Say goodbye to the company’s summer softball tournament—and all those emails about practicing for it

Companies are doing away with wellness programs that don’t include everyone, like softball leagues.
Companies are doing away with wellness programs that don’t include everyone, like softball leagues.
Image: AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Nearly two-thirds of major US companies offer wellness programs, and more keep adding them every year. Yet the grandaddy of health is less and less popular in Corporate America.

The number of workers playing on employer-sponsored basketball or baseball teams has declined since 2009, those good ol’ days when 25% of organizations fielded one. Now the number is down to 16%, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s new Benefits Survey Report (pdf). That means more employers now offer legal assistance services (23%) or on-site lactation rooms (34%) than a summer softball team.

Sports teams got kicked out amid employers’ concerns about work-life balance or fairness in offering the same benefits at all their sites, for all their people, says Deborah Berman, a principal in Keller Benefit Services in Bethesda, Maryland.

The thinking: “We need to have something that can reach everybody,” says Berman. And she notes: most sports teams tend to attract those who already are young and physically fit .

Then one client decided workers were spending too much work time coordinating practices, schedules and snacks with “emails flying around,” she recalls. So the CEO shut down the corporate team.

The competition for time—and especially staffers with families or elders to care for or their own children’s teams—also may contribute to the slide in team sports.

While team sports are declining, the SHRM report identified some other benefits that have gained traction: contraceptive coverage grew from 66% of employers to 82% in five years. Some 43% of employers give rewards or bonuses to workers who complete health and wellness programs, almost double  the level of five years ago. And more companies have on-site fitness classes too.

This year, the biggest growth in benefits are likely to come from programs to stop smoking and retirement planning. Despite Yahoo’s ban on employees working from home, 4% more companies expect to allow telecommuting, joining the 58% of employers already doing so.

And maybe those who used to play on an employer softball team will find another kind of coach—a health and lifestyle one, who works with them on email or in person. Almost half of US employers now offer them, the survey notes, up from a third five years ago.