when starting shifts.” Employers are, in fact, allocating slightly more H&W funding (16%) to environment than in previous years (15%).

Sixty-seven percent of employers expect H&W spending to increase in the next three years. How will you fine-tune your H&W strategy to make sure your spending improves employee wellbeing?

Optum can help. Learn more at


Optum 2021 International Employer Wellness in the Workplace Benchmark Study.

Optum 2021 International Employer Wellness in the Workplace Benchmark Study.

About the author

Lisa Rowe, Chief Growth Officer, Optum International

Lisa Rowe currently leads the international growth strategy for the EAP and wellbeing solutions business at Optum. Her global team partners with large multinational employers and global payers to create and deliver comprehensive wellbeing solutions that address the mental, physical, social and financial wellbeing needs for their employees. Lisa has more than 30 years in the global health and wellbeing industry and has lived and worked in Europe and the Middle East during her career. She now resides in the United Kingdom with her husband and two children.

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