More employers will more aggressively manage employee health, based on Hewitt‘s latest survey of 500 U.S. companies.

Hewitt’s poll found that 88% of employers are looking to invest for the longer-term (a 3-5 year time horizon) to improve employees’ health and productivity. This has dramatically grown from 63% last year.

This is a matter of dollars-and-cents among employers. Hewitt found that employees see a direct link between spending for health and long term productivity outcomes — and management of costs, both direct and out-of-pocket for employees.

In a parallel survey among 30,000 employees conducted by Hewitt, only 12% believe that companies should play a role in their staying healthy.

3 in 4 employees, though, want help from employers in understanding their health plan — the typical administrative role of HR.

Hewitt recognizes that employees are skeptical about this new role of health that employers want to take on.

Nonetheless, employees aren’t universally exhibiting healthy behaviors. While 88% of employees say they engage in healthy behaviors, only 47% believe they eat right and only 40% cop to regularly exercising.

Even when covered by health insurance, some employees say that the cost for visits or prescriptions also inhibits their use of the health system. 30% said they did not go to the doctor when they were sick because of cost. Prescription drug compliance and adherence is also an ongoing challenge: 27% of employees did not fill an initial Rx, and 19% stopped taking medications before the Rx ran out.

The good news in the survey is that cost shifting to employees seems to have slowed based on Hewitt’s survey. Only 17% of employers will prioritize cost-shifting in the next 3-5 years, instead adopting more value-based plan designs that motivate healthy behaviors. Only 12% of employers use value-based plans today, but 52% look forward to using them in the future.

In a related story, see the latest research by the Guardian Life Insurance Company which finds that employees who do opt into a wellness program don’t stay committed for long. Guardian recommends financial incentives to bolster wellness-stickiness.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: One pioneer in value-based health purchasing is Pitney-Bowes, where David Hom exemplified the kind of leadership every company needs. In the mid-2000s, Hom developed an investment strategy — moving away from the typical cost-containment strategy — and generated very favorable ROI in the process. The company integrated data with benefit design, care delivery, providers and vendors throughout the health value chain. His approach is documented in the insightful book, Total Value/Total Return, which Hom co-wrote with Dr. Jack Mahoney. Hom is now Chairman of the Board at the Center for Health Value Innovation evangelizing the value of value-based design.