Even though profitability for American business will be elusive in 2009, many employers are increasing employee wellness programs — and not cutting budgets for these programs.

According to Buck Consultants’ survey, employers can find that wellness programs actually help employees deal with the very issues that the economic downturn creates. Since the beginning of the economic downturn in the U.S., Buck’s survey found that employees’ use of wellness programs increased for over one-half of employers. The key metrics for measuring success of thesee programs are cost-effectiveness, changing employee behavior, and measuring health status.

Nearly one-half of employers said they were increasing wellness communications to promote services offered to employees that can help them manage various health impacts of the negative economy. 19% of employers will increase spending on wellness programs. These services including employee assistance programs related to stress and/or depression, and financial planning.

Buck asserts that wellness is a vital benefit and serves an important role in the recession.

Buck also anticipate that companies will pursue a “culture of health” philosophy in the near future.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: While profitability concerns the likes of the Autos and companies whose profitability has eroded, causing them to erode and ration health plans, there remains a cadre of employers keen to both continue to sponsor health insurance coverage as well as promote a so-called “culture of health” among employees. A key to establishing and sustaining a healthful culture at the workplace is the ability to measure investments in employee wellness so that employers who invest in these programs achieve a sound ROI.

I was very fortunate to have dinner with a guru in health planning who challenged me with the idea that only in a single payer system could the U.S. get to rewarding positive health behaviors. I countered him — with respect — that increasingly, plan sponsors can measure their ROI in health programs, and not just in sickness measures. If employers commit to wellness programs and provide aligned incentives that motivate employees to change behaviors, the metrics should follow.