Employers are failing to understand or measure the effect of employee health programmes and its strategic value for their business models, research has found.
In Tower Watson's latest Health, Wellbeing and Productivity survey, three-quarters of employers said stress or work-life balance have been issues for their staff.
However, half did not know if nutrition, obesity, smoking or physical exercise had affected their employees.
Rebekah Haymes, senior consultant at Towers Watson, said: "A strategic focus, whereby programmes and spend are targeted at key issues, is largely missing. In such circumstances, how can companies truly understand the payback on their health and wellbeing programmes and their sustainability?"
Haymes said organisations that understood the impact of sickness on their workforce could design benefits programmes targeting risk factors both important for their business models and employees.
The survey also highlighted many companies have little focus on quantifying the value and return on investments associated with their health and wellbeing programmes.
Few employers have tracked programme outcomes and measures against targets, while even fewer have sought the link to improved worker behaviours and employee productivity.
Haynes also referred to a global study by Towers Watson in 2012, which had found organisations with effective health and wellbeing strategies had reported lower costs due to fewer absences and reductions in some health risks.
Such employers reported higher revenues per employee, experiencing operating margins almost three times higher than companies with low engagement.
Haynes concluded: "It is questionable how sustainable programmes can be in the long term without evidence available on their efficacy and value to the business.
"Financial returns cannot easily be achieved over a short period of time; however, employers can measure drivers of business performance such as benefit costs, absence, engagement, and worker effectiveness. Once employers know this, they can start to measure the business benefits associated with their health and wellbeing programmes."