Why Wellness Doesn’t Work

Wellness vendors across America are claiming that wellness programs are drastically improving employee health while simultaneously delivering a significant ROI (return on investment) for employers.

These programs are popular. As many as 92% of employers with 200 or more employees have introduced them into their corporate structure. And while many employers are implementing the programs to save money on the cost of providing healthcare (because who wouldn’t want that?), many are also personally motivated to do what they can to improve the lives of the people who work for them.

The problem is, despite how well-intentioned these programs are by many employers, the data says that most of them are ineffective.

What’s Wrong With Wellness?

While wellness is a worthy goal, many vendors are providing employers with programs that are taking the wrong approach.

At their core, wellness programs are about behavior modification, whether it’s about becoming more active, learning to cook healthier meals instead of eating out, or seeing your doctor if you are at a high risk for disease. However, many programs tend to be one-size-fits-all, and encourage behavior change without consideration of the different life circumstances, preferences, and capabilities of their individual employees.

For instance, not all your employees have enough money to pay for a gym membership, or the time to go. Suppose you have a single parent working for you; while they may be interested in incorporating some positive health behaviors into their life, the program isn’t giving them any more time or flexibility to get to the gym, so the behavior doesn’t change and health doesn’t improve.

Most wellness programs tell people what they already know, but don’t give them the tools and support they need to make those changes.

Proof that may wellness programs aren’t working can be seen in the numbers–nearly one third of employers have a participation rate of only 15-20% from their employees. Only with high-value incentives (which cost even more and, in some programs, punish workers who don’t participate in prescribed activities like health risk assessments by denying them financial rewards) do we see the number of participants in company wellness programs increase–proving that the substance isn’t there to attract them in the first place.

Clearly, employers are spending a lot of money on programs that lead to very little improvement in health, much less a decrease in major medical claims as wellness vendors would have you believe.

What DOES Work?

The employers who succeed in implementing highly effective wellness programs are ones who focus on workplace culture change.

Employers who mindfully integrate health into day-to-day operations, to make it easy for their employees to adopt, see more participation in their wellness programs. Over the long term, that participation results in lower healthcare costs and fewer major claims from high-risk individuals.

This can be accomplished by making wellness activities convenient and accessible for all employees. Thinking about it from a “what can I do to remove the barriers keeping my individual employees from making healthy changes in their life” perspective is what leads to culture change.

For instance–in the example of the busy, single parent working in your office, how could you make it as easy as possible for them to enthusiastically participate in wellness activities? Instead of offering a class where a wellness coach talks at your employees about the importance of being more active, start taking walking meetings instead of sitting at a table. Or provide access to an on-site fitness facility and designate time during the day for people to actually use it. Better yet, you could provide childcare services for your gym-goers too.

In addition to creating an environment where wellness comes naturally, it’s also highly effective to utilize your current health plan to emphasize preventative care and encourage employees to see their primary care physicians to catch chronic disease early, before it becomes an acute issue.

Improving quality of life for your employees by making services available that cut the cost of care, prevent long-term issues, and are conveniently integrated into workplace culture is what makes wellness work.

And making wellness easier than ever is why Amaze got into the business.