Toward a Critical Theory of Corporate Wellness

40 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2017 Last revised: 6 Aug 2018

See all articles by Gordon Hull

Gordon Hull

University of North Carolina at Charlotte - Department of Philosophy

Frank Pasquale

Cornell Law School; Cornell Tech

Date Written: July 28, 2017


In the U.S., ‘employee wellness’ programs are increasingly attached to employer-provided health insurance. These programs attempt to nudge employees, sometimes quite forcefully, into healthy behaviors such as smoking cessation and exercise routines. Despite being widely promoted as saving on healthcare costs, numerous studies undermine this rationale. After documenting the programs’ failure to deliver a positive return on investment, we analyze them as instead providing an opportunity for employers to exercise increasing control over their employees. Based on human capital theory and neoliberal models of subjectivity that emphasize personal control and responsibility, these programs treat wellness as a lifestyle that employees must be cajoled into adopting, extending the workplace not just into the home but into the bodies of workers, and entrenching the view that one belongs to one’s workplace. At the same time, their selective endorsement of health programs (many scientifically unsupported) produce a social truth of wellness framed as fitness for work. We conclude by arguing that the public health initiatives occluded by the private sector’s promotion of wellness programs would be a much better investment of resources.

Keywords: Employee Wellness, Employer-Sponsored Insurance, Benefits, Price Discrimination, Health Care, Moral Hazard

Suggested Citation

Hull, Gordon and Pasquale, Frank A., Toward a Critical Theory of Corporate Wellness (July 28, 2017). BioSocieties13:1 (2018), 190-212, U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2017-23, Available at SSRN:

Gordon Hull

University of North Carolina at Charlotte - Department of Philosophy ( email )

9201 University City Blvd.
Charlotte, NC 28223
United States

Frank A. Pasquale (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853

Cornell Tech ( email )

111 8th Avenue #302
New York, NY 10011
United States

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