Do workplace wellness programmes work?

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Thursday, 18 April 2019, 7:05AM
A new study followed 33,000 workers over a year and a half and found that there was no significant reduction in workers' health care costs. Photo / Getty Images.

Workplace wellness programmes are under fire after a new study found they have little to no benefit when it comes to improving health outcomes and reducing medical spending.

A new study, which followed 33,000 workers over a year and a half, found that there was no significant reduction in workers' health care costs.

While workers who took part in wellness programmes said they learned about exercise and watching their weight, there was no significant difference in their blood pressure, sugar levels or other health outcomes.

Harvard professor of public health care, Zirui Song, told Tim Dower while employees might like the programmes, that doesn't mean they achieve anything.

"Over the first 18 months, we found that it led to higher rates or regular exercise and active weight management. However, there were no differences in measures of health like blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, health care spending and utilisation or employment outcomes like absenteeism and job performance."

He said employers need to think about what they are trying to achieve with wellness programmes.

"There were changes in health behaviours. It seems that over the first 18 months, health behaviours can respond to workplace wellness programme but indeed the other outcomes that we examined...did not differ."

"So if you are an employer that values behaviour change and is willing to invest in change even in the absence of health care cost savings, you may look at the results in an optimistic sense. If you are an employer that values savings in healthcare costs above other outcomes, you will interpret the results in a different way."

"Employers may value different things from a wellness programme so it depends on who you are."

However, he said a change in behaviour could over time, lead to a change in health outcomes like blood pressure and weight.

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