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How to make the most of your fitness benefits

Get a step-by-step guide for employers to maximize ROI, design the best offering and keep their workforce engaged in essential offerings.

Savvy benefits leaders know the importance of offering great fitness and wellness programming. After all, 81% of large organizations already have offerings of this kind in place.1 However, simply announcing offerings such as gym membership reimbursements or grocery delivery services isn’t enough.

To truly maximize your offering’s impact and see a return on your investment, you’ll want to:

  • Get employees excited about the program’s features
  • Design it in a way that suits your organization’s particular needs
  • Partner with the best possible vendors to make it happen

Here’s how to set the wheels in motion.

Give the people what they want

A fitness benefit can’t help your workforce if your employees won’t use it. That’s why it’s essential that you meet employees where they are now — and that may look very different from just a few years ago.

Today’s employees are more discerning than ever about fitness content, and making exercise a part of their routine is hugely important to them. In fact, roughly half of Americans say that fitness is a top priority in their day-to-day life.2 And in this post-pandemic world of virtual classes and personalized exercise plans, employees are also primed to expect a highly customizable fitness regimen. Given the prediction that, by the end of 2023, 51% of the nation’s office workers will work in hybrid roles while 20% will be fully remote, that personalization must include virtual fitness offerings.

Since the pandemic, the average American’s use of free online workouts has increased by 15%, while their use of at-home exercise equipment rose 13% and their use of digital exercise programs increased by 8%.3 Meanwhile, in-person gym workouts — while still popular for many — have decreased by 8%.4 In other words, virtual fitness has become a staple of daily life for millions of Americans. The market is predicted to become only more entrenched in the years to come, rising to an estimated $79 billion by 2026.5

With this in mind, it’s crucial to make your offerings as accessible, varied and customizable as possible. When designing your fitness benefit, make sure to include a robust buffet of virtual and asynchronous classes, how-to videos and other resources. Allow employees to choose from an array of in-person gyms and studios, subsidizing all or part of their dues. Make it easy for employees to level up or downsize their membership in the program at will, so no one feels constrained. As with anything else, affordability matters — so provide your employees with several tiers of membership to ensure that cost isn’t a barrier for participation.

Keeping these principles top of mind will help ensure greater employee engagement with your fitness benefits — which can reap serious long-term benefits for employees and employers alike.

Design your benefit to suit your workforce’s unique circumstances

While it’s essential to give employees what they want, it’s also important to give them what they need. One way to get a clear sense of where your workforce stands in terms of health and wellness is to conduct a comprehensive Health Risk Assessment (HRA) among your employees. These thorough questionnaires — currently in use by upwards of 55% of large organizations that offer health coverage6 — paint a highly detailed portrait of employees’ health concerns and behaviors, allowing you to craft your wellness offerings in the most impactful manner possible.

For example, an HRA might reveal you have a higher preponderance of tobacco users among your employees than the average. In this case, you might consider a smoking cessation program or more robustly encouraging participation in an existing program. Did the survey results indicate a large concentration of sedentary employees? Now may be the time to offer incentive payments for those who use a gym — a common strategy among companies looking to encourage participation in HRAs and fitness programming.7

Combat point solution fatigue

One of the inherent challenges in offering comprehensive fitness benefits is the logistical risk of sending employees to a half-dozen different sites, apps or interfaces to manage multiple offerings. Asking your employees to create multiple logins or visit multiple websites can leave them feeling overwhelmed or apathetic, which is known as "point solution fatigue." This fatigue can cause employees to ignore benefit offerings, losing out on potentially significant health improvements.

To combat this problem, it’s wise to craft your benefits portfolio in a way that bundles health solutions into as few interfaces as possible. Employers can do so by prioritizing vendors who offer a database of gyms that are free for members to use and virtual exercise classes, all on the same site. The fewer passwords, apps and websites your employees have to juggle, the more likely they are to stay engaged with the benefits you’re offering.

Select vendors who know how to reach — and excite — employees

At the end of the day, a fitness benefit is only as good as the number of employees who know about and use it. That’s why it’s important to choose benefits vendors who can communicate clearly and impactfully with your workforce.

Here’s what that looks like in practice: A vendor with deep expertise in member engagement has a personalized dashboard that keeps all member information close at hand. They use mobile-responsive web design that helps make using these benefits as accessible and frictionless as possible. They also understand the importance of maintaining and analyzing data on everything from benefit participation to email click-through.

In executing a fitness benefits program, a vendor must serve as your organization’s right hand. That’s likely why so many employers are redoubling their vetting processes for wellness program vendors. To uncover ways to make the most of your current vendor, or to evaluate a new one, ask them questions such as:

  • Do you have diverse and customizable (including by age and fitness level) program options?
  • Can your offerings be integrated with other vendors we use?
  • What does your implementation plan involve?
  • How do you market your program offerings?
  • What is your pricing structure for various programs and services?

If you discover your vendor relationship doesn’t suit your needs, it may be time to renegotiate or discontinue the relationship. According to a recent Willis Towers Watson survey, a staggering 88% of employers are planning to reevaluate the design of their health offerings, with many opting to switch vendors within the next two years.8 The takeaway? There’s no reason to continue a vendor relationship that doesn’t suit your needs.

The need for fitness benefits is evident, but it’s just as clear that shrewdly positioning your offerings for maximum impact is essential, too. By leveraging the right data, taking on the right partnerships and accommodating employees’ desires, needs and ease of use as much as possible, you stand to gain benefits such as a more engaged workforce and lower health care costs.

Learn about Optum® One Pass Select™, a subscription-based fitness membership and well-being network designed to support a healthier lifestyle for members.


  1. Kaiser Family Foundation. Employer Health Benefits: 2020 Annual Survey. Accessed June 12, 2023.
  2. McKinsey. Still feeling good: The U.S. wellness market continues to boom. Accessed June 12, 2023.
  3. ABC Fitness Solutions. The next fitness consumer. Accessed June 12, 2023.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Onix. What fitness tech trends will emerge in coming years. Accessed June 12, 2023.
  6. Kaiser Family Foundation. 2022 Employer Health Benefits Survey. Accessed June 12, 2023.
  7. The Commonwealth Fund. Health risk assessments: What you don’t know can hurt you. Accessed June 12, 2023.
  8. Willis Towers Watson. 9 in 10 employers plan to change health and wellbeing vendors in next two years, WTW survey finds. Accessed June 12, 2023.