4 wellness trends to watch in 2012

Beyond the carrot and stick Beyond the carrot and stick

Expect the emergence of a more sophisticated approach to incentives, says Thomas. Some employers, especially those with a lot of wellness program experience, will be emphasizing outcomes rather than just participation. “More progressive employers are looking at outcomes-based incentives,” she says.

So instead of giving traditional incentives ($50 to join a gym, for example), they will require that employees pass biometric screenings to receive discounts on their health insurance premiums. Those who don’t meet the necessary biometric levels would have to enroll in a wellness program and after achieving a healthy body mass index and other biometric numbers, would then be eligible for the discounts.

Help me through the maze Help me through the maze

Forget the old nurse hot lines that provided advice when your child was sick. “We will see employers making greater efforts to help employees navigate the complex health care system,” says Thomas. Expect more employers to use health care advisory services to teach employees how to make better treatment choices, find quality providers and make better use of their employers’ health management programs, thereby reducing health care costs.

Here comes social media Here comes social media

Expect to see more employers using social media to reinforce healthy behaviors. Telecom carrier Sprint, for example, recently launched its first nationwide employee-fitness competition. Thousands of its employees used interactive social media tools to form teams, lose weight, exercise more and ultimately become healthier. “Companies are integrating social media to build a culture of individual accountability,” says Thomas.

Still spending Still spending

Despite the tough economy and corporate belt tightening across the board, expect to see roughly one-third of employers increase their proportionate spending on wellness programs, with about half keeping their proportionate spending at about 2011 levels.

“Companies recognize they have to invest to increase engagement and bend the trend for the employer,” says Thomas. “Companies are investing in their human capital and we’re not seeing a shift away from this.”

From outcomes-based incentives to helping employees through the health care maze to social media, there’s a lot in store this year for employer wellness programs. Beena Thomas, MPH, vice president, health and wellness for OptumHealth, gives us her take on the top four wellness trends of 2012.

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