We find if employers adapt their workplace wellness program fundamentals, they will enjoy the keys to optimum health of employees.  One requires a slight shift in understanding how health is to be delivered in the workplace. A disruptive approach to the status quo is inevitable where the fundamental basis on which the program is built, changes.

Studies used to market wellness programmes, show a return of around 4:1. Other wellness industry leaders boast of a 1 to 3 return on investment. Ongoing research and experience in the market reveal providers not making headway in the companies they serve or employers achieving their expected ROI.

The January 2018 Illinois Workplace Wellness Study aimed to determine the causal impact of a wellness program on health and employment outcomes. Across 39 different outcomes investigated, they found very little to NO return on almost all outcomes. The study (working paper ) found that wellness programs—even those with incentives—don’t change employees’ behavior much.

The researchers set out to answer three questions:

  • Do wellness programs have any effects on health outcomes, medical spending and other measures including productivity?
  • Will money spur more people to participate?
  • Which employees are more likely to participate?

 The Institute for Health and Productivity Studies at the Johns Hopkins University demonstrate that while companies claim to offer wellness services, an earlier Kaiser study found far fewer actually deliver comprehensive wellness programs.

At the University of Pennsylvania, researchers found that financial rewards meant to encourage obese employees to lose weight, simply don’t work. Our experience teaches that the individual determine the cause of why such does not work for him or her, because even when achieved, is not sustainable into the future.

Further studies set out to prove how incentive programs are designed can make a big difference in how effective they are at changing behaviour. The results of these studies failed for a number of reasons. Many programs are seen as artificial and implementing a program to tick the box or window dress the employer benefit offering is a waste of financial resources.

Companies employing more than 200 often offer a wellness programs, with benefits ranging from flu shots (high risk) and health screenings for diabetes and prostate cancer to gym memberships, smoking cessation and weight-loss programs, disease management and personal health coaching. Today, some of these services can be found under the preventative benefit of the medical insurer. Of all the programs on offer, employers are still not having the uptake required to justify the expense.

To change the trend where employees are ageing at a rapid pace, losing physical and mental energy and becoming less healthier year on year, both providers and the employers alike need to reconsider the fundamentals to the well-being of an individual.

The Illinois Workplace Wellness Study has provided results for only the first year of the intervention. Data is continuinlly being collected to evaluate effects in the second and third years. For more details on the initial report, download the report here.

Peter Šmanjak

Owner and Founder at Infinite Risk

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