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

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Workplace wellness programs cover over 50 million U.S. 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 and randomly assigned program eligibility and financial incentives at the individual level for nearly 5,000 employees. We find strong patterns of selection: during the year prior to the intervention, program participants had lower medical expenditures and healthier behaviors than nonparticipants. The program persistently increased health screening rates, but we do not find significant causal effects of treatment on total medical expenditures, other health behaviors, employee productivity, or self-reported health status after more than two years. Our 95% confidence intervals rule out 84% of previous estimates on medical spending and absenteeism.

Journal: The Quarterly Journal of Economics.