Dr. Ron Goetzel of Johns Hopkins and IBM Watson Health shared that, in a 2008 Kaiser Family Foundation survey of employers, the majority claimed to have some sort of workplace health promotion program. Yet, a closer look at that same collection of employers revealed that only 7% actually had a comprehensive, evidence-based program in place. While Dr. Goetzel indicated that the proportion with evidence-based programs has increased to more like 13%, the point is nonetheless painfully clear: Countless minimally impactful efforts masquerade as wellness programs, often with little or no evaluation of their efficacy. While less comprehensive efforts may still have positive effects – they may make employees happy or help attract new hires – they generally fail to achieve the intended outcomes of workplace wellness programs, including employee wellness, increased productivity, and healthcare cost savings.
However, well-constructed programs can still succeed, and they often do, because they stand on a foundation of evidence-based practices. In fact, the CDC’s review of multi-component worksite obesity prevention and control programs demonstrated that these programs have been consistently linked to increased physical activity, reductions in weight, and reductions in percentage of body fat.[i] A systematic review conducted by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that workplace nutrition and physical activity programs are linked to reductions in employees’ weight and BMIs, confirming the worthwhile investment in employee health.[ii] To truly reap the benefits of wellness programs, employers must commit to a whole-hearted, evidence-based approach. Implementing one comprehensive intervention targeted at a single goal is likely to make a bigger difference than ineffectively trying to address many challenges, each with only minimal investment.
[i] Multi-Component Worksite Obesity Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. www.cdc.gov/policy/hst/hi5/worksite/index.html.
[ii] Anderson LA, Quinn TA, Glanz K, et al. The effectiveness of worksite nutrition and physical activity interventions for controlling employee overweight and obesity: a systematic review. Am J Prev Med 2009;37: 340 –57