Are corporate wellness programs working?

In my opinion, they’re not even scratching the surface.

What’s missing? Even though almost ALL large companies have some kind of formalized wellness program in place, the average health care cost per employee continues to increase at about 6% a year; now standing at roughly $11,000, most of which is paid by the company.

From The larger the company, the more likely it was to offer a wellness program; in fact, almost all companies with 1,000 or more employees offered one. Larger employers usually run wellness programs themselves. For small companies, wellness programs are typically run by the same firms that administer the employer’s health benefits plan or by another entity referred to as a third-party administrator.

So what’s going on? Even though studies show that there’s about a 300% return on every dollar spent on wellness initiatives, the global health care numbers remain dismal. What’s missing? The “big three” workplace wellness initiatives are: physical activity, tobacco cessation and weight management. Some also focus on disease prevention and advice about healthier food choices.

What about the food?

A simple, flexible and powerful “self-health-promotion” concept for teaching employees EXACTLY what they must do to take charge of their own health.

I only know of one corporate wellness program (Whole Foods) in America that is offering a true self-health-promotion component—one that teaches every interested employee EXACTLY what they must do in order to take charge of their own health—teaching them:

  • How to prevent, slow, stop or reverse any chronic disease they might have (including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and a host of others)
  • How to sharply reduce, if not eliminate all prescription medications
  • How to effortlessly and permanently lose weight
  • How to greatly help the planet at the same time they’re helping themselves

Most wellness programs are missing the single most powerful weapon. They’re missing out on the huge benefits of simply helping employees learn how to eat a health-promoting diet. So, what are they doing when they talk about “disease prevention?” They’re focusing on screenings, early detection and drug regimens instead of true prevention.

From a May 10, 2012 Health Policy Brief at Typical features of wellness programs are health-risk assessments and screenings for high blood pressure and cholesterol; behavior modification programs, such as tobacco cessation, weight management, and exercise; health education, including classes or referrals to online sites for health advice; and changes in the work environment or provision of special benefits to encourage exercise and healthy food choices, such as subsidized health club memberships.

Keys to Success. We strongly agree with the first key as cited below by the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA). Support from senior-level management (especially the CEO) is of paramount importance and will have a huge impact on the overall results achieved.

We estimate that for any organization—the total cost of health care can be cut by 10 to 50% or more. Why the wide difference in the estimate? In a word–-leadership. That’s the big variable.

The question is: How important will this health promotion initiative be in your organization?

For your convenience, here are the seven best practices as reported by WELCOA on their website. They call them “The 7 C’s of Building a Well Workplace:”

    1. Concentrating on senior-level support Like all programs your company initiates, receiving support from senior-level management is critical to the success of an employee wellness program.
    2. Creating cohesive wellness teams Relying on one or two people from the HR department to facilitate the wellness program doesn’t typically yield the best results.  Key personal from each department should be selected to create a team or teams to promote and maintain the program.
    3. Collecting data to drive health efforts Wellness programs typically require a significant investment by the company.  Make sure that investment pays off!  Implement an effective system to collect, analyze, and report critical program data.
    4. Crafting the annual operating plan Like any other company-sponsored initiative, an employee wellness program requires careful consideration, thought, and planning.  Be sure to map out the program from A-Z in an operating plan.  It will become the foundation for the success (or failure) of the program.
    5. Selecting the right employee wellness program The rise of employee wellness awareness has resulted in an explosion of different wellness plan providers.  If you decide to allow a third-party to administer the program, take the time to evaluate a number of different options.
    6. Creating supportive environments Your company’s wellness program is not a ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ solution.  Positive change in the workplace results from a supportive, engaged environment.  Why should employee wellness be any different?
    7. Consistently evaluating outcomes Evaluation results in positive change.  Your wellness program will only be as effective as the adjustments made to it as a result of consistent evaluation.

Associates who eat a near-optimal 4Leaf diet will save their company a lot of money. Many employers provide incentives to help their people choose to participate.

What about incentives? Most companies are using them now and we agree that they should be creatively employed when convincing people to volunteer for this new self-health-promotion component. According to, here’s what companies are doing now:

 Although almost all workplace wellness programs are voluntary, employers are increasingly using incentives to encourage employee participation. These incentives range from such items as t-shirts or baseball caps to cash or gifts of significant value. Studies indicate, moreover, that financial incentives do prompt more employees to participate in wellness programs.

Employers are also linking participation in wellness programs to employees’ costs for health coverage–for example, by reducing premium contributions for workers who are in wellness programs, or by reducing the amounts they must pay in deductibles and copayments when they obtain health services.

More calories from whole plants; less from everything else. How simple is that? The concept is simple but the transition will take time and your associates will need some help, support, guidance and incentives.

The Bottom Line. Investing in the health of the workforce is a good idea, but the vast majority of companies are missing the boat when it comes to really helping people take charge of their health and reduce the overall cost of health care. A large company might invest one million to save three million—while their annual health care bill goes up $30 million a year.

We believe that big savings are possible for companies who choose to take the crucial step of adding a food-driven self-health-promotion component to their wellness programs.

In an earlier blogpost, I described our vision in much more detail. It is entitled Slashing health care costs in businesses and includes a 13-minute video that describes what kind of results are attainable. Please see links below to sources of data presented earlier in this blog.

Handy 4-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from

Consecutive daily blogs (numerals from Canada)

Want to find out how healthy your family is eating? Take our free 4Leaf Diagnostic Survey. It takes less than five minutes and you can score it yourself. After taking the survey, please give me your feedback as it will be helpful in the development of our future 4Leaf app for smartphones. Send feedback to

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To order more of my favorite books—visit our online BookStore now

J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

For help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4Leaf page or some great recipes at Lisa’s 4Leaf Kitchen.

Got a question? Let me hear from you at Or give me a call on my cell at 917-399-9700.

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Blogging daily at…from the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.

—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
This entry was posted in Corporate Wellness, Cost of Health Care, Vibrant health and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Are corporate wellness programs working?

  1. billkranker1 says:


    After reading this post I remembered that one of our local CEO’s is following a Vegan diet. He is Bill Ford Jr. from the Ford Motor Company. He may be a good contact to discuss your health project as I am sure he would be very receptive and does wield a bit of influence.

    Just a thought,


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