Before You Say “Wellness Doesn’t Work,” Consider Best Practices

Does participation in a company’s wellness program lead to improved health behaviors and outcomes? A recent study provides insight, while leaving some questions unanswered.

Earlier this week, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published the findings from a study evaluating 32,000 employees at a large warehouse retail company. Researchers sought links between participation in the company’s wellness program and improved health behaviors and outcomes. They compared those participating in a wellness program to control groups where no such programs were offered.

The findings were mixed. After 18 months, compared to the control group:

  • Participants self-reported significantly greater rates of health behaviors
  • There were no significant differences in clinical measures of health, health care spending and utilization, and employment outcomes

While initial findings are disappointing, the study did not address other key factors. For example, many health outcomes and claims impact require longer than 18 months of behavior change to improve. In addition, the study did not report the way in which the program was designed and implemented. Based on findings from the Health Enhancement Research Organization, we know that certain best practices determine effectiveness, such as: communications, size and design of incentives, leader support, and use of champions. Without evaluating whether the program was designed effectively, concluding that “wellness programs don’t work” is oversimplification.

It’s old news that traditional wellness approaches may not be effective. What does work is a carefully designed program with clear objectives and an approach that uses the appropriate levers to achieve these objectives. When evaluating the success of a strategic wellness program, it’s important to know what you are going to measure, how you are going to measure it, and what you intend to do with the data. Individual health behavior is complex, so creating a one-size-fits-all approach can be expected to deliver disappointing results.

Employers of all sizes must think strategically about what they wish to accomplish through wellness, and offer a variety of approaches that meet participants where they are on their personal well-being journey. Employers should design programs that connect employees to a variety of benefits, with a broad array of access points. It’s also important to consider the environment and people supporting the initiative to ensure it is easy to be healthy at work. An approach based on these broader best practices is far more likely to inform and engage participants in a way that enhances total well-being.

If you have any questions, contact Cory Panning at 419-327-4190,, or the Findley consultant with whom you normally work.

Posted on April 19, 2019

© 2019 Findley. All Rights Reserved.

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Expanding Workplace Wellness Initiatives into Our Communities

Our Country’s Current State

According to a 2017 Gallup World Poll, the United States ranks 17th in life satisfaction scores.[1] For the first time ever, Americans’ life expectancies are on the decline. The US ranks number one in obesity and chronic conditions caused by obesity worldwide[2]. It’s evident that our country has room for improvement when it comes to health and well-being.

Where to Begin?

Make Well-being a Priority

Here’s the good news: about 75% of employers are doing something by offering wellness programs and benefits to support their employees in taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle.

However, a broader approach will be required to begin and sustain long-term behavior change that can improve health and well-being nationwide. To create a true Culture of Health, individuals, employers, and institutions must work together. With collaboration, we can increase access to the resources individuals need and provide opportunities to make healthier choices. In a Culture of Health, communities flourish and individuals thrive.

Community Culture of Health:
A Success Story

Organizations ready to make a bigger difference can look for ways to expand wellness beyond the workplace. Here’s one success story: A rural school system built a grant-funded gymnasium with state of the art fitness equipment. Recognizing the lack of access to fitness facilities for residents, as well as the need for levy support, the school opened the gym to the public during evening and weekend hours. The results were clear. This one investment brought significant community engagement, improved individual health, and led to the passing of the school levy.

Follow These Best Practices

Are you ready to consider ways to expand your organization’s wellness efforts into the community? Start with the best practices established by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation[3] :

  1. Create a shared vision
  2. Establish community buy-in
  3. Evaluate access and feasibility
  4. Implement, assess, and refine

[1] “State of the States.” Gallup. 2019. Accessed January 30, 2019

[2] “Obesity Update 2017.” OECD. 2017. Accessed January 30, 2019.

[3] “Healthy Communities.” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 2018. Access January 30, 2019.

Posted February 1, 2019

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