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Maybe It's Time to Rethink Your Wellness Program

Maybe It's Time to Rethink Your Wellness Program

April 12, 2023
Wharton professors say the problem is that these programs aren't structured to help the most vulnerable employees.

While some companies are beginning the close their corporate gym doors to cut costs, other companies are probably re-evaluating their benefits.

In an interesting article on Wharton's website, management professors Iwan Barankay and Peter Cappelli say companies need to meet the needs of the most vulnerable employees. And that's not necessarily achieved by offering them access to gyms or offering cash incentives to participate in health programs.  

"Helping those employees find a primary care doctor or transportation to routine appointments, for example, would improve their health outcomes better than cash incentives," they say in the article.  

They take a practical approach to improving the health of employees and suggest that companies need to talk directly to employees to find out what barriers they are encountering when trying to access healthcare. They note that people have very complicated lives and simple tasks such as picking up prescriptions could be difficult. 

A new strategy is necessary, they write, since the majority of companies -- 80% according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, have what are considered traditional wellness programs that offer screenings. And most companies have incentives for positive health behaviors. 

But those efforts aren't working in terms of improving health outcomes. 

Barankay explains that one of the main reasons these programs aren't getting the job done is due to behavioral economics. "Research in that field has determined that when goals are abstract and distant, such as lowering cholesterol, people respond better when they get an immediate reward for staying the course," he says in the article. "While incentives do work in some cases, randomized trials found no difference in health outcomes, cost savings, or absenteeism for workers in wellness programs."

Note: The article includes a podcast. 

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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