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Comments to Slate article reveal what employees actually think about wellness

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

When it comes to reporting on feedback on wellness programs, someone in the wellness industry needs to listen to employees, instead of just speaking for them.  But what fun would that be?

In their defense, one of wellness vendors’ few talents is lying about data. So why report what employees think when you can simply lie about what employees think?

Here is Wellness Workdays–apparently selected by none other than Katherine Baicker (author of the now hilariously discredited “Harvard Study” showing the 3.27-to-1 ROI) as the very model of a modern clueless wellness vendor: “Employees like wellness programs…These initiatives make employees feel like their employers care.” uses “science-based facts” to say: “The truth of the matter is that employees like wellness programs.”

Virgin Pulse says: “Employees love wellness programs.”   And another vendor saying: “Employees love wellness programs because they feel cared for by the company.”

But here’s an interesting question: what would vendors say if they actually solicited and reported on real employee feedback, as opposed to just spouting whatever random thoughts their imaginary friend is implanting into the vacuum between their ears?


Slate just answered that question, in a big way.  And the answer is — SPOILER ALERT — employees hate wellness programs.  (Except for the part where they think they get to collect free money for doing nothing, without realizing the free money simply offsets what had formerly been a more generous benefit. Only now it’s usually taxable.)

Slate received more then five hundred comments to their article, “Workplace Wellness Programs Are a Sham.” The commenters overwhelmingly agreed with the title. Aside from the free-money crowd, the only readers defending wellness argued that they shouldn’t have to subsidize fat people or smokers.  News: they don’t subsidize smokers. Smokers pay a penalty already at most companies. And except at both(!) extremes, there is only a trivial correlation between weight and health spending, in the employed population.

Here are some greatest hits from the comments thread:

  • My husband’s HMO gave me  a choice of either going to Weight Watchers or doing a minimum amount of walking every day. While I had cancer. And if I didn’t do it, my husband and I were going to be charged thousands of dollars more out-of-pocket each year. Luckily, my husband found a new job while I was in the hospital having my double mastectomy.
  • I am a statistician who used to work for a large health plan.  Dubious methods used to arrive at savings estimates are prevalent in this industry, whether it is for wellness programs or for other (often vendor driven) programs that propose simple solutions to complex problems.
  • I was wondering if I was the only person on the planet who realized these schemes are just a rip off of the employee and an invasion of medical privacy that ought to be against the law. And the health advice – gee, perhaps since I have insomnia I should … get more sleep. Thank you, Dr. Genius. That didn’t occur to me.
  • What’s worse is wasting workers’ time and energy with endless pointless seminars and meetings and flyers and crap and insisting on collecting their personal medical information under the guise of caring about them.
  • Funny how killer projects requiring 80 hour weeks and toxic office politics are never cited or recognized as a major cause of health problems.
  • We have this thing where you’re encouraged to meet step goals so you can qualify for the lower deductible wellness plans – and our commissioner just sent word down that she’s annoyed at how many people are walking for 15 min in the afternoon.
  • They did wellness checks at my last place of work where nearly everyone was also a heavy smoker.  So, for the month before the wellness exam, everyone would try to quit smoking so they could “game the system” and avoid paying an extra $1200 per person for the next year (they were all in manufacturing, there was no way they could afford that, especially not if both spouses smoked). Nearly the entire workforce turned into Satan for that month from nicotine withdrawals. Jittery, irritated Satans. Productivity would plummet, HR would be overtaxed from complaints, and people would just stand around discussing ways they could fool the wellness inspector and wholeheartedly complaining about the company. The second they walked out of their wellness check, they celebrated with a smoke break. 
  • The worst part of wellness programs is the stupid, mandatory barrage of calls from the utterly worthless and ignorant WebMD “professionals,” who are obviously just call center rats with no education whatsoever.

And don’t get these people started on HRAs. One of the many ironies of wellness vendors is that they lie more often than presidential candidates…and yet they assume that all the information on HRAs is accurate.

  • Yeah, I lied through my whole honor-based questionnaire. No ,I absolutely do not have insomnia. Yes, I don’t drink more than one drink a week. No, I have no work-related stress (never mind the constant mass layoffs). Outside of my doctor, no one needs to know this.
  • I won’t fill out a survey in a meaningful way. If I had depression, for example, I would never give answers that indicated that on a workplace wellness survey.
  • Mine asked about sleep. I don’t get enough and said so. “What are you doing about it?” What am I doing about it? I worked 10.5-hour days and have menopause-based insomnia, for which I’ve tried everything from black cohosh to Ambien. At the moment, I’m doing nothing about it. What’s needed is for my employer to let me come in later so I can actually keep sleeping in the morning when my body allows me. My employer won’t do that.  The survey interpreted that to mean I’m not taking care of my health. That’s the caliber of idiocy we’re dealing with.
  • I am a triathlete and ultra runner.  My BP tends to run dangerously low unless I eat a ton of salt.  After a bunch of tests and doctor’s appointments because I kept feeling like I was going to pass out any time that I wasn’t moving, I was just told to eat more salt. But then I was dinged on our automated questionnaire because it said I eat too much salt.
  • Initially, most of us pretty much tried to provide a somewhat accurate reporting, but the kicker was that if your survey didn’t reflect someone in tip-top shape, you were harassed by a phone call every couple of weeks from a nosy nurse who wanted to know what you were doing to address the 5 extra points for HDL or whatever.  Therefore, most of us researched the numbers that constituted excellent health and used them. So–pretty much worthless as an assessment of anything and a waste of a half-hour.

I’d encourage people to read the Slate article and add their own comments, and send it around to your Wellness Ignorati friends.  Tell them this is what employees really think of their “pry, poke and prod” schemes and biggest-loser contests.

They might not believe you, so tell them Harvey says so too.


  1. Mark Glesener says:

    We are all missing the big picture. Started the whole thing with the wrong definition. Health- an optimal state of being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. We have based health on a medical model of early disease identification and management. Doctors- people who never took a class in nutrition, too busy to meaningfully discuss diet and exercise. Sold to us endless pharmaceutical adds. Good to track your BP and cholesterol. Really? How about finding a sane chiropractor who has training and experience in making people healthy. Who knew there was an entire profession with the knowledge to make people healthy?


  2. temerick479 says:

    This is hilarious and nuts at the same time.


  3. temerick479 says:

    It’s nuts that HR types long to make employees feel cared for by the company. IT’S A JOB. They have to pay you to do it!


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