Wellness Programs and ROI: Does it Exist?

The debate goes on as to whether or not employer-based wellness programs generate any return on investment, especially reduction in healthcare expenditures on employees. In the Employeewellnessnetwork.com blog post “If Wellness Doesn’t Reduce Health Costs, Why Do It,” health and fitness expert Bob Merberg discusses why there are other reasons to conduct wellness programs besides immediate return on investment.

Among those reasons, are that good employee wellness programs are associated with increased employee motivation, engagement, retention, attendance, and productivity. Merberg mentions, “some of this data is soft, but that’s because we spend most of our time and energy focusing on the wrong metrics: health care costs.”

Merberg suggests that we need more engagement by society as a whole to be engaged in healthier lifestyles, not just to control health care costs, but because health is good for us as individuals and as a society. In regards to ROI, Merberg mentions “Defense of ROI myths is often predicated on another myth, namely, that employers only spend on things that deliver a positive ROI.” For instance, if you ask an employer the ROI of their Employee Assistance Program (EAP), community service program, diversity program, or training programs, you probably won’t get an immediate answer, if you get one at all. Merberg suggests, “This is because EAPs have not made the mistake we wellness managers have made –  justifying our existence based soley on ROI.”

So what does this mean for wellness programs? Merberg encourages employers to look at the the overall benefits of a wellness program, not just the ROI, “Large employers with robust wellness programs typically spend on their wellness programs approximately 2% of their overall medical expenses. So if we spend, say, $100 million on health care, and $2 million on wellness, why are we wasting our time and our organization’s resources worrying about the ROI of wellness? What about the other $98 million?”

Overall, Merberg believes “that a company with the will and the resources is well-served by promoting the health of its employees in a positive way…doing so is likely to have benefits for the business, but that generally wellness may be better viewed as an expense rather than an investment, or we should focus on value-of-investment rather than return-on-investment.”

To read Bob Merberg’s entire blog post, click here.


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