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Do Workplace Wellness Programs Save Employers Money?

Worksite wellness programs have become a big business — $6 billion in the US — as employers look to improve employee health and productivity while containing health costs. Half of all employers with 50 or more workers offered wellness programs in 2012, and nearly half of those without a program, planned to start one.

The Affordable Care Act supports these efforts, with one provision mandating a study to determine the prevalence and characteristics of workplace wellness programs, assess their effectiveness, and identify key success factors for program adoption. The RAND Corporation was contracted to perform the study.

What did they find? Overall, the return on investment (ROI) was smaller than that indicated in some earlier studies. Workplace wellness programs usually have two components: (1) a disease management program to help employees that have a chronic disease and (2) a lifestyle management program to assist other employees in reducing risk factors such as obesity and smoking. The RAND researchers found the disease management program had a significantly greater ROI than lifestyle management. For every dollar spent, disease management returned $3.80, while lifestyle management returned $0.50; total ROI for a program with both components was $1.50.

The programs also had a positive impact on health behaviors of participating employees. However, employee participation in wellness programs is still limited.

Wellness program execution is critical for success, so the report offers lessons learned from case studies.

Sources: Do workplace wellness programs save employers money? RAND Corporation Research Brief, 2014. http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9744/index1.html

Soeren M and others. Workplace wellness programs study: final report. RAND Corporation for the US Dept. of Labor and US Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2013. http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR254.html

Caloyeras JP and others. Managing manifest diseases, but not health risks, saved PepsiCo money over seven years. Health Affairs, vol. 33, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pages 124-133. http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/33/1/124.abstract

Posted by AHA Resource Center (312) 422-2050, rc@aha.org

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