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Does Wellness Really Work?

Jul 16, 2019 blog featured image

The big question in the employer wellness industry posed and debated today: Does wellness (or well-being) really work? The answer truly lies in what the organization is aiming to achieve and how success is measured. In other words, what does wellness mean to the organization?

A recent study in JAMA has made a buzz on this topic and has been debated on LinkedIn and in the workplace wellness industry in general. The study, “Effect of a Workplace Wellness Program on Employee Health and Economic Outcomes,” was a randomized clinical trial, which is impressive for a worksite wellness study to achieve. However, many would argue “wellness program effectiveness” cannot be determined by a shorter-term study (only 18 months) with no regard to the culture or context of the environment within which the study was administered. Organizations and human beings are complex; to not consider the other variables such as leadership and manager support, communication methods, and other company initiatives and variables is futile.

How can an employer today determine the success of their well-being efforts and investment? Define success and measure impact. Here are some impact goals to consider that may be meaningful to your organization.


According to research conducted by the American Psychological Association, fewer (only 25%) employees in companies with employee wellness programs said they intend to leave their job in the next year compared to the 51% of the employees with the same intentions in companies without wellness programs. What’s more, the cost of turnover ranges from 16% of an annual salary (low-paying position) to 213% of an annual salary for highly educated or executive positions. We also know retaining millennials is a new challenge for HR leaders and that millennials are not as loyal if they don’t feel supported by their employer.

If you aim to positively impact retention, it’s important to understand what your employees value by including them in the process and then offering well-being initiatives that support them in those areas. Getting honest feedback from your employees is the first step, followed by timely and intentional communication of the next steps you plan to take.


There are many ways to impact employee engagement but focusing on creating supportive managers can be one of the best. According to Gallup research, managers account for 70% of variance in employee engagement.


Many employees, especially millennials, are looking for organizations that support their overall health and well-being through comprehensive benefits, supportive well-being resources and company value alignment. A report done by the APA showed that 89% of workers at companies that support well-being initiatives are more likely to recommend their company as a good place to work. Measuring recruitment within your talent management systems or entrance interviews can be a way to monitor progress in this area.

Ensuring Goal Alignment

Another important consideration is to ensure your goals are aligned with the anticipated results or expected impact. If an organization’s goals and expectations are not realistically aligned with the initiative(s) offered to employees, the conclusion may be wellness doesn’t work.

For example, an appropriate goal of biometric screenings could be to increase employees’ awareness of their health. However, we can’t expect them to make long-term behavior changes unless we implement supportive programs like intrinsic coaching.

So, what does wellness (or well-being) mean to your organization? Is “wellness” creating an environment where employees feel supported and engaged? Does it mean helping employees in their financial well-being to help reduce stress? Reach out to one of our health strategists today for more information on aligning your goals and well-being strategy design.

The above information does not constitute advice. Always contact your employee benefits broker or trusted adviser for insurance-related questions.

Author Maddison Bezdicek, Health Strategies Practice Leader, Hylant Employee Benefits Practice

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