Why Your Workplace Wellness Program Doesn’t Work


Imagine an employee leaving a company health and wellness seminar, or onsite yoga sesh, only to find junk food in the company’s vending machine.


Can you visualize this? It’s quite an oxymoron! But it is one that occurs quite regularly within the workplace. Sure, the wellness industry is growing (it’s a $6.2B industry!), and yes, it is true that many corporations now offer great workplace wellness programs such as onsite yoga, health screenings, and nutritional education. But what does this all mean if employees are still suffering from health issues?  If you want to find out how effective your program is just ask your employees.

"Effective? Usually Not..."

Today, employees spend a greater amount of time at the office. Gone is the now favorable 40-hour workweek. In its place, meet the strenuous 47-hour workweek, complete with an extra day of work just for your liking. According to a poll conducted by Gallup, it is a rare occasion that full-time employees work less than 40 hours during any given business week. In fact a mere 8% of full-time employees claim to work 40 hours or less each week.

With all of these logged work hours, companies recognize the value of wellness, as healthier individuals have a tendency to work more productively and more happily. With this in mind, companies have made a valiant effort to improve their employee wellness ideas and boost overall productivity.

While this number looks great on paper, in an analysis of recent literature on the effectiveness of wellness programs, the California Health Benefits Review Program notes that wellness programs do not lower blood pressure, blood sugar, or cholesterol.

Something is clearly wrong.

All you have to do is Google the topic of workplace wellness programs, and you will be bombarded by articles touting this opinion and challenging the effectiveness of wellness programs.

Consider the title of this Modern Healthcare article: “Do employee wellness programs work? Studies say no…and yes.” Or the title of this Bloomberg Business article: “Employers love wellness programs. But do they work?”

If you really want to stare pessimism in the face, take a look at this New York Times article: “Do Workplace Wellness Programs Work? Usually Not.”

This is glass-half-empty perspective if ever I have seen it.

Or is it?

The Nutrition Gap


The overwhelming opinion of wellness programs is currently best summarized in this quote by the Incidental Economist’s author Austin Frakt:

This isn’t the first time that Americans [have] bought something that hasn’t rigorously been proven to work as well as advertised.

Considering the above health statistics concerning cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar, statistics, the Incidental Economist’s statement is certainly warranted. However, rather than leaving it at this, I would like to propose the simple question: Why?

Why aren’t wellness programs working as well as advertised? Given that their end goal is to improve overall health, it is worthwhile to look into this question and find solutions.

When asked about the status of current workplace wellness programs, HUMAN’s co-founder and Chief Humanist, Sean Kelly, replies quite simply:

This is a major disconnect many organizations face, a void in the wellness puzzle.

As mentioned previously, companies have done a stand-up job enacting and encouraging fitness in the workplace. But what about nutrition? Health is not a characteristic of one’s life. Health is a lifestyle. In a Real Simple article titled “What’s Best For Your Health Goals: Diet or Exercise?” Tim Church, M.D. differentiates between diet and exercise while identifying the interdependence between the two: paying attention to one’s nutrition helps lose weight, while exercise helps to keep it off.

As stated, diet and exercise work in tangent to build healthiness. Why then are we surprised that wellness programs that focus on fitness and omit nutritional value fail to improve a person’s overall health?

So in reply to Austin Frakt’s observation, I say yes! Yes, wellness programs have failed to work as well as advertised, but this is due to the fact that wellness programs are not being advertised honestly. No company wishes to call attention to the junk food vending machine lurking in the shadows or the lack of healthy snack options at work. But as statistics show, there is a gap in wellness programs that must be filled before wellness programs can even begin to prove themselves effective.

We’re curious to hear your opinions regarding the effectiveness of your own workplace wellness programs. Does any of this information ring true of your own program? Sound off in the comments below!


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