Despite Economic Pressures, Employers Enhancing Programs That Boost Worker Health and Productivity, Watson Wyatt/National Business Group on Health Survey Finds

November 30, 2009

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — Despite pressure to reduce budgets, many large U.S. employers are ramping up initiatives to improve worker health and productivity, according to a survey by Watson Wyatt, a leading global consulting firm, and the National Business Group on Health, an association of more than 280 mostly large employers. At the same time, employers are finding that more workers are using their health services and experiencing higher levels of stress.

According to the 2009 Staying@Work Report, which is based on a survey of 282 companies in the United States, 42 percent of employers note an increase in employee utilization of the company health plan. Almost half (47 percent) of employers are seeing an increase in their workers’ use of the employee assistance program (EAP). Additionally, 30 percent of employers are seeing an increase in workers filing disability claims. Meanwhile, unplanned absence is rising among workers at 22 percent of U.S. companies.

Employers are strengthening their benefit programs and initiatives. More than half (51 percent) of companies are planning no change or a slight increase to their health and productivity program budgets, compared with 44 percent that are planning cuts. In addition, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of employers have already enhanced their onsite offerings with programs geared toward stress management, EAPs or health coaches, or expect to do so in the next 12 months.

“Companies are finding some relief from high benefit costs by investing in programs that improve the health of their workers,” said Shelly Wolff, national leader of health and productivity consulting at Watson Wyatt. “Workers who haven’t lost their jobs are under great amounts of stress and are increasingly turning to their employer for advice, treatment or assistance that goes beyond basic coverage when they get sick. Still, employer initiatives that effectively deal with stress are limited.”

Although 78 percent of employers cite excessive work hours as a leading cause of employee stress, only 21 percent of employers indicate they are taking action to address it properly.

Similarly, lack of work/life balance was cited as a leading stressor by 68 percent of employers, yet only 38 percent are taking appropriate action. Another leading cause of stress, fear of job loss, is cited by 67 percent of employers but is being actively addressed by only 41 percent of companies.

“Not only are stressed workers less productive, they are also likely to incur higher health costs for themselves and their employer,” said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health. “Companies most effective at mitigating the impact of stress are moving in the right direction — helping employees become more efficient while working to lower benefit costs and strengthen balance sheets.”

To view the full 2009/2010 Staying@Work report, visit:

www.watsonwyatt.com/StayingAtWork .

About Watson Wyatt

Watson Wyatt (NYSE, Nasdaq: WW) is the trusted business partner to the world’s leading organizations on people and financial issues. The firm’s global services include: managing the cost and effectiveness of employee benefit programs; developing attraction, retention and reward strategies; advising pension plan sponsors and other institutions on optimal investment strategies; providing strategic and financial advice to insurance and financial services companies; and delivering related technology, outsourcing and data services. Watson Wyatt has 7,500 associates in 33 countries and is located on the Web at www.watsonwyatt.com.

About National Business Group on Health

The National Business Group on Health (Business Group) is a non-profit membership organization of more than 280 members, including 60 of the Fortune 100. The Business Group is devoted to providing practical solutions to its employer-members’ most important health care problems and serving as the voice for large employers on national health care issues and public policy. Its members purchase health and disability benefits for over 55 million people. For more information, visit www.businessgrouphealth.org.

SOURCE Watson Wyatt

Source: newswire

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