Workplace Wellness ROI: Creating a ‘Culture of Health’

Businesspeople Stacking Their HandsUnderstanding the value of workplace wellness programs — often measured in return on investment — is always important. But an important component to understanding that ROI, as noted by Harris Allen and Raymond Fabius in Health Affairs Blog, is the value of creating a “culture of health.”

The post notes “the need for a sharper focus on the core challenge at hand for employers: how best to improve the value of their health care investment—that is, how to manage health care costs while improving employee health and productivity—in ways that are sustainable.” But it further notes that “leading employers with well-developed management and measurement approaches have moved well beyond calculating the return on investment (ROI) of individual wellness efforts and are demonstrating the more comprehensive value of building ‘cultures of health.’”

The authors point to five challenges employers and vendors need to address around improving health in America. These include:

  • “Health care cost control or utilization management”
  • “Disease management”
  • “Health and productivity management”
  • “Population health”
  • “Culture of health”

But in looking at ROI, the authors cite a study titled “Do Workplace Health Promotion (Wellness) Programs Work?”
in the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine. According to Allen and Fabius: “In an effort to tamp down expectations about ROI specifically, [the authors] recently came forward to alter this particular focus of the discussion. They have suggested that, rather than cost-benefit designs that yield the monetary estimates needed for ROI estimates, the field is better served by cost effectiveness studies that examine changes achieved on outcomes like lost productivity and disability relative to costs incurred.”

Their conclusion: “We recommend that the discussion pivot from a debate regarding the ROI of individual wellness or disease management programs to the study of the elements required to build sustainable cultures of health first inside large and mid-sized employers and then within their larger communities. The promise of population health redirects our energies to finding ways to improve our collective lifestyle and reduce chronic illness in our society.”