Workplace wellness programs are important and a big issue

Harold Mandel's picture

Workplace wellness is a big issue with workers. After all no amount of money is worth getting sick and dying over. We all hear about workplace wellness programs and claims that they are well worth the cost. In consideration of the high value we place on our health this is well worth exploring.

Workplace wellness programs have been becoming increasingly popular, reports Health Affairs. Employers want these programs to improve the health and well-being of employees, which can clearly lead to increased productivity. This can all result in lower medical costs, increased productivity, and reduced absenteeism for the firm. For this study researchers evaluated the cost impact of the lifestyle and disease management aspects of PepsiCo’s wellness program, Healthy Living.

It was found that seven years of continuous participation in one or both aspects of the program was associated with an average reduction of $30 in health care cost per member per month. When the components were broken down it was found that the disease management aspect was associated with lower costs than the lifestyle management aspect. They have estimated disease management to lower health care costs by $136 per member per month, due to being driven by a 29 percent reduction in hospital admissions.

The researchers concluded wellness programs may decrease health risks, delay or avoid the onset of chronic illnesses, and lower health care costs for employees with chronic disease. However, employers and policy makers should not take for granted that the lifestyle management aspect of such programs can lower health care costs or even lead to net savings.

In a review of this research on Jan. 6, 2014, RAND Corporation concluded workplace wellness programs can reduce chronic illness costs, however, savings for lifestyle improvements are less. According to a new RAND Corporation study, workplace wellness programs can lower health care costs in workers who are suffering from chronic diseases. However, aspects of the programs that encourage workers to adopt healthier lifestyles may not lower health costs or lead to lower net savings according to this study.

The researchers examined a large employee wellness program which is offered by PepsiCo. They found that efforts to assist employees in managing chronic illnesses saved $3.78 in health care costs for every $1 which was invested in the effort. However, the returns were not higher than the costs for the program's lifestyle management aspects which encourage healthy living.

Dr. Soeren Mattke, the study's senior author and a senior natural scientist at RAND, said, “The PepsiCo program provides a substantial return for the investment made in helping employees manage chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. But the lifestyle management component of the program — while delivering benefits — did not provide more savings than it cost to offer.” It is the opinion of the researchers that with any such prevention initiative, it is often easier to achieve cost savings in people who have higher baseline spending, as found among those participants in the PepsiCo disease management program.


It is interesting to note that the disease management participants who also joined the lifestyle management program experienced markedly higher savings. This has suggested that proper targeting can improve the financial performance of lifestyle management programs. Mattke said, “While workplace wellness programs have the potential to reduce health risks and cut health care spending, employers and policymakers should not take for granted that the lifestyle management components of the programs can reduce costs or lead to savings overall.”

Workplace health and wellness programs have been becoming an increasingly common workplace benefit across the United States. Several provisions have been designed by the federal Affordable Care Act aimed at promoting such efforts as a way to decrease health care costs. A recent RAND study which was conducted for the U.S. Department of Labor discovered that about half of U.S. employers with at least 50 workers and more than 90 percent of employers with more than 50,000 workers offered a wellness program during 2012.

Work is something which is supposed to benefit both the employer and the workers. Clearly, earning money at the expense of your health and well being is not worth it. Improvements of these aspects of your life are supposed to be some of the primary considerations for wanting to work for a living to begin with. Of course all caring parents also want advantages for their children from work. However, these advantages are swiftly wiped out in many ways if the work makes you sick. And so I find that workplace health and wellness programs are well received by workers and by good employers.

Any company that decides in this day and age to simply work people to death and than throw them out and replace them as soon as they are made sick is clearly shortsighted and looking for big trouble from employees, insurance firms and human rights activists. Any sensible corporate officers and managers therefore understand the value of making the workplace a pleasurable and healthy place to work.

In regard to the findings from the Pepsico study that greater advantages are seen with disease management aspects than with lifestyle aspects of workplace wellness programs, although I can not dispute the findings in this particular study, it is my opinion each aspect of wellness programs should be encouraged. It is my observation that people are generally healthier when they are involved in healthy lifestyle programs, and healthier people are usually happier and more productive employees.

It appears there should be long term advantages for physical and mental health from improvements in lifestyles, which I believe future studies will show has an impact on workplace productivity. And, as noted a critical aspect of working well and producing well comes from employee satisfaction at work. The relatively higher paid burgeoning high tech sector of the job market appears to be happier and producing at consistently higher levels than other segments of the job market.

The lesson here is we should all not forget that money is a positive reinforcer which can make all employees happier and healthier, and therefore the higher the pay the better results we can expect. Overall, workplace wellness programs may help retain employees and reduce absenteeism, according to Emaxhealth reporter Denise Reynolds, RD.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ health