April 16 (UPI) -- Employees are constantly looking for ways to keep employees healthy, which in turn leads to workers putting in more hours at work. However, one study says those programs might not be delivering the overall desired effect.
While workplace wellness programs led to some healthier behaviors, they didn't lower blood pressure, body mass index and cholesterol, according to a study published Tuesday in JAMA.
"Our findings show that health behaviors can respond to a workplace wellness program, but they also temper expectations of realizing large returns on investment in the short term," Zirui Song, a researcher at Harvard Medical School and study author, said in a news release.
The researchers conducted an 18-month study and found that the wellness programs had no significant, long-term impact on workplaces. However, employees with with wellness programs had 8.3 percent higher rates of regular exercise and nearly 14 percent better weight management rates than employees with no workplace wellness programs.
Many employers institute workplace wellness programs to reduce employee alcohol consumption, eliminate smoking and boost exercise and encourage other health behavior, to ultimately increase employee productivity.
"In assessing the potential benefits of a workplace wellness program, it's essential to separate out confounding factors. The firms that choose to have a program may have employees who are already more health-conscious than those at firms without a program. And the employees who choose to participate may have different health profiles than those that don't," Katherine Baicker, a researcher at the University of Chicago and study author, said in a news release. "Our study lets us isolate the effect of the program itself from those confounding factors."
This study showed that researchers should be cautious about how effective wellness programs can be on affecting employee behaviors that lead to better health outcomes.
"As we grow to understand how best to encourage healthy behavior, it may be that workplace wellness programs will play an important role in improving health and lowering the cost of health care," Song said. "For now, however, we should remain cautious about our expectations from such interventions. Rigorous research to measure the effects of such programs can help make sure we're spending society's health and wellness dollars in the most effective way."