Effects of a Workplace Wellness Program on Employee Health, Health Beliefs, and Medical Use: A Randomized Clinical Trial

Image of people exercising.

Many employers use workplace wellness programs to improve employee health and reduce medical costs, but randomized evaluations of their efficacy are rare.

Objective  To evaluate the effect of a comprehensive workplace wellness program on employee health, health beliefs, and medical use after 12 and 24 months.

Design, Setting, and Participants  This randomized clinical trial of 4834 employees of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was conducted from August 9, 2016, to April 26, 2018. Members of the treatment group (n = 3300) received incentives to participate in the workplace wellness program. Members of the control group (n = 1534) did not participate in the wellness program. Statistical analysis was performed on April 9, 2020.

Interventions  The 2-year workplace wellness program included financial incentives and paid time off for annual on-site biometric screenings, annual health risk assessments, and ongoing wellness activities (eg, physical activity, smoking cessation, and disease management).

Main Outcomes and Measures  Measures taken at 12 and 24 months included clinician-collected biometrics (16 outcomes), administrative claims related to medical diagnoses (diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia) and medical use (office visits, inpatient visits, and emergency department visits), and self-reported health behaviors and health beliefs (14 outcomes).

Results  Among the 4834 participants (2770 women; mean [SD] age, 43.9 [11.3] years), no significant effects of the program on biometrics, medical diagnoses, or medical use were seen after 12 or 24 months. A significantly higher proportion of employees in the treatment group than in the control group reported having a primary care physician after 24 months (1106 of 1200 [92.2%] vs 477 of 554 [86.1%]; adjusted P = .002). The intervention significantly improved a set of employee health beliefs on average: participant beliefs about their chance of having a body mass index greater than 30, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and impaired glucose level jointly decreased by 0.07 SDs (95% CI, −0.12 to −0.01 SDs; P = .02); however, effects on individual belief measures were not significant.

Conclusions and Relevance  This randomized clinical trial showed that a comprehensive workplace wellness program had no significant effects on measured physical health outcomes, rates of medical diagnoses, or the use of health care services after 24 months, but it increased the proportion of employees reporting that they have a primary care physician and improved employee beliefs about their own health.

Trial Registration  American Economic Association Randomized Controlled Trial Registry number: AEARCTR-0001368.

Journal: JAMA Internal Medicine.