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Guest Post: Janet Bates Sums Up the Wellness Industry

Do you know whether heartburn pills are safe for long-term use?

Occasionally in a linkedin group, someone posts a comment that seems to merit more exposure, a “new voice” in the debate.  Janet Bates posted such a comment.  I asked her to expand and re-post it here, so that others could see it.

Follow the Money to Find the Truth

As long as there is money to be made, smoke and mirrors will abound. This is overwhelmingly evident in the current hysteria around corporate wellness. Insurance companies have their business customers whipped into a frenzy of “get those employees well (whatever that means) or else we’ll have no choice but to raise your premiums yet again.”

So in swoop the wellness “experts” to save the day with their “magic wellness dust”. The wellness people boldly claim that all it will take are education, incentives and contests for employees to improve their “numbers” (which somehow prove good health) or face penalties (or lose their incentives—same thing) if they don’t. Running these programs will keep insurance premiums in line, increase productivity, improve engagement, reduce absenteeism, make everyone love their jobs and probably save the world from insurgents all while delivering a jaw-dropping ROI.

What’s wrong with that? Nothing, except that it doesn’t work and it isn’t true. So what gives? Why do so many companies choose to believe this stuff?

They Can’t Handle the Truth

It’s pretty simple…few companies want to truly look at their own role in what may be impacting employee health. Hardly a company wants to honestly face the fact that the REAL causes of employee un-wellness include tangible items like:

  • Low wages
  • Limited or no paid sick time, family leave or vacation
  • Too many part-time jobs with non-guaranteed schedules and no health benefits
  • Hiring temps and contractors to avoid any type of commitment
  • Moving jobs off-shore

And then there are the intangibles, like:

  • Lack of flexibility and autonomy
  • Inept and bullying management
  • Required 24/7/365 connectivity and excessive hours for salaried employees with minimal, if any, salary increases
  • High deductible medical plans that employees can’t afford to use
  • A strong feeling of job insecurity leading to chronic stress
  • And other shoddy business practices and HR policies

So why don’t wellness vendors who claim to be experts help their customers face these real facts. Two reasons:

  1. There’s no fast money in it for the vendor. Helping customers address these facts won’t lead to the immediate sale of the vendor’s very profitable health risk assessments, screens, coaching, or contests.
  2. Employers don’t want to hear it. It’s much easier and cheaper to spend a few hundred bucks per employee for the “magic wellness dust” than it is to dig into the muck of the company and spend the money to fix what’s really wrong.

Following the money and facing the facts does lead to the truth. It might not be easy to hear and doing what’s right FOR employees won’t be free, but it will improve their well-being and ultimately that’s good for everyone. Unfortunately, the insurance companies will find other reasons to raise premiums. That, of course, is the real money trail to follow.

About the author:

Janet Bates is a semi-retired writer who spent close to 40 years in the “performance improvement” business.


  1. drjonrobison says:

    Great Post – Janet – right on the money (pun intended!) – Dr. Jon


    • whynobodybelievesthenumbers says:

      Good pun. It reminds of American Security Bank in Washington DC, headquartered next door to the treasury. Their building was and is visible on the back of the ten-dollar bill. They used the same slogan


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