At the urging of their employers, a growing number of U.S. workers are participating in company wellness programs as a way of reducing their health-care costs, according to a new survey.

The survey by Principal Financial Group and Harris Interactive found that participation in wellness programs organized by employers is at its highest level since the survey began three years ago. Participation rates for on-site health screenings rose to 79 percent in 2006, up from 68 percent in 2005. Employees are also hitting the gym more than ever before, with 60 percent now taking advantage of company-offered fitness plans, compared to 38 percent in 2005.

Not surprisingly, most respondents said staying healthy was their primary motivation. When asked why they participated in such programs, 56 percent of the 1,197 employees and 630 retirees surveyed cited better overall physical health. However, 38 percent said they also believed wellness benefits could help reduce their personal health-care costs.

'More than ever before, this survey suggests that employers and employees want the same thing -- employers want a healthier workplace and employees want to be healthy,' Jerry Ripperger, Principal's director of consumer health, said in a statement.

The survey also found that such programs may help boost productivity and retention. Fifty-one percent of employees said wellness benefits encourage them to work harder, while 55 percent said having a program in place makes them more likely to stay with their current employer.

Although reducing costs is often the first reason employers consider implementing a wellness program, the results go far beyond costs. Employers who encourage a healthy workplace and provide employee health programs find those employees are absent less often and show greater job satisfaction,' noted Ripperger. For employers and employees these wellness programs seem to be a win-win proposition.