Measuring the Effectiveness of Workplace Wellness Programs

Worksite-based wellness programs can play an important role in improving the health of Vermont’s employees, according to recent study conducted jointly by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont(BCBSVT) and the University of Vermont for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study sought to determine the relative effectiveness of three worksite wellness programs, and was based on a 30-month research project involving more than two-dozen Vermont employers.

“The news,” said Robert Ross, principal investigator in the study,”is that employers who invest in any type of wellness program or initiative will see results. More programming produced better results, but any type of programming at all — even merely screening individuals for weight loss and other health benefits — improved employees’ chances of success in meeting goals.”

The project compared the cost effectiveness of three distinct types of wellness programming in the workplace:

* The “tailored health services approach,” where employees participated in selected programs (e.g., nutrition and weight management, physical activity, stress reduction and tobacco use) based on the results of health risk assessments they completed online.

* The “altered worksite settings approach,” where employees benefit from changes in the physical, informational, nutritional, and other environments of their worksites, e.g. healthy choices at the cafeteria, signs promoting stair climbing and noontime walking, negotiated discounts at area exercise facilities.

* The combined approach, which integrated both the “health services” and “altered settings” approaches.

The study assigned employees at 28 worksites throughout Vermont to four groups — one for each of the wellness program types above and also a control group of worksites whose employees received no intervention at all but were measured at the same intervals as were the study’s other groups.

All study participants were measured for biometrics such as body mass index, cholesterol and weight loss at the beginning of the project, and then at six, 12 and 18 months after launch of the wellness programs. All received their measurements at each interval.

“The combined approach ranked first in the study results,” Ross reported. “This is not surprising, given that participants in this group received more services. Unexpectedly, though, the altered worksite setting approach ranked a close second to the combined approach. This program actually outperformed the combined approach on four of the nine factors measured and generally outperformed the tailored health services approach.”

Also against prediction, the control group saw real, positive changes from the study. Despite the fact that control group participants received no services, they produced measurable health improvement on their own.

“Just knowing that they were going to be measured likely drove these individuals to change their lifestyles,” Ross posits. “This points to the importance of accountability in a wellness program. People are more likely to change behavior when they’re accountable to a third party — a peer, a doctor, a wellness coordinator, etc.”

Catherine Hamilton, BCBSVT’s vice president of strategic planning who managed the project for BCBSVT, pointed to the importance of this study during a time when employers are seeking advice on which wellness programs work best.

“I think the first piece of advice to employers is, ‘Do something – it will make a difference,’” Ross stated. “Armed with this important study’s statistics, employers can now make scientific decisions on how best to use the resources they have available to spend on worksite wellness.”

Address: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont, 445 Industrial Lane, Berlin, VT 05601; (800) 242-2583,

This report first appeared in Wellness Program Management Advisor published by the Wellness Management Information Center.
Copyright 2010


2 responses to “Measuring the Effectiveness of Workplace Wellness Programs

  1. We just did a blog post discussing this same item recently. We’ve found that when participants know they are accountable to someone via both their biometrics as well as their activity data (USB pedometer), the results are very positive. It’s great to see this information being distributed to employers so they can make a stronger impact on their wellness programs.

  2. “People are more likely to change behavior when they’re accountable to a third party — a peer, a doctor, a wellness coordinator, etc.”

    This is why we use social media interaction as a key component in our wellness platform. Peer-to-peer motivation is huge. If you set a plan to go walking with a co-worker before work, you’re going to show up and follow-through.

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