By Naomi FreundlichReforming Health, September 18, 2014

     Naomi Freundlich
    Naomi Freundlich

“There’s been a lot of controversy recently about workplace wellness programs: Do they save money for employers on healthcare costs? Can they produce measurable benefits for employee health? Do they unfairly punish people who are unable to participate? Are these programs just a ploy to shift medical costs to unhealthy employees?

Recently Austin Frakt and Aaron Carroll revisited these questions in a piece for the New York Times’ Upshot column, ‘Do Workplace Wellness Programs Work? Usually Not.’ As the title makes clear, Frakt and Carroll come down on the side of the skeptics. I have always appreciated Frakt and Carroll’s analysis of healthcare economics but this time I think they might have missed the mark.

A recent analysis of the value of health promotion programs in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM) has a similar title; ‘Do Workplace Health Promotion (Wellness) Programs Work?’ Instead of answering ‘Usually Not,’ the twenty-plus authors of the JOEM article—all experts in the health promotion field—conclude that some wellness programs work superbly while others are abysmal failures. What separates bad, good and great programs, according to the JOEM authors, is basically ‘a combination of good design built on behavior change theory, effective implementation using evidence-based practices, and credible measurement and evaluation.’”

Read more about why a responsible answer to the question, “Do workplace wellness programs work?” should be, “It depends.”


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