Overview

Over the past few years, organizations have faced a number of challenges, including the outbreak of a global pandemic, the shift to remote work, and a mass exodus of workers known as the Great Resignation. Moving forward, employers must also prepare for the possibility of an extended economic downturn, complete with its inherent uncertainty and rising prices, and a potential recession.

To navigate these uncertain times, leaders need to make swift decisions and have a clear understanding of the steps they need to take to mitigate the impact of economic challenges on the organization and its employees. A well-thought-out plan that prioritizes both the well-being of the company and its employees will be crucial in ensuring the long-term success of the organization.

To gain a better understanding of these trends, Wellable Labs conducted its annual Employee Wellness Industry Trends Report. The report, which is based on data collected from health insurance brokers and wellness consultants, explores investment trends, decision-making factors, and vendor criteria in the employee well-being field. It also includes special sections dedicated to mental health and financial wellness, looking at new solutions and top vendors employers are using in 2023. The findings provide valuable insight into the key trends that human resources leaders should be aware of as they navigate economic uncertainty in the future.

Decision Influencers

In addition to exploring areas of investment, the survey also asked brokers what criteria had the greatest influence on employee benefits decisions. After a significant dip in 2020, creating a competitive benefits plan has once again become a top priority for employers as they respond to employee burnout and retention issues. The rising cost of benefits will also continue to be a significant influencer as companies prepare to strengthen their benefits packages and plan for unexpected costs and potentially volatile economic conditions.

With 2023 expected to be a year full of uncertainty, employers’ benefits decisions will reflect their best assumptions on how several critical questions will be answered.

img

Decision Influencers

Vendor Criteria

Seventy-three percent of respondents felt that pricing was a top-three criterion for selecting wellness benefits vendors. This number was even higher for small- and medium-sized companies, with 83% and 79% reporting that pricing was a key consideration, respectively. In contrast, only 47% of large employers listed pricing as one of their top-three concerns. Customer testimonials (2%) and domain expertise (6%) remained the least popular criteria.

Approximately two-thirds of companies (63%) valued a vendor's flexibility and customizability, a trend that is consistent with the previous year's results. This number was slightly higher for smaller companies (70%) with fewer than 250 employees. These businesses may be looking for options to incentivize healthy behaviors while working within limited budgets.

img

Other important selection criteria included reporting and measurement (56%), innovation and technology (54%), and customer service (45%). Medium-sized companies (51%) placed a particular emphasis on customer service, compared to only 44% of large companies and 30% of small companies. Large companies (66%) tended to prioritize reporting and measurement, possibly due to a greater focus on monitoring costs and demonstrating the value of their investments.

After experiencing a significant drop (12 percentage points) in 2020, preferences for innovation and technology are almost back to their all-time high, with 54% of companies listing them as one of their top-three criteria. This consideration is especially influential among larger companies (75%), as they tend to have more resources to spend on innovative solutions and are willing to explore unconventional approaches.

Key Takeaways

BACK TO OVERVIEW

What brokers and employers are investing in

EXPLORE
DECISION INFLUENCERS

Factors influencing benefits decisions

EXPLORE
VENDOR CRITERIA

How wellness investment decisions are made

EXPLORE

Mental Health

Mental health has remained a dominant concern over the past several years for employers. Rates of depression and anxiety are up significantly, as are all physical problems that these mental ailments can induce. As employers continue to appreciate just how vital mental health is for overall well-being, as well as a host of positive organizational outcomes, they are rapidly expanding the range of their mental health benefits.

What new offerings are your clients using to promote mental health in the workplace (choose top 3)?

To understand how organizations are enhancing their mental health support offerings, Wellable Labs asked brokers to list the top three new benefits their clients are providing to promote mental health in the workplace. The most popular solutions are employee assistance programs (EAPs) (72%), digital health tools (50%), and education (45%), remaining consistent with last year's results.

Flexible work schedules continue to be a popular benefit for promoting mental health in the workplace, with 28% of companies offering them as a new benefit. However, the adoption rate of this benefit may not be higher due to a significant number of companies already offering flexible work schedules since the beginning of the pandemic. As a result, these organizations may no longer consider it a new offering, which could explain the lower response rate. Budgetary constraints may also be a factor in the low adoption rate of paid time off (PTO) for promoting mental health, with only 13% of organizations currently using PTO for this purpose.

Mindfulness and meditation resources are low on the list, with 19% of companies offering mindfulness classes as a new way to promote mental health. Again, this may be because companies have offered these resources for years. However, it may stem from a growing tendency among employees to rely on other resources to stay mentally well. While mindfulness and meditation are effective practices, some workers may need additional services, such as appointments with a therapist, to counteract the high levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout they are experiencing. They may also be relying on the rapidly growing array of digital health tools, which a substantial portion of companies are adding to their suite of mental health services.

