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Knowledge@Wharton: Why Employee Wellness Programs Don’t Work

From Knowledge@Wharton: Many companies have employee wellness programs with the goal of reducing the skyrocketing costs of health care for their workers. But there is little evidence that these programs are effective. Wharton management professors Iwan Barankay and Peter Cappelli suggest that instead of free gym memberships or yoga classes, companies should try to meet the most vulnerable workers where they are by offering support tailored to their needs. Helping those employees find a primary care doctor or transportation to routine appointments, for example, would improve their health outcomes better than cash incentives. “What we need to do is listen to our employees. We have to talk to them to understand what their barriers are to start engaging,” Barankay said. “It may look trivial for most of us, but for people who have a complicated life, just the thought of finding parking near the pharmacy to pick up drugs or knowing what to wear and how to sign up for classes at the gym are things that they would benefit from having support with. They’re just really burdened by their lives and comorbidities so they struggle to build this into their routines.” Barankay spoke with Wharton Business Daily on SiriusXM about the problem with employee wellness programs. (Listen to the podcast above.) He and Cappelli wrote a recent article on the topic for The Wall Street Journal, explaining why wellness programs don’t work despite their surging popularity. Read more on Knowledge@Wharton.

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