"locked horns" over the Illinois workplace wellness study2nd of My Top 10 Wellness Stories from 2018

I’ve written ad nauseam about the University of Illinois Workplace Wellness Study, so allow me to just explain why I’m optimistic about where it’s heading.

This evaluation of an employer’s fledgling wellness program gave wellness critics a rationale to declare employee wellness a failure. The evaluation data, which showed almost no positive outcomes during the program’s startup, is only preliminary and doesn’t say what critics say it says.

Distinguished defenders of wellness recently insisted that the lead of the story was buried, and the really important finding was that the program improved morale, employee engagement, and job satisfaction. This was, at best, either a gross misinterpretation or a dereliction of responsibility to actually examine the study.

In fact, the study didn’t measure morale or engagement. If anything, the happiness, energy, and job satisfaction metrics suggested that morale and engagement were unchanged.

Negative Outcomes Will Be Positive

I’m optimistic about what will happen when the data from this multiyear study finally emerges. I predict that, despite the laudable efforts of the program staff, the University of Illinois wellness study will show that this type of approach — emphasizing health risk appraisal, biometric health screenings, and incentives — won’t produce the desired outcomes. These types of programs rarely do. And this will be good news, because it may finally break the spell that’s been cast by purveyors of such programs, and we can all get busy with the real work of identifying and implementing serious well-being strategies.