ISHN

Wellness programs lack payback research

August 20, 2004
About 95 percent of large employers (with 200+ employees) and about a third of smaller ones offer programs to improve the health of workers, reports The Washington Post.

But many programs are small and limited because evidence of a dollar-and-cents payoff for employer fitness is missing.

Why do many companies take only baby steps when it comes to employee wellness?

  • Employee interest in wellness programs is generally low, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Most payback studies tend to be short in duration and are not random, so results might be skewed.

  • Study results often relate only to specific workforce demographics, location and workplace culture. Programs have little value if they can't be duplicated at another location.

  • A serious study of workplace wellness programs is costly. Some costs, such as health care utilization and absenteeism, are easily quantified, but others — such as the impact of having sick workers show up for work but perform below par — are not.

  • Most employers who study the effectiveness of their wellness programs seem to have a bias in favor of the effort. Studies that show little or no benefit for the employer are likely to get buried, says one expert.