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Most Americans spend the majority of their day working. Even as much of the workforce has shifted beyond designated workplaces, people’s waking hours are still occupied by work tasks and responsibilities. As a result, organizations have recognized that they play an important part in the wellbeing of their employees. Better health is good for people and good for business. Despite best intentions, however, wellness program participation rates tell a mixed story about their effectiveness.  

The statistics

In 2020, a report by the U.S. Department of Labor found that at least 50% of companies with at least 50 employees offered some kind of wellness program to their employees and 90% of companies with over 50,000 employees offered wellness programs (other studies report this number around 81%). Regardless of company size or the specifics of their program, wellness program participation rates are estimated to be about 40%. 

The bad news

Ongoing studies of wellness program participation rates show that most wellness programs reach only those who are already motivated to tend to their health. Those who are less motivated will opt out on things like weight-loss challenges, step challenges, or gym membership benefits. For example, statistics indicate that gym membership only provides a benefit for about 10-15% of employees who would have joined one anyway. The people who most need this incentive are the least likely to use it. 

Another of the reasons wellness program participation rates are low is that workplace wellness initiatives are too complex, time consuming, or hard. Big, broadscale changes are ineffective at creating habits that stick. If the goal of wellness programming is to reduce healthcare costs, minimize absenteeism, or improve chronic health problems, the evidence for effectiveness is underwhelming. Generalized wellness programs are not having a strong impact on the country’s health issues at large.   

The good news

While wellness program participation rates aren’t ideal, some programs are working. The most successful programs are making a shift to holistic employee wellness solutions. They are responding to new trends, like those highlighted by workplace wellness statistics in 2021.

Successful wellness programs understand the new need for employee wellness for remote workers

Customized solutions work best. When companies use a variety of information from biometric screenings, employee surveys, demographic awareness, manager reports, or location considerations they better offer better, customizable solutions for their population and improve wellness program participation rates. 

Additionally, successful programs get leadership buy-in. Programs with middle management support averaged an ROI of ten times their initial investments. Strong programs also measure impact. Tracking metrics and iterating when needed leads to more effective programming to help those who most need it.

If you need help improving your wellness program participation rates and target the people who most need help, consider partnering with BetterYou. We are a Healthy Habits Companion that stays up to date with progress on the goals your employees care about most – like walking more, meditating more, talking to family and friends more, or getting more sleep. A personalized solution will help you create a healthier and happier workplace.