New research suggests that wellness programs may not improve employee health or decrease healthcare spending, as many companies previously believed.
Now that companies know wellness won’t cut healthcare costs, they’ll have to decide whether they’re still willing to invest in employee wellness.
Wellness programs don’t work as well as we thought
Research based on 33k workers at BJ’s Wholesale Club showed that workers enrolled in wellness programs for 1.5 years didn’t end up with better blood pressure levels, body mass indices, or cholesterol levels than their non-wellness peers — and their healthcare costs weren’t any lower.
But even though they didn’t look different on scales or in blood samples, they reportedly exercised more and watched their weight more carefully — which could lead to improved lifetime outcomes.
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These findings contradict the generally accepted idea that wellness programs lower costs for businesses. But, more importantly, it confronts businesses with a difficult question…
Are wellness programs designed to cut costs or promote health?
In 2018, 82% of companies with more than 200 employees offered some kind of wellness program. But most of these programs were built on the belief that healthy employees beget healthy balance sheets.
In the name of cutting costs, some companies have even begun using 3rd-party data from connected devices like Apple Watches to make hyper-specific wellness programs, inviting lawsuits.
But some companies have begun prioritizing mental health, stress reduction, and overall life satisfaction over specific metrics like blood pressure or BMI. Based on this research, that trend will likely continue.