Workplace wellness programs becoming more popular; effectiveness debated


Stockbyte | George Doyle

Stockbyte | George Doyle

Do you have a workplace wellness program in your hospital? New research shows there’s a decent chance you do. Are such programs effective? The answer to this question isn’t so clear.

These findings come from the recently released “2014 Employer Health Benefits Survey” from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Let’s start with a definition of a “workplace wellness program” from the CDC:

A workplace wellness program is a health promotion activity or organization-wide policy designed to support healthy behavior and improve health outcomes while at work. These programs consist of activities such as health education and coaching, weight management programs, medical screenings, on-site fitness programs and more.

The new Kaiser Family Foundation study finds that 36 percent of workplaces with more than 200 workers offer financial incentives for reaching at least one health goal; 18 percent of smaller facilities offer these programs. Financial incentives can include lower premiums, gift cards, cash and more. (Note that these numbers are for all industries in the study, not just healthcare.)

While the healthcare industry falls along the same lines as other industries in offering many wellness benefits, healthcare workers are much more likely to be offered flu shots or vaccinations, with 92 percent of healthcare workplaces offering these. The next closest is state/local government, at 77 percent. Additionally, 99 percent of healthcare workplaces offer at least one specified wellness program under the restrictions of the survey, though they do not all result in financial incentives.

The survey finds that 71 percent of firms think these programs are “very” or “somewhat” effective, though some evidence suggests this may not be the case. The New York Times cites two studies that suggest wellness programs don’t save money and do not improve health significantly. The article also notes that no extensive, long-term studies have been completed on the programs.

The same Times article also says that healthcare employers may be the only group actually seeing a cost savings. This is because the employers are allowed to charge more to workers who don’t participate in wellness programs or meet benchmarks in the programs.

Tell us about your workplace wellness programs in the comments. Have they worked for you and your coworkers? Do you think they’re effective for nurses, who work long hours and often have rotating shifts? We want to know!


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