Toward a Critical Theory of Corporate Wellness
BioSocieties13:1 (2018), 190-212
40 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2017 Last revised: 6 Aug 2018
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
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