Do Corporate Wellness Programs Really Work?

By Saleem Mohammed, Founder & CEO, Xcode Life


Saleem Mohammed, Founder & CEO, Xcode Life

The short answer is yes. The success of the program depends on how it is structured and implemented in the organization. Forget the one-off event organized in the hope to bring employee awareness on wellness. It’s money down the drain. Today, a wellness program should be driven because the organization cares for its people.


As consumers, Indians tend to be ‘over consuming’ - from pizzas and burgers, to parathas and laddoos. India is the third most obese country in the world. It is no longer a rich man’s disease. Chronic conditions like Diabetes, Obesity, Heart conditions have a big impact on how we perform. Bottom line is, we have a large workforce that is chronically sick. As an employer, I know this is not the kind of workforce you envisioned to have.


Over the last two years, we have spoken to over a 100 employers across Chennai, Mumbai and Bangalore. We found that about 10 percent of employers proactively ensure that employee health receives its due importance in the organization. Another 10 percent of the employers do not believe employee health is a primary concern. The majority (80 percent) have the intention and responsibility towards the health of their employees.


A study done by J&J showed that wellness programs lower health spending, and produce higher return on investment (for every dollar spent, organizations save $1.88-$3.92). Unilever’s Lamplighter program saved four euros for every euro spent on their program. So, the question is not whether wellness program work? The right question to ask is what are the factors that create these highly beneficial and successful programs? Here is my take on three factors that can impact the success of a wellness program.


• Have the Big Bosses Practice Good Health: Why do you think our Gen Y employees think customer satisfaction or on-time delivery is crucial for your account’s success? Because you the manager says so repeatedly, you practice it and ensure goals are met. Similarly, the leader preaching good health better not have a waistline resembling a car-tyre. We have seen teams lose anywhere between 5-15 kgs, when senior management is involved and walks the talk. The role of leaders is to inspire and motivate, especially in a crucial area like health.

• Practicing Good Health should become part of the Culture: This is a slightly longer-term goal but is an important one. Importance to health is not a quarterly goal or even an annual goal. It is more like a five year term plan with specific action items distributed across those five years. You cannot shed those pounds, which took years to create. Instilling good health requires behavior change over the long-term.

• Create a Customized Health Plan: Every company is unique, and having a universal health program is not going to be effective. Did you know that the executive health checks offered by Companies are taken by 10 percent of the employees? This is despite it being offered FREE. The service provider brings in a one-size fits all approach and there is no value-add in terms of how to improve this number. So create plans that suit your employee base.


Another point to note is that often decision makers do not personally believe this employee health is their priority. While this may not have been a problematic attitude some years ago, today in supersonic paced lives where our workplace plays is a huger chunk in determining who we are and how we live our lives, we need these key decision makers to ‘create’ a healthy organization to sustain our workforce. Perhaps the solution is to create focus groups of champions who believe in overall good health leading to long-term company success. If it takes a village to raise a child, then surely it takes an organization to ensure it has a healthy workforce. 

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