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PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS: National Compensation Survey of Worksite Wellness Practitioners

Chenoweth, David Ph.D., FAWHP; Hunnicutt, David Ph.D.; Rager, Robin Ph.D., FAWHP

doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000052
Feature Article


* To understand various factors that influence the financial compensation of today’s worksite wellness practitioners

* To understand that all of the factors influencing financial compensation for these practitioners may not be valued the same by various stakeholders.

* To identify specific factors that could be related to the practitioner’s particular setting.

* To develop personal career development strategies to enhance the practitioner’s ability to attain a more competitive salary and compensation.

A national survey of worksite wellness practitioners explored the relationship between compensation and 30 different demographic, occupational, perceptual, and professional development variables. The fi ndings have signifi cant implications for aspiring and current worksite wellness practitioners, employers, job and career placement fi rms, and academic and career advisers.

David Chenoweth, Ph.D., FAWHP, is president of Chenoweth & Associates, Inc., an international data analysis, program evaluation, and econometric consulting firm. During the past 33 years, he has conducted wellness program, policy, and risk factor-pecific cost management evaluations for organizations throughout the United States and Europe. He also is professor emeritus at East Carolina University, where he directed the worksite health promotion academic program for nearly three decades.

David Hunnicutt, Ph.D., is president of the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA). His vision has led to the creation of numerous publications designed to link health promotion objectives to business outcomes. His areas of expertise are organizational development, worksite wellness strategic planning, and product development. He consults with many organizations on various corporate health management issues and has written, edited, and produced more than 20 books on worksite wellness issues.

Robin Rager, Ph.D., FAWHP, has been involved in the wellness field for more than 30 years, both as a consultant and a college professor. His consulting and academic activities in the United States and internationally have focused on population health assessment and the design and evaluation of effective wellness and condition management programs in a variety of populations and industries. He has conducted numerous research studies related to health risk reduction and health management program outcomes.

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflicts of interest and do not have any financial disclosures.

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Numerous factors influence a worksite wellness practitioner’s compensation level (including salary and benefits) in today’s worksite wellness arena. Because most, if not all, practitioners want to be paid a fair wage for their effort, it’s important for them to understand that certain factors may exert significant influence on their compensation. As future and current worksite wellness practitioners strive to achieve their financial goals, they should identify these factors readily and address them proactively in all phases of their professional development.

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In general, compensation surveys serve several purposes, such as (2):

* Influencing the wage level provided by an organization and, consequently, the composition, quality, and cost of its workforce. Because organizations pay employees different wages (and sometimes provide different benefits), depending on their job type, compensation surveys frequently are used to establish compensation differentials between job classifications. This is an essential aspect of establishing the organization’s compensation structure that needs to be updated periodically as the labor market changes with fluctuations in supply and demand for both labor, in general, and for specific jobs.

* Helping employers determine what the compensation package should include. Although compensation surveys can provide information regarding the external competitiveness for an organization, they also can aid in addressing internal issues of equity that arise in wage and benefits decisions (6). Accurate compensation survey data are crucial, in particular, to wage and salary adjustment planning, a task that often occurs yearly in organizations.

* Providing compensation benchmarks for job recruitment. The data obtained through compensation surveys can provide benchmarks to help job search, recruitment, and placement firms understand the going wage, salary, and benefit scales of specific occupations so they can assess and establish market-driven supply and demand properly.

* Providing academic advisers in educational institutions and other job placement personnel with market-based compensation information to share with students aspiring to enter occupations.

* Providing aspiring practitioners with market-based compensation information to use in exploring their job options.

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The National Worksite Wellness Compensation Survey (NWWCS) was developed by the authors and consists of 30 questions covering 5 categories; demographics, job attributes, worksite wellness perceptions, professional development, and compensation (Table 1). The initial draft of the survey instrument was subjected to a series of external peer reviews by worksite wellness professionals, including approximately 100 worksite wellness program directors and managers who have achieved faculty status certification from the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA). The external review process involved various content revisions to ensure that the final survey instrument had a high level of content and construct validity.

During May 2012, recruitment of NWWCS participants was conducted through a request and survey Web site link included in the weekly WELCOA electronic newsletter that was emailed to 43,644 individuals on WELCOA’s public email list. The newsletter containing the NWWCS survey link was emailed on a weekly basis for six consecutive weeks. Of the 1,077 individuals who clicked on the survey link, 861 completed the survey within the specified time frame. From the 861 surveys that were completed online, 785 respondents satisfactorily completed all sections of the survey.

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Of the 785 respondents, 85% were female, and 77% were 30 to 59 years old, with a median age of 41 years; 95% indicated they were employed full time in their current job positions.

There was considerable variability in the type of organization where the respondents were employed (Table 2). Although they represented 20 different types of organizations, nearly one half of all respondents reported being employed in either health/wellness firms (n = 183) or health care/social service organizations (n = 154). Respondents also were distributed geographically across the United States, with the largest concentration residing in the North Central region (Table 3).

