Do employees cheat in outcomes-based wellness programs? Of course not. Who would ever gain weight in order to be paid to lose it? That would be dishonest and unhealthy.
Haha, good one, Al.
Yes, obviously employees cheat in outcomes-based wellness programs and crash-dieting contests. But here are two things that aren’t so obvious:
- Cheating is far more widespread than employers would like to believe;
- This massive scale of cheating — two-thirds of all employees cheat in wellness — is well-known but suppressed by self-proclaimed “scientists” in the field, whose livelihoods would be in jeopardy if they acknowledged the scale of the cheating.
Cheating is widespread
How do we know this? Bloggers receive data from WordPress on hits for each post. Not just the number of hits, but the specific sources of the click-throughs — other bloggers or else “search engines.”
In any given week, the current posts and the home pages get the most hits. However, for the year as a whole, it’s a different picture. Take a looksee at our total hits for 2018:
Our typical blog post — not including home pages and related pages — gets about 2500 hits over the course of the year in which it is posted. But you’ll see that #3 on the 2018 list is: “How to cheat in a corporate weight-loss contest.” Almost every day that particular post racks up 15-25 hits, giving it 6388 for 2018. I used to assume that some other, more popular, blog was linking to it, but I can see linked blogs too on the Site Stats page, and there weren’t any.
Here are the 2019 stats through yesterday.. A new cycle of wellness programs and crash-dieting contests is about to start, so despite New Years week being a very slow week for TSW (like other HR blogs), that post is #1:
Further, even though these stats are 2018 and 2019, this blog was posted November 2016.`
What is driving this continuing popularity?
It turns out that the source of these click-throughs is indeed “search engines.” Seems that even though the target audience for this posting was the narrow HR/benefits community, employees themselves are googling on “cheating in wellness programs” and finding this post right on the first page of hits:
That also explains how we could get so many hits and yet so few comments and Facebook reposts. No one wants to be caught.
You might say: “That’s only 6,388 employees for a full year. The rest are honest.” Nice try, but consider:
- “Only 6,388 employees” clicked through despite noting from the first lines (as you can see) that this article really wasn’t a guide to cheating.
- This post is way down at the bottom of the front page.
- This was only a single year — 2018 — and the 2019 rate arithmetically projects to about 20,000 hits (though much of this posting’s hits are seasonal)
- The #2 source of click-throughs to this article is Slate’s masterful expose called Workplace Wellness Programs are a Sham, also on the first page of google hits above, which itself links to us–meaning that employees are also clicking through on that article in the same search.
- The 6,388 excludes the gazillion employees who don’t need to google anything in order to realize that the winning strategy in any outcomes-based wellness program or crash-dieting contest is to binge before the initial weigh-in and crash-diet before the final one — and of course lie on the risk assessment.
- The keywords that drive traffic to this site, according to Alexa? #3 — after Bravo and Wellsteps, two vendors who are “in the news” constantly — is “Healthywage Cheating.” Healthywage is the leading crash-dieting contest vendor.
The scale of cheating…and the suppression of the evidence by the wellness industry
Employees who don’t drink, smoke, use drugs, or occasionally indulge in foods other than broccoli and kelp have no need to cheat. They will also derive no benefit from wellness programs and employers will save no money on them, not even any make-believe savings that wellness vendors routinely claim. It is estimated that only 3% of people do everything right, health-wise. That mean the pool of potential cheaters is 97%.
How many of the potential cheaters are actually cheating? Review your own statistics yourself. 70% of employees drink, including 10% who drink more than 30 drinks a week. How many of your employees indicated on their HRA that they drink that much? Zero, you say? What a coincidence! That’s what all the other employer-administered HRAs conclude as well.
How many employees admitted drinking at all? If you said 20%, that would match the number claimed by Wellsteps for their award-winning program. That means slightly more than 2/3 of all drinkers — half your employees — are lying. Not because they’re inherently dishonest, but because you are basically asking them to lie in order to stay out of trouble. What kind of trouble? Wellsteps called consumption of any alcohol a “worst health behavior,” shaming employees who admitted to even occasional social drinking. Nonetheless they fully accepted as fact the 20% drinking rate statistic.
By encouraging all this lying, Wellsteps helped this employer, the Boise School District, create a culture of deceit instead of a culture of health. Kudos.
Now consider smoking. For that we turn to the industry’s leading source of alternative facts, Ron Goetzel. He “found” that for the years 2012-2014, 5.5% of his surveyed workers smoked, overlooking the statistical 12.3% of employees — roughly 2/3 of all smokers — who lied. Yet, like Wellsteps with the drinking, Mr. Goetzel presented this statistically impossible 5.5% as fact.
It’s not a coincidence that roughly the same proportion of smokers and drinkers lie. Nor is it a coincidence that these two “scientists,” as they call themselves, decided not to disclose the lies. Since they claim to be “among the most credible and conscientious scientists and practitioners working in corporate wellness today,” this is much more likely to be a deliberate omission than a rookie mistake, especially since I’ve informed them of this disparity and many other obvious misstatements many times and they usually just doubled down.
Admitting that their data is basically worthless means their entire conclusions are basically invalid, which in turn means that outcomes-based wellness itself is a fraud, which by the way it is
Lying to employers about personal behaviors is human nature. Most employees don’t want to disclose potentially damaging information, and think, quite justifiably, that if they give their employer 100% during working hours, their off-hours behavior is none of their employer’s business.
How can cheating in wellness be prevented?
For those two studies, Mr. Goetzel and Wellsteps were only encouraging employees to lie to their employers and cheat on the programs. The majority of employees responded predictably. By contrast, when you run an outcomes-based wellness program with large fines, or hold annual crash-dieting contests, you’re not just encouraging employees to lie and cheat. You’re practically begging your employees to lie and cheat. In crash-dieting contests, employees form teams, and strategize on how to binge and then crash-diet, allowing them to lose far more weight in 8-16 weeks than is healthy. Any team not intending to cheat wouldn’t even bother to compete. Teams that do want to compete will visit websites teaching them how to cheat, and which appetite suppressants and weight-loss pills to buy in order to win.
Wouldn’t it be great if there were a wellness vendor which, instead of denying human nature about cheating, channeled it? Instead of bragging about ferreting out “fraudulent participants,” made cheating part of the fun? There’s a word for that, and it’s not “impossible.” It’s “Quizzify.” Employees can rack up points for correct answers…and they are encouraged to look them up before selecting their response from the multiple-choice list. That way they are more likely to remember them.
And, unlike “how to cheat in wellness,” if you google on “How to cheat on Quizzify,” you won’t find any advice on cheating — other than Quizzify’s own rules urging employees to do exactly that.