My wariness over workplace wellness programs goes way back to my days of working as an employee assistance professional. Most employers have good intentions, but the programs consistently fail to address the real problems and have associated privacy risks.
One example according to Brandon Wolford a West Virginia teacher:
He and his coworkers were moved to action when they were required to either pay a fee or participate in a workplace wellness program called “Healthy Tomorrows,” which penalized members for not scoring “acceptable” on a series of biometric measures. “The next thing you know we get a paper in the mail,” he said. “It says you have to go to the doctor by such and such a date. Your blood glucose levels must be at certain amounts, your waist size must be at certain amounts, and if it is not, you don’t meet all these stipulations, then you get a $500 penalty on your out-of-pocket deductible.”
These programs can ask sensitive questions, enforce monetary and other penalties for non-compliance in your personal life, and have a poor track record for achieving health results. One of the biggest questions is how do they measure health?
Unfortunately, the concept of “health” is nearly as nebulous and difficult to measure as “productivity.” In the BJ’s study, people on these programs didn’t lower their BMI, cholesterol, or blood glucose levels enough to amount to any significant difference from the control group. But even those supposed markers of health are hardly neutral—the idea that weight loss, for example, is inherently healthy is unscientific at best, and fat-phobic and dangerous at worst.
I believe there are ways to balance cost reduction with creating a program that truly supports health. However, when I recommended ideas that provided more support for employees vs. monitoring of health markers these were universally met with resistance. Hopefully workplaces will become more enlightened as employees question the program initiatives, and more compassionate and effective initiatives will arise.
The Scourge of Worker Wellness Programs | The New Republic