The final demographic variable included in the survey related to the sizes of the organizations where the respondents were employed. Nearly half of the respondents (41%) worked at organizations with more than 1,000 employees, with the remainder of the respondents fairly evenly distributed across the other small- to medium-size workforce categories (Table 3). This distribution is similar to that reported in other worksite wellness surveys (1,3,8–11).

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Nearly all of the survey participants (93%) reported that they are employed full-time. By position level, 54% are entry-level professionals, 36% are mid-level managers, and 10% are senior-level executives.

More than 63% of the respondents have worked 1 to 5 years in their current position (median of 4.8 years) compared with only 3% who have worked in their current position more than 20 years (Table 4). About 50% of the respondents have worked less than 10 years in the field of worksite health management, with a median of 4.8 years. This closely parallels the number of years that respondents have worked in their current position and suggests that the time in which most respondents have worked in the field of worksite health management has been spent in their current position. Thus, there seems to be very little, if any, job-to-job migration among survey respondents during the past 5 years.

More than 80% of the respondents are officially responsible for employee wellness, with about 28% currently working as wellness program specialists or coordinators, followed by program managers (24%), program directors (14%), consultants (10%), and wellness coaches (6%) (Table 5). The remaining respondents are volunteers assisting with the program delivery or as wellness committee members. Nearly 61% of respondents have supervisory responsibilities, with about one half of this group supervising one to two employees.

More than 90% of all respondents reported working at least 36 hours a week, and more than 60% said they work more than 40 hours per week, with a median of 41.5 hours; nearly 25% work more than 45 hours per week. Considering the multidisciplinary roles that many respondents assume, it is not surprising that many of them work more than the typical nationwide workload (36–40 hours) to meet the full spectrum of their job duties.

Interestingly, most of the respondents work in at least two (and sometimes three) different areas of their organization. For example, respondents with primary responsibilities in:

* wellness (61%) had secondary job duties in benefits (10%) and additional duties in human resources (9%)

* benefits (27%) had secondary job duties in wellness (24%) and additional duties in human resources (9%)

* human resources (18%) had secondary job duties in benefits (27%) and additional duties in wellness (14%)

Among the respondents with primary responsibilities in wellness, nearly 60% devote less than 36 hours per week to worksite wellness, with a median of 30 hours per week. Thus, many of these worksite wellness practitioners are often responsible for additional job duties outside of their primary area.

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Only about a third of survey respondents feel that senior management views employee wellness programs as a high priority, 54% as a moderate priority, and the remaining 11% believe that the programs are perceived as having low priority.

Nearly a third of survey respondents reported that they feel employees and management consider their position as an “essential” part of the organization, and another 60% feel they are viewed as being “important” to the function of the organization.

About two thirds of the survey respondents indicated that their primary reason for entering the field was to help others, followed by 24% who want to help move the organization forward, and 6% who want to be healthy; 30% reported being highly satisfied and 55% moderately satisfied with their current job.

About 54% of respondents said they feel that their salary is consistent with others. Yet, 34% feel that their salaries are below the norm compared with only 11% who feel that their salaries exceed it. This distribution parallels their level of satisfaction regarding salary because about 57% are moderately satisfied whereas 28% are dissatisfied. Overall, these survey respondents’ perceptions are similar to those reported in other compensation surveys of non-wellness practitioners (4,5).

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Nearly 90% of the respondents indicated that they engage in professional development activities at least once a year, with nearly one fourth having at least a 4-year college degree and nearly 40% have a master’s degree or higher.

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The final group of questions in the survey related to the primary outcome variable of this analysis: financial compensation. Overall, about 43% of respondents make less than $50,000 in annual salary, excluding any bonuses or incentives. Yet, the average annual salary reported by respondents is $57,571, with a median annual salary of $55,000 (Table 6).

Nearly all of the respondents reportedly receive some form of annual bonus or incentive, with nearly 54% receiving less than $1,000. The average annual bonus and incentives was $11,373, with a median of $500. Virtually all of the respondents indicated that they receive employee benefits (e.g., health insurance, vacation, life insurance, disability coverage, etc.), with an annual average of $14,654 and median of $10,000. The majority of the respondents indicated that they would like to make about $20,000 more annually within the next 5 years.

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Further analyses were conducted on salary-only differences in salary related to selected demographic, geographic, and occupational variables. Regarding demographics, the survey results indicated that salary levels are higher among males and increase with age and level of education (Table 7). The median age of male and female respondents is virtually the same, whereas a slightly higher percentage of males (17.4%) than females (12.5%) reportedly have worked in the health management field for more than 15 years. Yet, male respondents (56%) were far more likely to work in senior-level positions than female respondents (7%); this largely is responsible for the salary difference between the two genders.

Comparisons of salaries by type of organization and geographic region show that the highest salaries are paid in organizations classified as professional/scientific/technical and in the Pacific and New England regions (Table 8). As expected, these two regions have the highest median salary levels, in large part, because of their higher cost of living (6,7).

Salary levels also vary considerably by level of position. For example, the median salary for entry-level practitioners is approximately $45,000 compared with $66,223 for mid-level managers and about $80,000 for senior-level executives. Thus, senior-level executives earn about 33% more than mid-level managers and about 80% more than entry-level practitioners (Table 9).

