Employers Are Enhancing Programs That Boost Worker Health

Dec. 1, 2009
More workers are using their health services and experiencing higher levels of stress.

Despite pressure to reduce budgets, many large U.S. employers are ramping up initiatives to improve worker health and productivity, according to a survey by Watson Wyatt and the National Business Group on Health, an association of more than 280 mostly large employers.

At the same time, employers are finding that more workers are using their health services and experiencing higher levels of stress.

According to the 2009 Staying@Work Report, which is based on a survey of 282 companies in the U.S., 42% of employers note an increase in employee utilization of the company health plan. Almost half (47%) of employers are seeing an increase in their workers' use of the employee assistance program (EAP). Additionally, 30% of employers are seeing an increase in workers filing disability claims. Meanwhile, unplanned absence is rising among workers at 22% of U.S. companies.

Employers are strengthening their benefit programs and initiatives. More than half (51%) of companies are planning no change or a slight increase to their health and productivity program budgets, compared with 44% that are planning cuts. In addition, nearly three-quarters (72%) of employers have already enhanced their onsite offerings with programs geared toward stress management, EAPs or health coaches, or expect to do so in the next 12 months.

"Companies are finding some relief from high benefit costs by investing in programs that improve the health of their workers," said Shelly Wolff, national leader of health and productivity consulting at Watson Wyatt. "Workers who haven't lost their jobs are under great amounts of stress and are increasingly turning to their employer for advice, treatment or assistance that goes beyond basic coverage when they get sick. Still, employer initiatives that effectively deal with stress are limited."

Although 78% of employers cite excessive work hours as a leading cause of employee stress, only 21% of employers indicate they are taking action to address it properly.

Similarly, lack of work/life balance was cited as a leading stressor by 68% of employers, yet only 38% are taking appropriate action. Another leading cause of stress, fear of job loss, is cited by 67% of employers but is being actively addressed by only 41% of companies.

"Not only are stressed workers less productive, they are also likely to incur higher health costs for themselves and their employer," said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health. "Companies most effective at mitigating the impact of stress are moving in the right direction -- helping employees become more efficient while working to lower benefit costs and strengthen balance sheets."

To view the full report visit: www.watsonwyatt.com/StayingAtWork

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