Employers, staff don’t see eye-to-eye on wellness: Survey

Employers need to evaluate programs to ensure workers' needs met
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/19/2011

There is a disconnect between employers and employees when it comes to wellness programs, according to the 2011 sanofi-aventis Healthcare Survey.

From an employee perspective, wellness programs continue to decline, with 23 per cent of the 1,598 workers surveyed saying their employers promote or provide wellness programs, down from 29 per cent in 2010 and 31 per cent in 2009.

However, 60 per cent of employers already offer wellness programs and even more (68 per cent) are planning to invest in such programs this year, according to the 50 plan sponsors surveyed.

“If employers are going to put funding, time and effort into a wellness program, they are going to want to see they’re getting recognition and value for that,” said Chris Bonnett, president of H3 Consulting in Toronto and a member of the survey’s advisory board. “(Employers) need to, in some cases, step back and evaluate the programs and make sure they’re meeting employee needs.”

This discrepancy shows there is much room for improvement with employee communications, he said.

Communication around wellness programs is a priority at ferry service company Marine Atlantic in St. John’s, N.L. With 1,450 employees on four vessels and four work sites, the organization needs to be creative to make sure all employees hear about wellness opportunities, including diabetes and substance abuse programs, blood pressure and cholesterol clinics and healthy lifestyle information sessions, said Rhona Green, vice-president of human resources at the organization.

The company also holds wellness challenges over a six-month period where employees form teams and compete against each other on a variety of wellness components such as weight loss, diet, sleep, exercise or family time, she said.

“When our challenge is on, we bring someone in from the group, not full-time but for a number of hours per month, and they’ll go out and promote the challenge on our vessels,” said Green. “We also promote through a monthly newsletter, intranet site, emails — we do a lot of communication.”

Communications that vary in medium, language and style will help promote wellness programs and increase buy-in from employees, said Bonnett.

“There’s a whole generation of newer, younger employees who are not communicating in the same way their parents did and both generations are in the workplace now,” he said. “We also have a hugely diverse workforce so being able to communicate in languages other than English and French is also really important.”

The majority of plan members (72 per cent) said their employers should be highly involved in encouraging healthy workplaces and employees, found the survey. However, only 41 per cent said it would be appropriate for their employer to actively help them manage their health.

“I think the employees are telling the employer, ‘You can give information to me, communicate what we’re doing as a company, but to tell me what to do, I’m not sure I can completely agree with that,’” said Danny Peak, senior manager of private payers and strategic partnership at sanofi-aventis in Laval, Que.


When it comes to benefits, 59 per cent of employees said they would rather keep their health benefit plan than receive $10,000, found the survey. When the payout is doubled to $20,000, 48 per cent said they would choose to keep their benefits.

“It just shows that the plan members put a lot of value on health benefits so, for them, it’s a peace of mind,” said Peak.

Prescription drug coverage continues to come out on top, with 100 per cent of respondents agreeing it’s very important (91 per cent) or somewhat important (nine per cent) for their health benefit plan to cover costly prescription drugs to treat a serious disease such as cancer or heart disease.

When asked if they would pay out-of-pocket if their plan did not cover the drug, only six per cent said they absolutely would and 35 per cent said it would depend on the cost while 37 per cent said it would depend on the reason for the prescription.

“We know drugs can cost anywhere from a few cents per dose to hundreds or potentially thousands per dose so, of course, it’s going to depend on the actual cost and depend on the reason for the prescription, the quality of the plan and how much of the cost is reimbursed by the employer,” said Bonnett.

After health and dental care, employees were most likely to say they have access to paramedical services (83 per cent), a pay-direct prescription drug card (74 per cent) and an employee assistance program (65 per cent), found the survey.

Tax incentives

Eighty-six per cent of plan members strongly or somewhat agreed governments should actively support workplaces that promote better health and fitness. And 64 per cent said they support tax incentives for employers with wellness initiatives.

“We know we have a significant burden of chronic diseases and an aging workforce and I think it’s important now, instead of working in silos, that governments recognize the important roles employers are playing,” said Bonnett.

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