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We Invite the US Chamber of Commerce to Collect Their $1-Million Reward

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

Today the US Chamber of Commerce offered a novel view of workplace wellness:  that the savings can be used to increase wages. Indeed, one would think they represented workers, rather than management.

Their specific language:

Employers who offer wellness initiatives have achieved excellent returns on their investment – programs that follow best practice guidelines return $2 to $3 dollars for each dollar invested. These savings can be used to pay employees higher wages, invest in further adapting benefits to specific employee population needs, and create more jobs.

In support of this proposition, they offered:

  1. Professor Baicker’s 3.27-to-1 study (which they call the 2.73-to-1 study);
  2. This study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine;
  3. RAND’s Pepsico study, which I could have sworn showed that health promotion efforts lost money. But what do I know?  I was only a peer reviewer;
  4. A study I’m not familiar with of an unnamed utility, comparing participants to non-participants.

I invite the US Chamber of Commerce to submit their conclusion for the $1-million reward, and please please please cite those studies to the judges.  They seem pretty sure of themselves so I’m sure they’ll apply — they have no reason not to add another million dollars to their coffers. They can use that money to fight on behalf of employees to get their raises.

Peeling the onion, we’d recommend clicking through to the actual brochure.  What they are proposing (Step 4, wellness activities) are all “wellness done for employees” and not “wellness done to employees.”  This list, plus Quizzify, would be the same list we would recommend to create a “culture of health.”  They do sprinkle “pry, poke and prod” recommendations in the brochure but they do it like the prisoners in The Great Escape sprinkled the dirt from the tunnel around the stalag–so subtly that no one would notice.

And look at the guidebook as well.

We wish them the best of luck — this is nowhere near as bad as their previous forays into the field, they are far more tentative about savings claims, and all they want to do is help employees become “happy and thriving.”  If only they would advocate screening according to guidelines and valid measurement of outcomes, we would certainly be in full alignment. The problem is that screening according to guidelines would throw a lot of vendors out of jobs, which would conflict with the stated objective above, which is to “create more jobs.”

Certainly this is a far better idea than other proposals being floated to help employees and create jobs. Give me this over building a wall with Mexico any day of the week.  Especially this week, coming on the heels of April Fools Day: National Workplace Wellness Week.



  1. Tom Emerick says:

    I was on the USCOC benefit board at one time. I didn’t go to many meetings, because this group, like so many others, let a few persistant members drive this kind of nonsense. Alas.


    • whynobodybelievesthenumbers says:

      Tom, call me a cockeyed optimist but it seems like, as compared to back in your days on the committee, they are backing off the more egregious stuff and focusing on a culture of health. Obviously they have to check off the “pry, poke and prod” box but you can tell they don’t even believe it any more. Lots of asterisks in the savings claims. I think we’ve had an impact on these people. They used to be much worse. They won’t apply to collect the $1-million reward, of course. I suspect had I offered it a few years ago, they would have. That’s what I call progress.


  2. Tom Emerick says:

    good points


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