A study published in NBER last month has some interesting implications on workplace wellness programs. While only a one year study, it’s unique since it’s the only comprehensive randomized controlled trial on wellness.
1) There are diminishing returns on wellness incentives and it is lower than most think (after around $200 there isn’t much of an impact).
2) As expected, healthy participants self-select into wellness programs. Spend was close to $1,600 lower for this group but that was not attributable to the program but rather them being younger and healthier.
3) Wellness in the study showed no impact on medical spend, absenteeism, productivity, or other behaviors. A good reference on the longer-term study is one from Bolnick et al. from about 10 years ago that showed the opportunity in dollar terms by cost of illness by age cohorts over a longer period, something that could be big for companies with older and longer-tenured employees.
The reason you don’t see clear ROI reporting is because it’s fuzzy. The greatest benefit may be a signal of goodwill from a company to employee. I’d really love if equipment was covered, even if were a lower after-tax amount. Running shoes would be a big one for me. Gym memberships don’t make much since; 2/3 never use them.