Rajiv Kumar challenges a recent blog post from the Harvard Business Review discounting the impact of corporate wellness programs. Kumar’s thesis, which seems pretty intuitive to us, is that there are two primary benefits to encouraging a healthier workforce: lower healthcare costs and improved employee productivity. In focusing on the motives versus the outcomes, we agree that the initial HBR post is flawed and short-sighted. How much do the company’s motives matter if the results include monetary efficiency, improved productivity, and improved employee health?

February 21, 2014; Harvard Business Review Blog Network
By Rajiv Kumar

A recent HBR blog proposed to deliver The Cure for the Common Corporate Wellness Program. But as with any prescription, you really shouldn’t swallow this one unless all your questions about it have been answered. As a physician, a patient, and a businessman, I see plenty to question in Al Lewis and Vik Khanna’s critique of workplace wellness initiatives.

With their opening generalization that “many wellness programs” are deeply flawed, the authors dismiss a benefit enjoyed by a healthy majority of America’s workers. Today, nearly 80% of people who work for organizations with 50 or more employees have access to a wellness program, according to a 2013 RAND study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

It’s not clear whether the authors are intentionally dismissing or simply misunderstanding the wealth of data that shows how wellness programs benefit participating employees. The RAND study summarizes it this way: “Consistent with prior research, we find that lifestyle management interventions as part of workplace wellness programs can reduce risk factors, such as smoking, and increase healthy behaviors, such as exercise. We find that these effects are sustainable over time and clinically meaningful.”

Lewis and Khanna, however, don’t focus on such findings. Instead, they question the motives of a company for even offering a wellness program, which they slam as an “employee control tool” and “a marketing tool for health plans.” And, in perhaps the most baffling statement of all, the authors suggest that workplace wellness initiatives are “trying to manipulate health behaviors that are largely unrelated to enterprise success” (emphasis mine).

Continue reading the original post here.