What Do Workplace Wellness Programs Do? Evidence from the Illinois Workplace Wellness Study

83 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2018

See all articles by Damon Jones

Damon Jones

University of Chicago - Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies

David Molitor

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Julian Reif

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Date Written: January 2018

Abstract

Workplace wellness programs cover over 50 million workers and are intended to reduce medical spending, increase productivity, and improve well-being. Yet, limited evidence exists to support these claims. We designed and implemented a comprehensive workplace wellness program for a large employer with over 12,000 employees, and randomly assigned program eligibility and financial incentives at the individual level. Over 56 percent of eligible (treatment group) employees participated in the program. We find strong patterns of selection: during the year prior to the intervention, program participants had lower medical expenditures and healthier behaviors than non-participants. However, we do not find significant causal effects of treatment on total medical expenditures, health behaviors, employee productivity, or self-reported health status in the first year. Our 95% confidence intervals rule out 83 percent of previous estimates on medical spending and absenteeism. Our selection results suggest these programs may act as a screening mechanism: even in the absence of any direct savings, differential recruitment or retention of lower-cost participants could result in net savings for employers.

Suggested Citation

Jones, Damon and Molitor, David and Reif, Julian, What Do Workplace Wellness Programs Do? Evidence from the Illinois Workplace Wellness Study (January 2018). NBER Working Paper No. w24229. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3106670

Damon Jones (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies ( email )

1155 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

David Molitor

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ( email )

601 E John St
Champaign, IL 61820
United States

Julian Reif

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ( email )

601 E John St
Champaign, IL 61820
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.julianreif.com

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