Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

An Overview of Employee Wellness Programs (EWPS) in Large U.S. Cities: Does Geography Matter?

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

An Overview of Employee Wellness Programs (EWPS) in Large U.S. Cities: Does Geography Matter?

Article excerpt


Although Employee Wellness Programs (EWPs), also known as Workplace Wellness Programs (WWPs), have been around for decades, it is generally understood that initiatives in government organizations typically lag behind initiatives developed in the private sector in both magnitude and diversity. The range of programs and services is far more sophisticated in the corporate world than in public agencies. Part of the reason these programs are less extensive within public agencies has to do with the lack of a uniform definition of what constitutes a "wellness program" (Mattke, Schnyer, & Van Busum, 2012; Shemkus, 2013). Some organizations offer only a few informational tips on nutrition and exercise, and yet refer to the distribution of these resources as a "wellness program." Large organizations often offer much more comprehensive plans that, in some cases, incorporate the use of mobile wellness apps and technological wearable devices. In spite of the differences in size and scope of these programs, the goals are similar. As Schneider (2007) explains, "the broader aim is to create a more productive workforce and reduce health care costs for workers, the government, and taxpayers" (p. 1B).

Abundant research continues to reaffirm the benefits of EWPs in general. For example, the American Management Association (AMA; 2004); Berry, Mirabito, & Baum (2010); and Levin (2007) report that wellness programs have excellent returns on investments (ROI). The 2004 AMA study notes improvements in employee productivity and performance as clear benefits derived from EWPs. The most cited benefits are in the areas of lowered levels of stress, fewer sick days and decreased absenteeism, and lowered health and insurance costs (Loeppke et al., 2009). In addition, organizations that invested in EWPs exhibited higher rates of employee satisfaction, morale, and retention than those that did not. The exact savings that accrue from EWPs varies from study to study, but suffice it to say that each dollar invested is well spent for both private- and public-sector organizations (Aon Hewitt, 2013; Baicker, Cutler, & Song, 2010; French, 2007; Goetzel & Ozminkowski, 2006). For example, Baicker et al. (2010) observe that medical costs fell $3.27 per dollar spent on EWPs and that associated absenteeism costs declined by about $2.75 per dollar spent. Furthermore, Schaefer (2015) notes that for every dollar invested in an EWP for one particular employer, $6 was saved through a decrease in medical claim costs. She states, "Interestingly, disease management was responsible for 86 percent of the hard health care cost-savings, generating $136 in savings per member, per month, and a 30 percent reduction in hospital admissions" (Schaefer, 2015). As Panepento (2004) observes, both employers and employees benefit from having a healthier, more productive, and motivated staff. In the event that a program does not work and does not save the organization money as advertised, it is often a result of additional health screenings that are built into the programs that encourage overuse of unnecessary care, increasing spending without improving health outcomes (Frakt & Carroll, 2014). Corporate wellness programs have also been criticized for cost-shifting practices (Early, 2013).

Typically, the range of services and programs covered under the rubric of EWPs is vast. The interventions captured in Table 1 below are not exclusive or discrete, but they do illustrate many components of a majority of comprehensive wellness programs. For example, stress management may be a part of the physical activities regime and involve programs such as biking, walking, and organized exercises. The goals and programs outlined in Table 1 reflect the range of services and programs offered in various cities throughout the country.

Managerial Dynamics and Design of EWPs

The various programs identified above exist in hundreds of cities across the country. …

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