A recent article published on Slate, an online magazine of news, politics, technology, and culture, called workplace wellness programs a “sham”. The article went on to describe how these programs, defined largely by biometric screenings and health risk assessments (HRAs), are really just cost shifting mechanisms from employers to employees. As we read the article, we found ourselves agreeing with most of the individual points made in the entire piece yet disagreeing with the overall thesis. For all wellness programs to be shams, these programs, as defined within the article, must be solely defined by biometric screenings, HRAs, and a number of other selectively bad services. That being said, it is imprudent to throw the good out with the bad and characterize all wellness programs as a sham. At the very end of the piece, the author offers hope:
“To make their employees healthier, it’s clear, employers need to totally redefine what a wellness program is. A wellness program that’s actually about wellness would be entirely voluntary, not financially coercive. It wouldn’t collect any personal health information from employees. It wouldn’t weigh people or take their blood samples. It would be truly a benefit, not a cost-saving measure. It might reimburse employees for their gym or yoga studio memberships. It might subsidize a community-supported agriculture membership.”
The problem with the author’s call to action is that it assumes that programs like these do not exist and that all wellness vendors promote “sham” services. For years, Wellable has been fighting against screenings, HRAs, and excess testing. It would have been easy for us to add these services to our solution; instead, we wrote countless blog posts and a free eBook about the myths of biometric screenings. Furthermore, all of our programs are voluntary and do not collect personal health information. We don’t mention this with shameless self-promotion or as if Wellable is the only company with this approach. We find that more and more employers, brokers, and health plans are moving away from wellness as a sham to wellness as a benefit, and although the change is slower than many would like, there is a noticeable shift in how groups think about employee wellness.
If the author (or the many people she quoted in the article) genuinely want to see a change in the employee wellness, they may best be served by identifying the specific programs that are dragging the industry to a point beyond redemption and promoting those programs that satisfy the criteria that they feel is gold standard.