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If you are wondering whether your employer really cares about your health and wellbeing, I have good and bad news.

First, the good news. A survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management shows that more employers than ever are trying to encourage their employees to be healthier.

In a survey of 550 human resources officers, the survey found that 77 percent of employers offer wellness resource information in 2012, compared to 72 percent in 2008. And, 61 percent of companies said they now offer wellness programs compared to 58 percent four years earlier.

Wellness programs have become a hot-button issue for companies, which are grappling with escalating costs for health care. There’s a slowly building awareness among employers that providing the means for employees to protect their health is a sound investment.

“Employers recognize that providing employees with the opportunity to improve their health can increase morale, confidence and productivity,” says Mark Schmit, Society for Human Resource Management’s vice president of research.

“Organizations continue to look for ways to manage costs as the economy slowly improves. Benefits that encourage healthier behavior are a cost effective way to keep up employee morale, while healthier employees also help decrease healthcare costs to employers and employees.”

The Society finds that every dollar companies invest in wellness programs can result in a savings of $3.27 in medical costs and another $2.73 in absenteeism.

Now for the bad news. The Society also reports that employers are fairly impatient to see this cost savings. Once having invested in wellness, they want results.

The report says that companies are willing to make an investment in wellness but they want to see an almost immediate reflection in cost-savings. But the Society fears that impatience by employers might undermine the long-term gains they stand to make if they are willing to continue wellness programs.

Employers are counting on their workers to make lifestyle changes, and as they shift responsibility for sharing health care costs with employees that should provide a strong motivation. Yet, these same employers need to understand that they have to stay the course on this issue, or they and their employees both lose.

The survey reports that 45 percent of employers are now offering health and lifestyle coaching, up from just 33 percent in 2008. It also shows that 35 percent of employers are now offering bonuses or discounts on healthcare coverage for participating in wellness programs, up from 23 percent.

Twenty-one percent also offer healthcare discounts if employees get an annual risk assessment, while 20 percent of employers now discount healthcare premiums for workers who don’t use tobacco products, up from 8 percent just four years ago.

Certainly the motivation of employers to push wellness programs is centered on cost-savings, and that isn’t enough. They have to develop and use effective tools to communicate these programs and their benefits to the workforce.

If they lose patience — as the Society for Human Resource Management suggests they may – it will be one giant step back for promoting wellness in the workplace. This is a serious workplace and financial issue for both employers and their workers, so let’s hope employers understand that and give wellness programs a chance to take hold before they bail on them.

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