Fridays (with Benefits) - Are wellness programs really succeeding?

Normally, we lead off these Friday recaps with a quick introduction, setting the table for the news at hand. This week, we're going to change the format and lead with a quote from the article, instead.

"... research suggests most workplace wellness programs are a waste of money."

While we're not going to say we agree with this sentiment, this week's article does raise a few interesting points about these programs, and how they might be able to evolve to live up to their initial promise.

Why Workplace Wellness Programs Aren't Working - Serenity Gibbons, ThriveGlobal

According to author Serenity Gibbons, (an equal rights advocate and former assistant editor at the Wall Street Journal) current wellness programs are too focused on physical health, but aren't accounting for "the whole person." And, as a result, this lack of overall well-being is rendering these programs ineffective for TEAM wellness.

To drive this point home, Gibbons reminds us of a joint Harvard University/University of Chicago study that showed wellness programs had no impact on employee health improvement, employer health spending, or time off of work. In other words, the primary goals of wellness programs weren't being met.

To rectify this, Gibbons recommends a larger focus on some key areas -- areas that encompass overall wellness, and not just physical fitness. We obviously can't cover them all here (that's what the article link is for), so we'll just highlight some of the more-surprising suggestions made in the piece.

Working to prevent employee burnout

Moving past general mental and emotional wellness, Gibbons feels burnout is a major problem for today's workers. And that is often caused by a lack of direction and challenge coming from above. By establishing professional wellness goals within these programs, she feels employees will come to work more focused on both immediate work and long-term career goals. But this isn't just 'career coaching' -- it's reminding employees of their value, while valuing their own needs.

Spiritual guidance… at work?

This entry surprised me a bit, since it's rare to see religion or spirituality ever discussed within the workplace. But Gibbons feels strongly about how spiritual people tend to be more motivated and community-minded, which carries over to work ethic and performance.

While no one is suggesting employers should organize in-office worship -- spirituality is far too personal, after all -- Gibbons sees some benefit in allowing workers to take breaks for prayer, meditations or even organizing worship sessions, as long as it doesn't affect work or the workplace.

The article goes on to highlight more unique ways to address employee health. No one is doubting that healthier employees are generally happier ones, as well. But not all wellness programs are hitting the mark. Gibbons surprised us with some of her suggestions… and there's clearly a lot of conversation still to be had before wellness programs can be considered a nationwide success.


Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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