Companies have increasingly embraced wellness programs, with the idea of keeping (or getting) employees healthy and lowering medical expenses in the process. But, surprisingly to some, research is showing these wellness programs are having little effect.
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On the surface, investing in wellness programs (i.e. free gym memberships) appears to be a smart investment for employers. Not only is a healthier workforce a more productive workforce, but it’s also a way for employers to show employees they care about them outside of the office.
1. People who would benefit from the wellness program aren’t signing up.
The Rand Corp research institute found less than half of workers who have wellness programs available to them undergo clinical screenings and assessments and less than than 20 percent participate in weight loss or smoking cessation programs, Reuters reported.
2. People who do sign up see few health benefits.
For example, people who signed up lost on average one pound per year in three years, according to Rand’s report.
3. Wellness programs may be disproportionally punishing low-income workers.
Some programs link the cost of their health insurance to smoking and low-income workers are more likely to smoke. Wellness program rules from the new Affordable Care Act say a worker who smokes, and is not enrolled in a cessation class, could pay 50 percent more for health insurance premiums than a non-smoker.
So if a majority of workers aren’t participating in wellness programs, and the ones who do aren’t seeing health benefits, plus they’re forcing poor people to pay higher premiums, why have them at all?
Well, some believe wellness programs can work, but argue that many companies are taking the wrong approach. Virgin Pulse, a workplace-wellness vendor, told The Atlantic the key is to build in activities, like walking contests, as opposed to having employers go to the doctor to find out how much they weigh.
Still, when Virgin Pulse tries to convince CEOs to implement their wellness program, they emphasize that it make office life more fun, not that it will save the company money.
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