In addition, there are significant differences in the annual median salary between senior-level executives in benefits ($102,000) and human resources ($87,000) versus senior-level executives in wellness ($64,500). Perhaps one of the primary reasons for this wide discrepancy is that benefits and human resources departments are established more firmly in the operational structure of organizations and, thus, are perceived by senior management as more essential entities than employee wellness. These disparities are common in other industries (9).

On average, respondents with no supervisory responsibilities earn about $11,000 less than those with some level of supervisory assignment. Yet, for this survey group, the number of workers supervised does not correspond necessarily with the supervisor’s salary because the respondents who supervise one to five employees earn about the same salary as those supervising six or more employees.

Salary levels also vary for these respondents by primary occupational discipline and job function (Table 9). Those working in occupational health and human resources disciplines (benefits, HR, risk management) earned higher salaries than those employed in safety and wellness. Among respondents with primary responsibilities in employee wellness, program directors commanded the highest salary ($70,000), with health coaches earning the lowest salary ($41,000).

Median annual salary differed based on the number of years worked in the worksite wellness practitioner’s current position and in the field (Table 10). Worksite wellness practitioner salaries were found to increase with number of years of experience in either the position or the field overall.

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Overall, statistically significant relationships were found for 12 of the independent variables. These findings indicate that, in general, median salary:

* increases substantially with age (P < 0.01)

* is substantially higher for males than females (P < 0.01)

* significantly increases with education level (P < 0.001)

* is substantially higher in the Pacific and New England regions (P < 0.01)

* is substantially higher in the larger organizations (P < 0.01)

* is substantially higher in transportation and professional/scientific/technical organizations (P < 0.05)

* is significantly higher for program directors compared with wellness coaches and volunteers (P < 0.001)

* is significantly higher for individuals with supervisory responsibilities (P < 0.001)

* is significantly higher in senior-level executive positions compared with lower positions (P < 0.001)

* is substantially higher for individuals working in occupational health and HR/benefits (P < 0.01)

* significantly increases with the number of years worked in the field of worksite wellness (P < 0.001)

* significantly increases with the number of years worked in current position (P < 0.001)

It should be noted that median annual salary values for two variables — Annual Value Last Year of Bonus and Incentive Only and Annual Value of Employee Benefits Package — were not computed because the responses for those two variables had a very wide variance and many inconsistencies. It seems that there may have been misinterpretation by the respondents in some instances regarding what those values represented. For example, many respondents simply repeated their annual salary as their annual bonus/incentives; a few of them reported an annual salary of less than $75,000 but an annual benefits package of $200,000 or more; and some reported an annual salary in the $70,000s plus a sizeable bonus/incentives amount, but listed the values as benefits.

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There are numerous implications from the survey findings for individuals and organizations in the field of worksite wellness. Companies that offer employee wellness programs can use this information to determine whether their current wellness personnel compensation scale is consistent and competitive with the market norms relevant to the preceding demographic, organizational, and job factors. Likewise, organizations involved in recruiting and placing job applicants in worksite wellness positions can use this information to determine appropriate salary levels. Lastly, academic advisers, university faculty, and career placement personnel can use this information to provide students who are aspiring to enter worksite wellness with market-driven salary and compensation information.

The survey findings also have significant implications for aspiring and current worksite wellness practitioners planning to build a long-term career in worksite wellness and health management. In essence, the results indicate that the more time and effort that wellness practitioners invest in their career through a) pursuing advanced education and training, b) gaining more years of experience, and c) diversifying their capabilities by complementing their wellness focus with skills in human resources, safety, EAP, and other health-related disciplines, the more likely they will enhance both their job title (e.g., from wellness coordinator to program director) and job advancement (e.g., from entry- to mid- to senior-level positions) and thus boost their level of compensation.

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NWWCS results show that various factors influence the level of annual salary levels among worksite wellness practitioners and affiliated health management personnel. Of course, some factors such as age and gender are not modifiable, whereas other factors possibly may be influenced over time. Individuals who are able to identify and act on specific factors within their influence — especially those who increase one’s educational level, knowledge and skills, and experience in the industry — are likely to enhance their personal compensation.

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Today’s field of worksite wellness is composed of individuals who work in various job positions across several disciplines. These job positions range from entry-level wellness specialists to senior-level program directors, spanning across disciplines such as wellness, occupational health, risk management, safety, employee assistance, employee benefits, and human resources. Although several salary surveys have been conducted on small cohorts of worksite health-fitness and wellness professionals during the past 15 years, the NWWCS is the first compensation survey conducted on a nationwide cross section of worksite wellness professionals and affiliated health management personnel. The results of the NWWCS clearly show that the range of annual salaries paid to worksite wellness practitioners vary considerably by demographic factors (age, gender, educational level, and geographic region), organizational factors (type and size), and job factors (level of position, primary work unit, job function, supervisory responsibilities, and years of experience).

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Financial; Salary; Benefits; Organization; Nationwide

© 2014 American College of Sports Medicine.