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Tip of the Week: Are Workplace Wellness Programs Effective? It Depends

Tip of the Week: Are Workplace Wellness Programs Effective? It Depends

Workplace wellness programs, despite being an $8 billion industry, are a bit of a quandary for employers - as the jury is still out over whether or not these kinds of programs are effective. For this week’s tip, we’ll examine if a wellness program might be a good fit for you.

Study after study has been performed over the years about the impact of workplace wellness programs, producing various results. Some have indicated health improvements and cost savings, while others haven’t. However, the studies that were performed in the past had a high rate of issues. Whether there was no comparison group, or the chance of personal bias influencing signups, these studies simply didn’t provide reliable data.

Now, however, researchers from the University of Chicago and Harvard have conducted a large-scale study that meets the requirements that such a study is usually beholden to.

The BJ’s Wholesale Club Experiment

This experiment began by selecting 20 of the big-box retailer’s outlet centers to offer an employee wellness program. 140 additional BJ’s locations did not offer any such program. Across the 160 clubs involved, there were almost 33,000 workers employed.

Participants filled out a health risk questionnaire, took health classes, and had basic medical tests performed. After 18 months, their progress was evaluated...and that’s where things got interesting.

Despite the workers who were participating in this program reporting healthier behaviors than they once exhibited, almost all other factors were left unchanged. Blood sugar levels, job performance and attendance, and employer health care spending all were unaffected.

Why This Might Be

There’s a good chance that the results of this study were skewed by the incentives offered to participants. Participants were given gift cards for attending wellness courses, for a total incentive of about $250. According to founder and CEO of Bravo Wellness, Jim Pshock, this may just not have been enough. According to Pshock, any amount less than $400 is only going to be enough to incentivize people to do what they were already going to do anyways. As Pshock put it: “It’s simply too small to get them to do things they weren’t already excited about.”

Another study, published in 2018 by the University of Illinois, essentially debunked the idea of the workplace wellness program, concluding that it neither reduced costs or impacted behaviors - although this study also found that participants of wellness programs were those who were already healthy and motivated. This potentially suggests that the true benefit of these programs isn’t to make their existing workforce healthier, but to attract and retain healthier employees.

There are other potential contributing factors as well. A recent survey indicated that 84 percent of employees saw their wellness programs as “one-size-fits-all,” a concept that doesn’t really work will all of the various factors that contribute to health. Eighty percent of respondents to that same survey claimed that more personalization would contribute to their participation in wellness programs.

Why You Want to Adopt a Workplace Wellness Initiative

Admittedly, we’ve provided a mixed defense for these kinds of activities, but it cannot be denied that anything you can do to promote the health of your employees will only benefit your business - healthy employees tend not to call in sick, after all.

There are other benefits to these programs as well:

  • Reduced Stress - The stress management benefits of healthier behaviors have been well documented. By adopting these healthier behaviors, you and your staff can reduce the stress that comes from the office and approach the source issues more effectively.

  • Community Building - As the boss, you want your entire team to work as, well, a team. Unfortunately, if certain departments don’t work together much, this kind of relationship can be hard to develop. However, many activities that would fall under a workplace wellness initiative can help cross departmental lines, drawing your team closer together.

  • Better Moods - Wellness programs allow employees to try out new activities, which can not only add to their wellbeing, but can also keep them engaged and productive. Plus, studies have indicated that employees who participate in these programs were generally happier with their work situation.

What have you done to cultivate a more health-conscious workplace? Share your strategies in the comments!

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