Add another study to the evidence that workplace wellness programs have virtually no impact on health or healthcare costs. Ironically, participants in this study thought they were healthier, but objective measures did not bear this out.
28,000 employees of BJ’s Wholesale Club across the country were randomized to either an 8-component workplace wellness program involving counseling on nutrition from dietitians, advice on physical activity, stress reduction, and health screenings versus no wellness program, with participants incentivized by a modest reward for participation. After 18 months, there were no differences in blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, body mass index (BMI), health care expenditures, absenteeism, or work performance. In short, the company’s investment in a comprehensive wellness program yielded no benefit whatsoever.
While this is consistent with the only other prospective, randomized evidence we have that also demonstrates that workplace wellness has no effect on health or healthcare costs, it is in stark contrast to the observational data that suggests that workplace wellness programs save huge amounts of money and make people healthier. It is a vivid illustration of the misleading nature of observational data that involve confounding factors like self-selection: people who elect to enroll in wellness programs are different than people who elect to not enroll, thereby yielding outrageous claims like “Enrolling in a workplace wellness program saves four dollars for every dollar spent.” No, wellness programs save NO money and make NOBODY healthier.
The real evidence is clear: Workplace wellness programs are an absolute waste of money and time. Your company has therefore invested hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in a workplace wellness program that achieves nothing in real returns: nobody is healthier, no healthcare cost savings are realized. It is money just thrown away that might have been directed towards more productive ends.
Let’s take a reality check here: Why would anyone even begin to believe that simple practices such as “knowing your numbers” or counting steps would generate meaningful reductions in colon or breast cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, hip pain, diabetes, migraine headaches, ulcerative colitis, depression, asthma, etc. or impact healthcare costs? Of course they don’t. Achieving genuine health cannot come from silly practices such as statin cholesterol drugs (that have almost no effect) or prescribing a thiazide diuretic for blood pressure. Genuine health requires more serious efforts that do NOT involve measuring nearly useless values such as cholesterol or counting steps with a Fitbit. It doesn’t mean that counting steps has no benefit; it means that genuine health requires more than such simple efforts. But the word “wellness” conjures up images of people meditating, relaxing in saunas, and drinking green tea—it’s all nothing more than imagery with no real world results.
You are no stranger to the flood of scams out there. Just look at the number of smartphone robocalls you receive every day. Even though workplace wellness is yet another example of a ridiculous scam, real answers are already available. Sadly, I’m not sure that Americans are ready for a message of magnificent health, slenderness, and youthfulness. My Undoctored team, for example, presented the Undoctored Workplace Program to employers. The response, each and every time, from obese, bloated, obviously unhealthy Human Resources people: “We don’t need this. We already have a wellness program.”