Rise in employee wellbeing initiatives in 2014, despite little evidence they work

Rise in employee wellbeing initiatives in 2014, despite little evidence they work

Amidst the plethora of fitness and diet advice which greets the New Year comes discussions on the value of employee wellness programmes in reducing absenteeism and improving staff productivity.  A solid link between the two is still to be proved and now a major new piece of US research charting the effects of a seven-year programme on thousands of employees has found that while support for staff with chronic conditions was beneficial, there was no evidence that the fitness and lifestyle component made any difference. This will do little to stem the enthusiasm for wellbeing programmes however, as consultants Towers Watson reports there will be a rise in the uptake of employee wellness programmes over the coming year.

Rebekah Haymes, senior consultant at Towers Watson, said: “All the signs suggest wellbeing is the new priority for many HR professionals. Whilst many employers are busy implementing new and developing existing wellbeing initiatives, others will turn their attentions in 2014 to maximising spend by identifying priorities, introducing targeted programmes, introducing effective delivery and measurement mechanisms whilst implementing an effective communication strategy which focuses on behavioural change.

The US study Managing Manifest Diseases, But Not Health Risks, Saved PepsiCo Money Over Seven Years, which is published in the journal Health Affairs evaluated the lifestyle and disease management components of PepsiCo’s wellness program Healthy Living and found that seven years of continuous participation in one or both components was associated with an average reduction of $30 in health care cost per member per month. However, researchers RAND and executives of PepsiCo stated: “When we looked at each component individually, we found that the disease management component was associated with lower costs and that the lifestyle management component was not.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean wellbeing initiatives are a waste of time however. In much the same way it’s difficult to measure the productivity benefits of for instance the office workplace environment, healthier lifestyle programmes send out a positive message to employees that they’re working for an organisation that cares. And importantly they can also help identify potential problems such as stress related conditions.

Says Haymes : “As we have seen stress-related absences are on the increase, a focus for many employers is to address this increasing issue through preventative measures as opposed to those that address stress at the point of need. We foresee a developing trend that will see employers introduce more resilience style support for employees as part of a wider wellbeing strategy.”