Hot Work

Healthy and Unhealthy Wellness Programs

Can you tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy wellness programs? If you’re not sure, the Canadian Obesity Network (CON) and the American Heart Association are both offering some perspective.

Conduit, Spring 2015In the Spring issue of Conduit, CON focuses upon obesity in the workplace and provides some detailed perspective on designing a healthy workplace wellness program and related issues of discrimination in the workplace. In an invited guest editorial, ConscienHealth Founder Ted Kyle comments:

Whatever effort and money might be going into financial incentives for health improvement will likely prove to be a waste. At best, in the U.S., it seems to be a tool for shifting costs onto people with chronic diseases. These resources would be much better spent on reducing workplace factors that promote obesity and improving access to the full range of evidence-based treatments for obesity. The employers that are pursuing this path — and many are — will succeed with a healthier, more productive workforce and better retention of talented employees.

Likewise, the American Heart Association has published a scientific statement on the characteristics of well-designed, comprehensive workplace wellness programs. The statement notes that most employers have implemented programs that don’t meet these standards and have little chance of improving employee health.

Why all the concern? Some businesses have pressed for unprecedented latitude to penalize employees who don’t go along with their wellness schemes. Consumer advocates and health policy experts point out that the primary effect of big penalties and incentives is to shift healthcare costs to employees with chronic illnesses that cannot be cured. Some employers have even attempted to cancel health insurance or fire employees who don’t participate.

Employers who genuinely promote health and wellness in the workplace will increasingly stand out. Those who use “wellness programs” as a ploy for discrimination should be called out and sanctioned.

Click here, here, and here for more from Conduits. Click here for more from NPR and here for the scientific statement from the AHA.

Hot Work, photograph © Christian Schirrmacher / flickr

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