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5 Ideas for Improving Your Workplace Wellness Initiatives

By: Ryan Picarella, MS, CEO and President of WELCOA

A Harvard Medial School study of almost 33,000 employees looked at the impact of wellness programs and found little to no impact when looking at self-report measures, medial cost saving, and general health improvement.

While it is hard to prod and pick at each and every variable in a study like this, it seems as though culture almost always determines the success, or lack thereof, of wellness programs. As health promotion and workplace wellness professionals we know wellness for employees is a good thing, and the health of most working Americans is getting worse, so something has to change. WELCOA has believed for years that as professionals and business, we have to move beyond the traditional medicalized approach that measures the value of a well employee with a narrow set of measures and outcomes. This approach will not help us establish a compelling value story for wellness, nor will it help us communicate things the labor force cares about; like meaningful work, psychological safety, social connectivity, and professional development.

The job and focus of many of our members is changing. And in some cases, are being eliminated due to similar studies and reports. Incentive programs, biometric screenings, and HRA’s can work given the proper context, environment, and culture, but these activities alone have shown over and over again that they do not yield any long term behavior change and have no ROI.

Wellness Expert Mitch Martens shared his own account of the results of this study:

“To think that a company wellness program can significantly alter someone’s physical health behavior is unrealistic. The one exception, is individualized, targeted conditions of care programs. However, the success of these programs is dictated by the individual employee being ready for change, not because the company told them to change. This is why many wellness programs have morphed into VOI and asks these questions.

  • Is having an on-campus gym a way to attract talent?
  • Do standing desks create a positive work-environment?
  • Do lunch & learn wellness programs bring employees together creating a sense of community and culture?
  • Does a company wellness fair have employees feeling cared for?
  • When employees are making positive changes/improvements in their lives do they associate that with their company and then feel more aligned and dedicated?
  • Does something like a mud-run, 5k AIDS Walk, Women’s Heart Health day or raffled sports tickets develop a higher yield of employee engagement?
  • Is there any social currency (especially for millennials) that these kind of things have in the media and public image?

This change and new focus is exciting but also is scary for many traditionally minded wellness professionals who aren’t ready to make a change or do not have the proper support to do things differently. We have a big opportunity within the wellness industry to transform the direction of our programs and establish a new standard for workplace wellness that demonstrates measurable results. For that reason, we revamped the Seven Benchmarks, the Well Workplace Checklist and (on the horizon) the Well Workplace Awards criteria and application process; and are continuing to evolve our solutions to align with the future of work.


Additional Resources:


Why Wellness?

Read more from WELCOA in response to the Harvard Medical School study with 16 ideas for encouraging your team to think differently about wellness programming.

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New Randomized Trial Reveals Workplace Wellness Programs May Have Limited Effects in the Short Run

Employers have increasingly invested in workplace wellness programs to improve employee health, increase productivity and decrease health care costs. However, according to a recent Harvard Medical School study there is little experimental evidence on the effects of these programs.

Lead researcher, Dr. Zirui Song presents his timely research and personal perspective on the impact of his study. Q&A follows, facilitated by Ryan Picarella, CEO of WELCOA and Chuck Gillespie, CEO of the National Wellness Institute. Watch this co-hosted presentation as we evolve the conversation around health and wellness.

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[Quick Guide]

The Impact of Workplace Wellness Study Webinar Takeaways

Read more from WELCOA in response to the Harvard Medical School study with 5 Key Takeaways and 5 Next Steps for communicating the value of your wellness program.

Great news! You can now stream our “New Randomized Trial Reveals Workplace Wellness Programs May Have Limited Effects in the Short Run” webinar. Watch it now or share it with your wellness team.

Free Download