Time to pull the plug on wellness programs?

Employee wellness programs continue to soldier on, despite mixed findings on the return on investment of such programs.

Last year, a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research of employees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offered up the most concrete answer to date, finding no noticeable improvement in employee health or health care expenses in its first year.

But what about after two years? Proponents of wellness programs have argued they take time not only to establish but to generate the necessary lifestyle changes that lead to significant results.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case for the wellness program at Urbana-Champaign, according to the latest findings.

“This randomized clinical trial showed that a comprehensive workplace wellness program had no significant effects on measured physical health outcomes, rates of medical diagnoses, or the use of health care services after 24 months,” the study concluded, noting, however, “it increased the proportion of employees reporting that they have a primary care physician and improved employee beliefs about their own health.”

Indeed, the number of employees reporting having a primary care physician did increase, as did awareness about chronic conditions such as diabetes and high cholesterol.

“The workplace wellness program also significantly improved a set of employee health beliefs on average,” study co-author David Molitor, faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research, said in a press release. “But we found no significant effect of the program on employee health measures or medical use, demonstrating a mismatch between employee perceptions of workplace wellness programs and an actual improvement in health. These findings shed light on employees’ perceptions of workplace wellness programs, which may influence long-run effects on health.”

Though other studies have found evidence of wellness programs contributing to improved health and decreased medical costs, such findings are often attributed to who chooses to participate. When the process is randomized, as in the Urbana-Champaign study, the findings do not support such conclusions.

Source: Benefits Pro

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