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Do Workplace Wellness Programs Work?

May 1, 2019

Laura L. Rubenstein

On April 16, 2019, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article about the effectiveness of workplace wellness programs. After following employees of 20 separate BJ’s Wholesale Clubs for approximately 18 months, the researchers concluded that workers who participated in the wellness programs self-reported healthier behavior, such as exercising more or managing their weight better. However, the study did not find that wellness programs improved employees’ blood sugar or glucose levels, lowered health care costs, or resulted in fewer health-related absences. The full article can be found here, but requires a subscription to access.

According to Alan Kohll, author of “The Biggest Roadblock To Improving Employee Well-Being” published in Forbes on September 18, 2018, companies with a “do this” and “don’t do that” philosophy should not expect positive results from their employee wellness programs. Employees are unlikely to make any effort to change if they work for an employer that pressures them to participate in programs for the wrong reasons or where there is an existing negative workplace culture.

On the other hand, when employees work for a company that embraces total wellness, they will be more likely to practice healthy habits throughout the workday and prioritize their physical and mental health. This includes eating healthy lunches, taking mental breaks during the day, reducing daily stress and incorporating exercise into their daily routine. Companies with positive cultures that attempt to introduce new wellness programs – that focus on the whole employee –tend to have positive results. They incorporate the fun into wellness programs, making them interactive and part of the day-to-day culture of the employees.

In the end, the JAMA researchers caution employers to temper expectations about the financial return on investment that wellness programs can deliver in the short term.

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