Other items appear low on the list due to limited scalability. For example, only 12% of businesses surveyed are now using coaching to promote mental health in the workplace, and only 1% are offering support groups.

Lastly, organizational culture changes are an underutilized strategy for promoting mental health in the workplace, with just 12% of companies planning on changing their cultures for this purpose. Most likely, this is because businesses feel that culture is difficult, if not impossible, to change. However, this appearance is illusory, as culture is readily modifiable. Moreover, attempts at changing culture will be well worth the effort, as the culture and general climate that employees work in every day can dramatically impact their mental well-being.

Additionally, brokers were asked to list their top mental wellness solutions. The results can be found below.

Financial Wellness

Financial wellness, defined as one’s degree of financial stability and overall ability to manage their economic life, is a relative newcomer to the wellness space. As such, companies are just beginning to formulate their financial wellness strategies, adding new solutions each year.

What new offerings are your clients using to promote financial wellness in the workplace (choose top 3)?

Respondents were asked to identify the top three new offerings used by their clients to promote financial wellness in the workplace. With this data, organizations can benchmark their strategies against their peers as they continue to refine their programs.

By and large, organizations are looking for cost-effective, flexible, and scalable solutions, which is why educational resources (81%), digital finance tools (62%), coaching (43%), and retirement planning (43%) are the most popular new offerings. Student debt assistance, while not on the top list, saw a 10-percentage point jump from last year. This trend is likely related to the high levels of student debt and the negative impact it has on individuals' financial well-being, the exacerbation of existing societal inequalities, and the financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding or increasing 401(k) matching programs (30%) is significantly less popular than other options, possibly due to budgetary concerns.

Digital finance tools are a surprising but welcome addition, as they offer employees on-demand access to an increasingly extensive range of financial resources. As digital finance tools increase in quantity and quality over the coming years, so will the percentage of companies who utilize this offering.

A clear trend again shows that scalable programs (such as educational programs and digital financial tools) are significantly more popular than the rest. Coaching is particularly challenging to scale. It is also less flexible, as employees must coordinate with coaches to find times that work for both parties. Student debt assistance is expensive and newer to the scene, meaning companies may be less familiar with how to implement this benefit. Also, student debt assistance may only benefit a subset of an employee’s population. Contributions to 401(k) accounts may appear less valuable to younger employees, who are looking for more control over what they invest in and may have more pressing needs that would be better met with alternative forms of financial assistance.

Additionally, brokers were asked to list their top financial wellness solutions. The result can be found below.

Explore The Data

Investment Trends

When available, the report showcased six years of historical data. The gradual year-over-year trends provide useful context for the drastic changes brought on by the pandemic and the following economic uncertainty.

2023 Investment Trends

Historical Comparison

  • Investing Less
  • Investing Same
  • Investing More
By Average Client Size
By Years Of Experience

Decision Influencers

When available, the report showcased six years of historical data. The gradual year-over-year trends provide useful context for the drastic changes brought on by the pandemic and the following economic uncertainty.

2023 Influencers

Historical Comparison

  • Minimally Influenced
  • Somewhat Influenced
  • Significantly Influenced
By Average Client Size
By Years Of Experience

Vendor Evaluation

When available, the report showcased six years of historical data. The gradual year-over-year trends provide useful context for the drastic changes brought on by the pandemic and the following economic uncertainty.

Historical Comparison

By Average Client Size
By Years Of Experience

Appendix

Participant Profile

Respondent Locations
Average Client Size
Broker Years of Experience

Survey Questions

  1. Where are you based?

  2. How many years of experience do you have working in employee benefits or wellness?

    0-5 Years

    6-10 Years

    10+ Years

  3. What’s your average client size?

    Small (<250)

    Medium (250-1000)

    Large (1000+)

  4. How much are your clients investing in employee wellness compared to the previous year?

  5. How much are your clients investing in the benefits listed below compared to the previous year?

  6. How much are your clients’ decisions influenced by the factors listed below?

  7. What are your top criteria when evaluating wellness vendors (choose top 3)?

  8. What offerings are your clients using to promote mental health in the workplace (choose top 3)?

  9. Which online counseling vendor would you recommend to your clients?

  10. Which digital mental wellness solution would you recommend to your clients?

  11. Which EAP solution would you recommend to your clients?

  12. What new offering are your clients using to promote financial wellness in the workplace (choose top 3)?

  13. Which digital financial wellness solution would you recommend to your clients?