The Hazards of Office Wellness Programs

According to Jan Wieczner of The Wall Street Journal, approximately 90% of employers provide health care programs with wellness incentives or financial rewards to employees. In 2008, that number was 57%. The programs are designed to encourage employees to take action towards improved health that will reduce health care expenses for employers. A survey by Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group reveals that the average incentive for employees has doubled from $260 in 2009 to $521 today. In some cases, penalties are applied.


While it should be desirable for an employer to care about an employee’s wellbeing, penalizing an employee for personal habits or overall lifestyle choices seems misplaced. Although some workplace programs can be considered effective, Leah Binder of Forbes magazine outlined some of the disadvantages of ineffective worksite wellness programs in an article dated April 2014.

  • Employees are often asked to complete online questionnaires that delve into personal habits and health status; refusal can mean penalties in the range of $1,000 in some cases. This renders such programs possible privacy, health, and business risks that can alienate employees.
  • There is a danger in informing employees that they should stop smoking, eat more vegetables, and exercise. Similarly, an employer that demands 50 hour work weeks and who indirectly instructs an employee to take up yoga and get a heart check is  ironic, patronizing, and unlikely to be taken seriously.
  • It is debatable whether wellness programs save money for the employer. The programs themselves cost money to establish and the additional health screenings, treatment, and the education services are costly too. Additionally, employees could be subject to unnecessary, invasive tests.

Better program choices do not ask employees to reveal their personal habits and lifestyles. Providing onsite fitness facilities and providing staff with a modicum of time to attend an exercise class can boost morale. Such facilities attract external candidates and improve a company’s reputation as an employer.

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