Employee wellness is a growth business: 57% of large employers provide wellness programs to employees, increasing from 49% of large employers in 2006.

According MetLife’s Sixth Annual Employee Benefits Trends Study, nine of ten companies that offer wellness believe these programs are effective in reducing medical costs.

For the average employer, MetLife found, 58% of the total benefits spend goes to medical coverage — an even higher percentage for smaller employers.

The most popular wellness programs include smoking cessation, weight management, an exercise regimen and cancer screening among others.

While 4 in 5 employers provide incentives to “nudge” people into participation, only 9% levy financial penalties on employees who do not “meet wellness guidelines.”

Other key findings include:

  • 40% of employers provide gyms/fitness center discounts
  • 38% of employers provide gifts and prizes
  • 27% of employers offer a reduction in employee contributions to medical plans
  • 17% of employers waive medical plan deductibles
  • 17% of employers offer additional time off
  • 14% of employers offer employees a credit towards their benefits purchases
  • 2% of employers offer cash/bonuses.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Employers’ commitment to employee wellness isn’t just a nice-to-do, but a must-do for helping stem medical cost trends. The MetLife study details lots of front-end activities to promote work wellness like gym discounts and gifts.

While these inducements are great “nudging” techniques, the programs could achieve even better outcomes with support of information tools from the Health 2.0 universe. As the Health 2.0 Conference kicks off Year 2 with a standing-room-only audience of over 1,000 (doubling since the first conference held in September 2007), it’s worth mentioning a few emerging innovators who will demonstrate wellness and health promotion tools at the Conference:

ZumeLife, which features Zuri (a handheld device) that allows people to track and adhere to regimens, both therapeutic and wellness.

Limeade, which offers an online employee wellness platform

PeerTrainer, which supports weight loss and fitness.

Check these out if you have an interest in seeing people realize optimal health outcomes. Whole health is 24×7 and it doesn’t happen only in the gym. Health is built at home, over mealtimes, walking and running in neighborhoods and green spaces, thinking positively, having fun, and in the myriad moments in the course of a single day. These tools have begun to help people get well and stay well. Anticipate more such helpful tools to emerge in the coming months.