9th Annual Wellness in the Workplace Study

Employers make moves to keep pace with market forces.

Improving the health care experience for employees requires a deliberate plan to keep up with market forces and industry trends.

Results from the Optum® 9th Annual Wellness in the Workplace Study demonstrate that overall investment in employee health and well-being has remained strong. At the same time, the trends impacting health care are driving meaningful change to age-old approaches.

Market forces inspire bold, new moves

Financial concerns, shifting workplace demographics, technological advances and other market trends have all forced employers to think differently when it comes to their health and well-being strategies.

In response, employers are making purposeful moves to make sure employee benefits keep pace with — and positively affect — these key trends impacting their health and well-being strategies. These market trends include:

Investing in strategies that create health care value for both the employee and employer

Beyond implementing plan design changes, employers are also attempting to prevent costly medical claims that impact the organization’s bottom line and employees’ wallets.

Specifically, they are pursuing clinical strategies that proactively address costly and complex health conditions. These conditions often have a range of treatment options across multiple sites of care, with wide outcome variations.

As one of the top medical cost drivers, back and joint pain are becoming a high priority for many employers. The number of employers that offered musculoskeletal (MSK) programs increased significantly from 8 percent in 2015 to 31 percent in 2017.

Modifying the program mix to reflect the rise of the consumer

Employers are focusing on services that simplify the health care experience for consumers; specifically, improving navigation and accessibility. This includes services such as health advocacy, which saw a notable increase of 58 percent from 2015 to 2017.

Other services showing increases include transparency tools (such as cost estimators), which increased 16 percent. Telemedicine increased 80 percent and relationships with near-site and on-site medical clinics increased (31 percent and 29 percent, respectively).

Leaning in to women’s health

A variety of women’s health programs and services offered by employers saw an increase across the board from 2016 to 2017.

Employers offering maternity programs grew from 59 percent to 72 percent. Neonatal increased from 41 percent to 60 percent, and first-year-of-life programs grew from 40 percent to 60 percent. Preconception rose from 37 percent to 56 percent, and fertility solutions increased from 30 percent to 52 percent.

Rethinking the purpose of health and well-being programs

Employers are starting to rethink the value proposition for employee health and well-being programs. Leveraging these programs to build a loyal, highly engaged workforce culture may not only drive improved program outcomes, but also inspire program innovation.

Survey results show significant changes over the past two years as new value markers focused on building employee morale and recruiting and retaining employees emerge.

Key growth areas — reasons employers offer health and well-being programs:

  • Promoting productivity (64 percent to 74 percent)
  • Improving morale (57 percent to 74 percent)
  • Recruiting/retaining employees (64 percent to 72 percent)

Survey results also demonstrated that employers are investing in culture-enabling programs.¹

  • 84% offer organized, work-sponsored activities
  • 80% offer team-based programs

Employers also know that the physical work environment can have an influence on our well-being. As a result:

  • 56% have made changes to the physical work environment
  • Top changes: healthier food in vending machines and cafeterias, on-site fitness centers, ergonomic programs, smoke-free campuses and standing desks
Fast-tracking technology

Over the last three years, employers have made noteworthy gains in the adoption of engagement technology. In fact, 86 percent of employers are now subsidizing or plan to subsidize activity tracking devices.

However, they have yet to fully embrace technology as a key engagement enabler. Wearable tech adoption has doubled since 2015; however only about half are using it (53 percent). More could be done to integrate mobile apps, game like features and health-related messaging into their health and wellness programs.

Addressing persisting and emerging behavioral health needs

There is a significant opportunity to address a complex continuum of employee behavioral health needs, from excessive stress to opioid use disorder.

The reality is that 79 percent of employers report that their health and wellness strategy addresses physical health. That’s compared to 67 percent of employers who report their strategy addresses behavioral health.

Clearly, a significant gap remains between these two important dimensions of well-being.

Addressing persisting and emerging behavioral health needs

Powerful new technology has created exciting opportunities for the health care industry to mine and leverage vast quantities of data in more useful ways than ever before.

While excited about this new promise, employers have yet to find partners who can help them drive incremental health care value for their populations.

There is a significant opportunity to do more — mining and aggregating data relating to pharmacy claims, electronic health records, and social-demographic and lab data in addition to medical claims.

In fact, only 42 percent of employers said they were highly effective at leveraging data and analytics to make decisions about their population health management strategy. And three-fourths (74%) would like a partner to help them do so.


By harnessing the power of data, leveraging consumer-friendly technology and offering specialized programs (such as behavioral health and women’s health) that drive health care value, employers can continue to stay ahead of critical market forces impacting the health and well-being of their employees.

Read more about the study at optum.com or contact Optum at engage@optum.com

1 Of those addressing social health in the workplace.

Optum is a leading information and technology-enabled health services business dedicated to helping make the health system work better for everyone. With more than 135,000 people worldwide, Optum delivers intelligent, integrated solutions that help to modernize the health system and improve overall population health. Optum is part of UnitedHealth Group https://www.optum.com/solutions/employer.html