Employer enthusiasm really may increase the effectiveness of efforts to improve employees’ health.

Survey results compiled by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, Brookfield, Wis., hint at that possibility in a new IFEBP wellness program report.

IFEBP researchers based the report on 464 completed questionnaires from IFEBP members in the United States and Canada.

About 62% of all participants said their organizations had wellness programs, and another 15% said their organizations hope to set up wellness programs in the next year.

The IFEBP researchers emphasize in their report that comparing wellness program performance is still difficult.

Today, “there is no standardized, widely accepted methodology for measuring the savings from a wellness program,” the researchers write.

Only 45% of survey participants said their organizations’ wellness programs have achieved participation rates higher than 25%, and only 13% could provide return-on-investment figures for their organizations’ wellness programs.

At the organizations of the participants who could provide wellness program ROI figures, one-third are reporting returns of less than $2 for each dollar invested.

Methodology questions affect comparison of the ROI figures. One survey participant, for example, reported returns of at least 200%, or $2 on each dollar invested in wellness programs, but could not explain how the employer had come up with that ROI figure.

Another problem is the possibility that employer enthusiasm about wellness programs might skew ROI computations.

But the survey did identify a subset of participants at companies that claim to have ROIs over 200%.

The IFEBP researchers received 80 completed questionnaires from members at private U.S. corporations with wellness programs, and 12 of those questionnaires came from members working at U.S. corporations reporting wellness program ROIs over 200%.

Wellness program participation rates were somewhat higher at the high-ROI programs than at the other programs. About 58% of the high-ROI programs had participation rates over 25%, compared with 45% at all programs.

But 42% of the high-ROI programs had participation rates of 25% or less.

Other measures suggest that the employers with high-ROI programs might be making more of an effort to “walk the walk,” not just “talk the talk,” on wellness.

Only 13% of all participants at organizations with wellness programs said the programs offered cash incentives, but 33% of the participants at programs with ROIs of 200% to 300% and 44% of the participants at programs with ROIs of 301% to 500% did offer cash incentives.

When researchers asked about efforts to provide healthy food through vending machines and company cafeterias, only 37% of all participants at employers with wellness programs said their employers had healthy food initiatives. But 44% of the participants at programs with ROIs of 200% to 300% and 66% of the participants at programs with ROIs of 301% to 500% had healthy food initiatives, the IFEBP researchers report.