Over the years, wellness programs have been used to improve employee health and decrease healthcare costs. So it came as a shock that, according to a recent Harvard Medical School study, there is little experimental evidence on the effects of these programs. This and other similar studies have been known to put the wellness industry in a tailspin of unanswered questions regarding the impact of this line of research on jobs, programs, and the industry as a whole.
While a lot can be said about the overarching disclaimers that resulted from the study, there are also important elements that can be highlighted to provide legitimacy and importance around the work that health and wellness professionals are doing each day.
1. Do your research
While it is unclear whether 18 months was long enough to monitor lifestyle behaviors and outcomes, or if more time will help reveal similar or different results from the current findings, this research could help motivate a stronger or more rigorous bar for measuring the impact of wellness. It is important to look at the entire body of research, and not just a few papers, to draw any conclusions about the impact of workplace wellness.
2. Behavior change is hard
If you believe behaviors must change first before health outcomes can change, then consider the length of your program. While participants might have had positive outcomes in the short-term, behavior change is sometimes difficult to sustain and participants might have reverted to baseline by 18 months.
3. Be picky about vendor selection
Prior to investing in a wellness vendor, it is worth asking if they have evidence of their programs’ success and if their findings in support of their program are influenced by selection bias. Before implementing a wellness program or initiative, consider how measurement, design, and evaluation are connected to make sure you can successfully evaluate your program.
4. Use data carefully
This particular study evaluated one program and one population at one point in time. When an employer implements a program, it is important to think about how you will measure the impact before you roll it out.
5. We are all unique
The value of a wellness program is contingent upon each unique employer’s objectives. Lean on leadership to tell you what they are interested in measuring. A workplace wellness program can be a great way to send prospective employees a message that they care about the health of their employees.
It is critical for health promotion professionals to communicate the true value of the programs and services they provide.
Ryan Picarella, MS, CEO and President, Wellness Council of America (WELCOA), [email protected]