Wellness Programs: You Can’t Rush a Good Thing

Early last year, the study Effect of a Workplace Wellness Program on Employee Health and Economic Outcomes was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) calling into question the effectiveness of employer run wellness programs. The study took place over a year and looked at the short term effects of wellness programming. It involved 4,000 employees at an organization with a wellness program and 29,000 at an organization that did not have a wellness program. Ultimately, the study found that these employees did personally benefit from the programs, increasing healthy habits, exercising more often, etc., but the organizations implementing the programs saw no significant return on investment (ROI). The study found that while wellness programs have grown in popularity, they do not decrease healthcare costs for the organizations implementing them.

While the study has prompted many organizations to take a second look at their wellness programs, advocates say studies like this paint the wrong picture, focusing solely on immediate ROI and ignoring the positive impacts wellness programs have overall.  Improving health & wellness is not possible overnight, advocates say, many times individuals will participate in programs more than once before finding success.

Because of this, advocates encourage employers to look beyond ROI and focus on less tangible outcomes, such as company culture and employee satisfaction. This study, and others, show that employer run wellness programs result in healthier habits for employees. Healthier habits may not have an immediate impact on healthcare costs but research shows that increased health results in happier employees, enhanced organizational culture, increased productivity, and can help to make organizations more attractive to potential job candidates.

When selecting the right wellness program for your employees it is important to approach the program as a long-term investment, understanding that the immediate results may be less than tangible. In addition, it is important to know how a wellness program will work in your organization and carefully select the right plan for your employees. In addition to finding a wellness program that fits the health & wellness needs of your employees, it is important to take into account the longevity of employment with your organization. If your organization is facing high turnover, a wellness program can be an effective way to increase loyalty and employee satisfaction but may take longer to yield results. 

The bottom line is that not all wellness programs are alike. Employers need to understand the needs of their employees and look beyond ROI to effectively implement and reap the benefits of wellness programs. Remember that employees are human and wellness programs are a way to empower them to create healthier habits, but, as with anything, this takes time. Research shows that ultimately organizations will reap the benefits, but you can’t rush a good thing. Patience and persistence are key.

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