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Home » Measuring ROI » Ron Goetzel Spins Gold into Straw, Part 2 (a semi-guest post by Bob Merberg)

Ron Goetzel Spins Gold into Straw, Part 2 (a semi-guest post by Bob Merberg)

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First, congratulations to Joe Andelin, who caught just about every fallacy, alternative fact and, if there were such a thing, alternative fallacy in yesterday’s presentation. I know he did because I was on the call.

Wait, Al, didn’t you say they blocked you? 

Yes, but displaying the same level of competence that they routinely bring to their day jobs, they managed to block only my video, not my audio.


Here were our predictions we got on the nose. We predicted he would say:-

  1. The study only covered the first year — he won’t mention that the authors also said the first year suggests nothing “is trending towards savings” in future years either;
  2. He said he study contradicts many of the other findings out there — except, of course, for all the other studies testing the par-vs-non-par study design against a benchmark, all of which showed results quite literally identical to the University of Illinois result, in that the wellness program accomplished zero;
  3. It wasn’t a good program. To hear Ron tell it (literally hear him tell it — you can listen to the tape), anytime a program fails, it’s because it wasn’t done correctly. “100 employers [have] programs with really smart ingredients…but thousands of others still don’t do wellness right,” are his exact words in print.  He is refusing to name any of them, other than the old Johnson & Johnson analysis. (J&J is a wellness vendor. Investigator bias, anyone?)

The last is his go-to excuse. He said the University of Illinois program, which consisted of screenings and incentives to use the gym, was a “throwback to the 1980s.”  In reality, the program was a “throwback” to every single Koop Award-winning program, all of which feature “pry, poke and prod” programs and some kind of fitness incentive. The only thing missing from this program was the broccoli.


I was wondering where to go with the rest of this posting but then into my comments box popped my old friend Bob Merberg, who is perhaps the smartest person I have ever met on the subject of wellness outcomes measurement. His comments are better than anything I could have written (assuming I had been allowed to see the slides).  Here they are in their entirety:

Al, I’m not usually one to comment on other people’s blog posts, and certainly not one to promote my own content, but I attended the webinar and found the conclusions drawn by the presenters to be egregious. One of the presenters correctly pointed out that subjects in the treatment group were, “More likely to report that the employer values worker health and safety.”

But then — bizarrely — he went on to say, “In other words, … people felt more engaged, and had better morale, and had better feelings of satisfaction working for the employer by being in the treatment group. In my mind, the headline ought to be ‘Wellness Program Increases Employee Engagement and Morale’ as opposed to ’37 Things We Didn’t Find Any Difference In.‘” Another presenter termed this the key finding.

But feeling like your health and safety are valued, while important, is by no means a the same as morale, engagement, or job satisfaction. In fact, the study did not measure morale or employee engagement. It did measure job satisfaction, self-reported “bad emotional health,” and changes in happiness at work, and found that the intervention group experienced no significant improvement compared to the control group.

If we were to jump to any conclusions from this study, they might be that feeling valued are NOT linked to job satisfaction and other psychosocial metrics.

To promulgate that the “key finding” was improved morale, improved employee engagement, and improved job satisfaction, is at best a sign of failure to understand the study, and at worst a deception. Under any circumstances, it’s a disservice to the study subjects who presumably consented to participate in good faith science, to the researchers — who were meticulous in their methodology and transparency — and to those of us in the wellness industry who are more interested in understanding what works rather than distorting facts to serve our own self-interest.


But wait…there’s more.

More in my blog post: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/employee-wellness-truth-isnt-true-bob-merberg/

Mostly for fun, a time-lapsed video of my research and writing process on this subject: https://youtu.be/hQ6HqkN-VPw

 


5 Comments

  1. Melissa says:

    My key take away differs slightly. After years of telling us that you need to do this and that, they are now saying that doing this and that, isn’t enough. I found it a perfect way to excuse years of not being able to provide the promised ROI that many in the industry have promised and promoted.

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    • whynobodybelievesthenumbers says:

      When you’ve staked your reputation on an untenable position, it’s hard to just do the Gilda Radner thing and say: “Never mind.” So they are slowly backing off, hoping nobody notices. Note they’re even renaming “wellness” as “well-being.”

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      • williammcpeck says:

        It struck me Al that the three were working very hard to use the term wellbeing instead of wellness. I found it pretty funny since anyone who is familiar with the published models of wellness should know that wellness and wellbeing are the same thing. Someone slipped though and stated that a wellbeing program should be explicitly about health. Obviously they forgot that physical health is but one element or domain in any of the published wellness or wellbeing models.

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    • williammcpeck says:

      What surprises me Melissa is that the ROI expectation still dominates the conversation within worksite wellness even when it has been proven that it won’t materialize.

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  2. williammcpeck says:

    Your comment Al about what was not said reminded me that nothing was said about the participants, at baseline, having lower claims costs and being healthier than the control group. This is surprising since this was bound to have had some impact on the year 1 outcomes, the degree of which is open to speculation no doubt.

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