Workforce Wellness: Not a Fad, but a Path to Real Savings

We’ve all seen more than a few fads and trends in our lifetimes. An activity, a celebrity or a dance style is huge for a while, but before long we look back and wonder “What were we thinking?”

Because the concept was so new and different when it first emerged a few years ago, some may have thought that Workforce Wellness would fall into the fad category. That is, it would have a buzz among a few early adopters, but would soon find its way onto the scrapheap of discarded ideas.

In fact, just the opposite has happened. Workforce Wellness has grown steadily as more companies realize that it can offer substantial benefits in terms of productivity, lowered insurance costs and a better bottom line.


Underlying the concept of Workforce Wellness is established fact. According to the Health Enhancement Research Organization, 50 to 70 percent of all diseases and medical problems are associated with or caused by modifiable health risks. If these risks can be identified early enough and addressed, future chronic illnesses can be prevented.

Though Workforce Wellness programs can take many forms, the basic idea behind them is simple. Companies make health-related services and activities available to their employees — either directly or by subsidizing employees’ use of outside programs. Employees who participate in these programs are more productive, are absent from work less frequently and file fewer health insurance claims.


As these programs are taking hold, the data emerging reveals some valuable information. Studies looking at individual risk factors have found that employees with sedentary lifestyles can cost their employers $265 in excess healthcare spending per employee per year. And that’s at the low end of the scale. Obesity costs employers $541 per employee per year. The figures in employer costs per employee per year rise to $1,125 for stress, and $1,824 for depression. [Source: Cammack LaRhette: “Rationale for Biometric Screening”]

The point is, addressing these risk factors through Workforce Wellness programs can reduce these losses dramatically. A review of published studies shows that companies receive a Return on Investment of $3.48 for every dollar put into a Workforce Wellness program in terms of reduced medical costs, and $5.82 for every dollar invested in terms of reduced absenteeism.


The Affordable Care Act has more clearly defined the scope of Workforce Wellness programs. They fall into two broad categories:

  • Participatory Wellness Programs. These programs either do not provide rewards of any kind, or don’t require participants to meet any standard relating to a health factor. So they might take the form of a subsidized gym membership, or rewards for attending health education seminars or participation in a stop smoking program. The rewards are not contingent on any actual results from these activities.
  • Health-Contingent Wellness Programs. These programs may provide rewards in two categories: activity-only or outcome-based. In the first instance, employees are simply required to participate, but not to achieve any specific outcome. In the second case, specific targets are established, and employee success in meeting those targets is measured. If they fall short, they may be asked to participate in additional programs to achieve a reward. Additional restrictions are placed on the design of these programs.


WorkLife by Meridian has made programs such as these available to Mahoning Valley businesses for several years. And we’re evaluating the success of this approach within our own company with our own employees. Results so far have been very encouraging.


Larry Moliterno is CEO of Meridian HealthCare and currently serves as President of the Ohio Alliance of Recovery Providers. Send email to