Friday, June 12, 2009

Wellness Pays

Articles such as this Forbes piece on wellness programs always remind me of a "scandal" I witnessed in the early 1980s. A municipal government allocated self-development money for middle managers and executives. Each person had a set amount that could be spent for management seminars, classes, subscriptions and, horror of horrors, gym memberships.

The reasoning behind the latter was that it is cheaper to prevent a heart attack than to pay for one and, in general, fit employees perform better than ones who are below par. Once the news media learned that city bureaucrats could use city money for membership at the YMCA, however, all hell broke loose. There were huffy declarations that taxpayer money was being squandered. City management quickly retreated and the membership reimbursement option was dropped.

The criticism was not without merit and yet the program also had its logic. Many components of wellness programs can be dismissed as matters that should be handled by the individual, but an employer that is trying to reduce health care costs - and stress, I might add - may regard ways to encourage fitness as far from irresponsible.


Anonymous said...

The British are very concerned about workplace stress and bullying while the Americans are not, at least, not nearly as much. I wonder if that's because they have national healthcare. Do they believe that reducing workplace stress would be a significant national saving, enough to make it worth the cost of passing special laws and running campaigns?

Unknown said...

The employer is a very effective medium for delivering wellness to the masses (at least the employed masses). Work is already a destination for people, so it's a golden opportunity to introduce initiatives aimed at counteracting unhealthy lifestyles that are becoming more prevelant in society. As long as 1) employees are not forced to do anything they don't want to do, 2) the incentives are set up properly, and 3) the program is perceived as fair, it will be successful at reducing costs and improving morale.