Survey contrasts wellness plans between U.S. and Canadian businesses

May 6, 2015

Responding to rising chronic illness rates and poor health habits among workers, 82 percent of all U.S. and Canadian employers, and 90 percent of public employers, have embraced workplace wellness initiatives to improve the health of their employees, according to a new survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. Public employers surveyed included state, municipal, county, federal and university workers.

Mental illness and depression are the biggest drain on health costs in Canada while diabetes and heart disease are driving costs in the United States, especially for public employees. Sixty-two percent of employers expect to increase their wellness spending over the next two years. Programs can include health screenings and treatments, fitness and nutrition programs, social and community health initiatives, and mental health initiatives. Typical features of wellness programs include flu shot clinics, health screenings, and health fairs.

Newer features identified in the survey include wearable tracking devices, wellness apps, and wellness games. The survey found that while there are many similarities between wellness plan offered by U.S. and Canadian businesses, they often have different motivations and goals. U.S. business wellness plans are designed to control costs, tracking return on investment (ROI), while Canadian plans are more likely to emphasize worker health and engagement, reducing disability, and absenteeism.

Most employers are reporting positive returns on investment averaging $3 for every dollar spent, in diverse benefits, particularly reducing health costs, absenteeism, and disability claims.

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