Anyone who working in a large company would be familiar with the features of a corporate wellness program. The feature vary from benefits towards health club memberships (reduction in renewals) or incentives towards reducing overall insurance premium or even that is “gamified” versions where a dedicated company health/fitness app encourages employees to work towards reaching fitness goals.
Having worked on a similar idea before (Benefit), you might say I understand a thing or two about what the expectations are from both sides; the provider of such a service and also the users, especially in the Middle East. Although not as popular yet -compared to the US, it has been catching up in the UAE. A number of large companies (200+ employees) have been looking at ways to motivate their employees to live a heather lifestyle.
But interestingly enough, I read a recent report that the $8 billion dollar wellness industry in the US may not be achieving very much, according to a new analysis from academics at Chicago University and the University of Illinois published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. While the researchers concede that the difficulties of measuring the impact of such program depends very much on the characteristics of the people who enter them voluntarily, their study of 5,000 people found that the effects of a wellness program were non-existent to negligible across a range of metrics.
How is that possible? – Well the post by Insight further details the study of how researchers set up a staff wellness program at the University of Illinois and invited 12,000 employees to enter into it. Of those, 5,000 took up the offer and were questioned about and screened for their health status, lifestyle, use of healthcare, job satisfaction and productivity levels. The researchers note that the remaining 7,000 employees tending to be older and in poorer health or – conversely – younger, active and had no net spend on healthcare.
What did the program offer? It included range of benefits including guidance on health, productivity and lifestyle as well as program of weight management, cutting down or quitting alcohol and smoking, developing healthy workplace habits and daily exercise program. They separated the participants by assigned a third of them to a control group and offered no further support after their first screening. Meanwhile, the remainders engaged in the wellness program for two semesters.
What did they find out? According to Insight, the researchers found that, compared to the control group, active participants in the program did not take significantly fewer sick days. Nor were they more likely to stay in their job, get a promotion or get a pay hike. They didn’t spend any less on medication or hospital visits, undermining the financial rationale in reducing medical insurance claims. And those in the program showed no improvement in health behaviors such as using the gym running.
Although there were no significant improvements across 37 metrics, there were some statistically significant improvements in levels of happiness at work and job satisfaction.
The authors conclude that overall there was no return on investment case for the wellness program. They do suggest however, that the existence of the program might attract more healthy workers to an organisation in the first place.