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Your Employee Matters


By July 1, 2013No Comments

The jury is still out on whether wellness programs generate a significant return on investment. The fact is that getting people to change their behavior is difficult – which reminds me of an old joke I’ve changed for these circumstances:

Question: How many wellness coaches does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: Only one, but the light bulb really has to want to change!

Those who promote wellness programs claim that they’re the be-all and the end-all of health care problems. This is clearly an overstatement: there has been little evidence of these programs dramatically reducing the costs of health care (See the Rand Report). Of course, there are other reasons for businesses to encourage wellness programs for their workers – reduced absenteeism or “presenteeism”, higher productivity, less use of sick pay, etc.

In light of a 2012 study of client outcomes by Wellness Coaches of USA, which paints a much rosier picture than does the Rand report, health care cost expert Wendy Lynch recommends that businesses ask these questions in evaluating the effectiveness of wellness programs:

  1. How much money did the program spend on people who didn’t change?
  2. How many people gained weight or increased their health risk?
  3. To what extent were any improvements in health sustained?
  4. What was the control group or company used to compare results? Would the impact have been any different without the program?
  5. Which risk factors changed (i.e. did employees have more servings of vegetables?)
  6. What was the cost per risk change?

As Wendy reminds us, every dollar spent on benefits (and wellness programs) comes from the employees’ pocket – which means that you’re substituting these programs for better wages, training, bonuses, or new equipment/technology. Ask yourself if investing in these areas will be more cost-effective in helping employees do their jobs than offering them wellness programs.

Although I’m a great believer in wellness, I believe that people are primarily self-motivated. I live a healthy life because I am personally motivated to do so – but most people don’t have the same motivation. As Wendy Lynch will tell you, factors such as management of sick leave, compensation plans, and return-to-work programs play a far greater role than wellness programs in curbing employer health care costs.

Wendy also noted that the Wellness Coaches study compares 2012 client outcomes to those of 2009. We all remember 2009 as one of the most stressful years in recent memory, which had a significant effect on the health, exercise level, and general disposition of employees. It’s like saying that a company made more money in 2012 than in 2009, while ignoring the impact of the recession. ” Sometimes variables completely outside of your control have a greater impact than those you can manage.

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