- Workplace wellness programs provide few benefits, researchers concluded from a recent 18-month study of BJ's Wholesale Club's workplace wellness program. Workplaces where the program was offered reported better health behaviors, such as regular exercise and active weight management, but no movement in clinical measures of health, healthcare spending, healthcare utilization or absenteeism.
- The results could be interpreted in more than one way, the researchers said: "Given that workplace wellness programs focus on changing behavior and that behavior change may precede improvements in other outcomes, these findings could be consistent with future improvements in health or reductions in spending. On the other hand, behavior change is likely easier to achieve than improvements in clinical or employment outcomes. Thus, there may remain no detectable effects on those outcomes, which would have implications for the return on investment in wellness programs."
- The findings align with the results of a one-year examination of a wellness program offered by the University of Illinois, the BJ's Wholesale Club researchers said.
The BJ's Wholesale Club study researchers also noted that their findings differed from some others that have concluded workplace wellness programs have "positive and often large returns on investment, through, for example, reductions in absenteeism and health care spending."
But as experts work to uncover true wellness program ROI, more employers — both large and small — are jumping on the bandwagon, hoping such plans will cut costs and boost productivity. About four of five large U.S. employers offer a wellness program as part of their employees' health benefits, according to the BJ's Wholesale Club study.
But even if such programs have little or no direct ROI, some say the boost they can provide to recruiting and retention efforts is worth the cost. The majority of employees (70%) in a 2019 Alight study said wellness benefits were the reason they stayed at the job and younger workers especially reported that they value the programs across health categories. In a market where the balance of power favors employees, it makes sense that employers say that they're feeling pressure to increase benefits, including those focused on wellness.