More than 50 million American workers are covered by workplace wellness programs. But do they work?
Earlier this year, a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research found little evidence of increased productivity or reduced medical costs as the result of a wellness program implemented and studied at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
While the researchers cautioned that their findings were based on only a single year of data, the report added new fuel to an ongoing debate about the effectiveness of such programs.
Affordable Care Act Incentive
Employee wellness programs have proliferated since 2010, when the Affordable Care Act introduced incentives for companies to adopt them as a means of reducing medical costs and boosting workplace productivity.
But the results have been hard to measure, in part because there are so many different types of programs – as well as different types of employees. There are also any number of ways to define “wellness” or “well-being.”
Proponents of such programs, some of whom have a vested interest in the industry that has sprung up around the trend, argue that the real benefits can’t always be captured by traditional measures of ROI.
Many employees would likely agree. A company that takes steps to promote the health and wellness of its employees is likely to be seen as a better place to work, especially if there’s no direct connection to the bottom line. In a tough hiring climate, an employee wellness program could provide an edge in recruiting.
What Wellness Program is Right for Your Workplace?
But sorting out what works from what doesn’t is a daunting task, particularly for smaller or midsized businesses that can’t afford to ignore cost-effectiveness no matter how tempting it may be to try to keep up with every workplace trend.
There is research on every side of the argument and no agreement on how to define what constitutes a successful program.
Michael C. Sokol, M.D., chief medical officer for WebMD Health Services, argues in a Harvard Business Review article that the confusion over the effectiveness of employee wellness programs is the result of measurement tools that don’t take a holistic view of well-being.
An algorithm that WebMD Health Services created to evaluate a telephone health-coaching program used modifiable risk factors and preventative health screenings to create a broader picture of participants’ overall health status and categorize them by risk levels. The health-coaching program was then evaluated based on how many employees moved into a lower risk level.
HR Expertise at Your Fingertips
When it comes to workplace wellness, there are many ways to define success, not least of which is whether your employees report positive results. From stress-management counseling to gym memberships to nutritional and fitness coaching, there are many options for adding wellness benefits to the workplace. Finding the one that’s right for you could be as easy as finding the right expertise.
At SBS Payroll, our clients have access to a wealth of information on topics like workplace wellness and other benefits through our web-based human resources tools. From quick guides, articles and document templates to live one-on-one expertise from human resource professionals, our HR tools put the expertise you need at your fingertips.
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