Employers have been investing in workplace wellness programs for years. These programs offer financial incentives for healthy activities like receiving a physical examination, checking your blood pressure or quitting smoking. You might even participate in one yourself. A new study has found that wellness programs have almost no effect on employee behavior.
If you’re an active participant in your workplace’s wellness offerings, you might be questioning this news. Aren’t you living proof that these programs work? Not necessarily. Can you truly say that the only reason you’ve gotten your cholesterol levels checked or attended a fitness class is because of rewards from your employer? In most cases, the answer is no.
The study, which tracked 3,300 employees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, found that wellness programs fail at encouraging unhealthy employees to adapt healthy behaviors. If you take advantage of the program’s offerings, odds are you’re already inclined to eat healthy, exercise on a regular basis and avoid harmful behaviors like cigarette smoking.
Perhaps you’re asking why employers have invested so heavily in workplace wellness programs if they don’t work. Previous research has found great results for these programs, but this new study has criticized the methods used in earlier investigations. It was common for researchers to run their tests on employees who had already decided to enter the wellness program. In other words, scientists were looking for healthy behavior in health-minded workers. This new study randomly assigned workers to participate or not participate in the health program and found very few changes in behavior between the control and experimental groups.
Overall, participants in the wellness group didn’t lead to lower healthcare spending or better health results, according to the L.A. Times. The program also had no reported improvements on productivity or job satisfaction.
The recently published study might inspire massive change in the workplace wellness industry. However, with hundreds of other studies showing some benefits from workplace programs, companies likely won’t take the time to dig deep into the methodological debate. Either way, don’t let this new research keep you from making personally healthy decisions. Your employer might not see financial returns from your enrollment in a workplace wellness program, but you can still take advantage of the program for your own benefit.