How much are employers investing in wellness programs?

Witnessing the many struggles facing employees due to the COVID-19 pandemic, scores of employers boosted their wellbeing support–and the dollars behind it–over the past year, new research finds.

Employers increased their focus on creating benefit programs that address the evolving needs of their diverse workforces, especially mental and emotional health, work-life balance and financial health, according to a survey of 166 jumbo, large and mid-sized organizations from Fidelity Investments and Business Group on Health, released Wednesday. Moreover, 80% of employers report that diversity, equity and inclusion influence their corporate wellbeing strategies.

- Advertisement -

Not only that, employers put in the money to back up their support: The total budget for wellbeing programs increased about 22%, reaching an average of $6 million in 2021, up from the average budget of $4.9 million reported in 2020. Among large employers (20,000-plus employees), the average budget earmarked for wellbeing programs increased $100,000 to $10.5 million in 2020. The average budget per employee increased to $238 in 2021, slightly higher than the $230 per employee in 2020.

Shams Talib of Fidelity Workplace Consulting

“The events of the past year have presented an opportunity for many employers to leverage their employee wellbeing programs to address the unique challenges created by the pandemic,” says Shams Talib, head of Fidelity Workplace Consulting. “As a result, we’ve seen many employers, including Fidelity for our own associates, evolve their wellbeing programs to provide greater support for emotional and mental wellbeing and an increasing focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.”

For 2021, a significant 92% of employers expanded support for mental health and emotional wellbeing, which includes programs focused on stress management, sleep improvement and resiliency, as well as pediatric-focused mental health programs. The finding comes on the heels of various research showing that employees’ mental health has been severely impacted by the pandemic, with rates of anxiety, burnout, stress and depression on the rise.

Related: Improving workplace mental health must be a strategic imperative

Meanwhile, nearly three-quarters (74%) of employers increased programs to support work/life balance, with 69% of employers adding new leave options or expanding their leave benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, many employers are examining their parental leave, including time off for adopting a child. Companies also increased programs designed for caregivers, including 64% that enhanced childcare support, 55% that provided paid leave to care for a child or other family member and 48% that provided backup childcare support.

Financial health investments also grew: For instance, 83% of employers say this year they will provide programs to support emergency savings, debt management and budgeting, while another 77% will offer resources to support key financial decisions like mortgages, wills and income protection.

Ellen Kelsay of Business Group on Health

The support is vital in creating a happier and more productive workforce–both as the pandemic continues and beyond, says Ellen Kelsay, president and CEO of Business Group on Health.

“As employers around the globe continue to ramp up their wellbeing offerings, we will see a healthier and more engaged workforce,” she says. “In addition, we expect businesses to continue to demonstrate flexibility and support employee needs through leave, hybrid work and other benefits.”

Avatar photo
Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.