Nearly nine out of ten employers (88%) are planning to make changes to their partnerships with vendors that provide healthcare, wellbeing and mental health assistance in the next two years, according to a survey of 232 U.S. employers — who collectively employ three million workers — by the global advisory company Willis Towers Watson.
About 85% of companies plan to add or enhance the programs that effectively augment core benefits like medical and dental coverage via vendors that provide such help as quickly connecting employees to therapists or psychiatrists or providing access to virtual physical therapy, according to Regina Ihrke, senior director and leader of health, equity and wellbeing solutions at Arlington, Va.-based WTW. Less than 5% of companies said they’d eliminate programs, she said.
While some vendor fatigue has emerged in the wake of the explosion of the health services offerings, “the shocking part of this survey is … the majority of employers are saying, ‘we’re going to keep looking, adding and enhancing,’” Ihrke said in an interview.
The study’s findings show companies are still committed to providing a wide range of wellbeing and health-related offerings to workers, even as the labor market’s balance of power may be starting to shift back to employers with layoffs rising and wage growth slowing.
The rise of multi-pronged health, wellbeing and mental-health related services, known as point solutions, can be traced back to about 2010 and the Affordable Care Act, Ihrke said. The evolution of smart phone technology, apps and the accelerated awareness of workers’ healthcare needs during the pandemic have further expanded the range of offerings companies are providing, she said.
“When you dig into everything employers are doing you get to this point where you say, ‘holy heck, you’re actually offering a lot,’” Ihrke said. “There’s been this massive explosion in the solutions area.”
Vendors in the fast-growing mental health space include Spring Health and Lyra Health, while others that provide physical therapy-related services are Hinge Health and Sword Health, she said, adding that employees aren’t always aware or taking advantage of the help that exists.
The study underscored the frustration that some companies are feeling as they struggle to measure and compare the business case and return on investment for the programs, she said.
A majority of employers (57%) surveyed cited a lack of metrics on the vendors and 44% cited a lack of employer-specific information on the vendor’s return on investment. But while ROI is a top priority for companies making decisions on the offerings, Ihrke said a true audit of such programs may be difficult to accomplish. Instead, companies may need a broader definition of ROI that includes improvements in quality offerings or simply a better experience for employees, she said.
Looking ahead, she said the study shows the programs and perks that some employers continued to add to attract and keep employees during the Great Resignation appear to be holding their ground. “Companies might try to bundle more things together ... but there’s no stopping it,” Ihrke said.