Worksite Wellness: A Field Experiment on Participation Incentives & Selection into Wellness Programs

Project Summary

The project team conducted a randomized controlled trial to examine the effect of workplace wellness programs on health, medical utilization, and well-being. The team focused on the role of incentives and peer effects in influencing self-selection into worksite wellness programs, and whether these programs differentially attract certain employees over others.

Research Question(s)

  • How do the incentives offered by employers and encouraged by the ACA affect participation in wellness programs?
  • What type of worker is most likely to respond to incentives for wellness participation, and how does that change when one varies the amount of generosity?
  • What is the effect of these programs on the overall health and well-being of participants and is there a social component to wellness program participation?


  • Inform decision-making around the implementation of worksite wellness programs, by providing information on which employees are likely to opt-in to such programs, whether the programs impacted health for all or only a subset of employees, and how various incentive levels impacted sign up and participation.
  • Identify ways in which leveraging various types of financial or social incentives might generate cost savings within the existing design of worksite wellness programs.


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.


Self-rated health survey data, administrative claims data, and biometric data including: anthropometrics such as height, weight, and waist/hip ratio; resting blood pressure; blood glucose, and blood lipid levels. 


Experimental design with randomization into treatment and control groups and two-way randomization of the screening incentive and the wellness subsidy within the treatment group.

Group of people in yoga class
Grantee and Partner organizations

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The University of Illinois Wellness Center
The University of Chicago
Coventry Health Care

Grant status
Principal investigators
David Molitor, PhD
Damon Jones, PhD
Julian Reif, PhD
Laura Payne, PhD
Start date
Award amount
$ 200,000
18 months

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