Optum: Employers' latest focus when it comes to wellness

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A new survey from Optum examines employer attitudes on wellness programs. (Getty/Zinkevych)

Employers looking to continue investing in their well-being programs are eyeing services targeting behavioral health and women’s health, a new survey shows. 

Optum surveyed 544 employers in three size categories—medium (100 to 2,999 employees), large (3,000 to 9,999 employees) and jumbo (10,000 or more employees)—to gather insights on their attitudes on workplace wellness. 

The survey found that employers are planning to grow their investment in wellness programs, with 81% saying in 2018 that they expect their spending to increase. A decade prior, just 31% said the same. 

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Seth Serxner, Ph.D., Optum’s chief health officer, told FierceHealthcare that employers see wellness offerings as more than just health options, but also as tools that improve recruitment and retainment, address absenteeism and boost employee morale. 

“We see that over the last few years programs have become very important to the benefit mix and the overall strategy that employers are thinking about,” Serxner said. “Instead of wellness just being a sidebar, it’s an integral part of the strategy.” 

RELATED: NBGH survey—Employees want well-being programs that support mental, financial health 

As employers say they’re committed to wellness programs, they’re looking to new focus areas to continue evolving benefits to better meet changing workforce demographics and demands, the survey found. 

For example, behavioral and mental health is a central concern—87% of respondents said they were concerned about employee’s access to behavioral healthcare. So, they’re taking several different approaches to address the issue: 61% said they would invest in new digital tools for behavioral health, while 56% said they were examining their provider networks. 

In addition, 51% said they would implement virtual visits and 46% said they would offer near-term appointment scheduling, the survey found. 

Another goal is to destigmatize behavioral health issues. The vast majority (88%) of respondents said they plan to address mental health stigmas within the next year. 

“Well-being is a bit of a softer entryway,” Serxner said. “It’s a little less threatening and it’s a little more immediately relevant to me and my personal problems.” 

RELATED: There’s little evidence wellness programs work. Employers remain bullish on them anyway, survey finds 

Employers also see women’s health as an emerging focus for their wellness programs, the survey found. As women make up nearly half of the workforce, the demand for supports addressing their specific needs including maternity care and fertility services is growing. 

Eighty-seven percent of the survey respondents said they plan to invest further in women’s well-being over the next three years, and 82% said it is “very important” to offer these services to workers. 

The availability of these supports has grown notably over the past several years, the survey found. In 2018, 74% of employers offered maternity programs, 68% offered neonatal supports, 65% offered fertility solutions and 64% offered midlife supports for women. 

By comparison, in 2016, 59% offered maternity programs, 41% offered neonatal supports and 30% offered fertility solutions. That year, no employers were providing midlife supports, the survey found. 

“I think where it’s clear that the demographics are changing,” Serxner said. 

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