n less than half a decade, the wellness movement has taken hold in the global real estate market. As of mid-April, nearly 2,600 building projects across the globe were either certified or registered through the International WELL Building Institute’s WELL Standard or the Center for Active Design’s Fitwel rating system.
Even more impressive, 4,360 design, construction, and real estate professionals have earned their WELL Accredited Professional status, and another 3,485 WELL APs are in the making. Tack on Fitwel’s cadre of 1,900+ “Ambassadors” and active users, and we’re looking at an army 9,400 strong pushing the merits of these programs.
Corporate America also has jumped on the wellness train. In 2017, nearly half of all worksites in the U.S. offered some type of health promotion or wellness program, including an astounding 92% of worksites with 500+ employees, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Clearly, wellness in the workplace has become big business, especially for large employers that hope their investment in healthier, lower-stress work environments will lead to improved employee health and, ultimately, lower healthcare costs.
But getting wellness to pay off may not be that simple, or even a wise investment to begin with, as evidenced by a peer-reviewed study published last month in The Journal of the American Medical Association. The study involved a randomized trial of 32,974 employees across 160 worksites (20 sites with wellness plans, 140 control sites) at a large U.S. warehouse retail company.
First the good news: After 18 months, the worksites with the standardized wellness program had an 8.3-percentage point higher rate of employees who reported engaging in regular exercise (69.8% vs. 61.9%, with an adjusted difference of 0.03) and a 13.6-percentage point higher rate of employees who reported actively managing their weight (69.2% vs. 54.7%).
Now the not-so-positive news: When looking at the traditional measures of health, particularly as they pertain to health insurance premiums—namely cholesterol, blood pressure, and body mass index—there were no significant differences between the treatment group and the control group after 18 months. The same for healthcare spending and utilization, absenteeism, tenure, job performance, sleep quality, and even food choices.
It seems, according to this study at least, that workplace wellness programs can create environments that promote improved health behaviors among employees, but achieving lower healthcare spending and utilization are a stretch.