The End of Fitness in the Workplace?

By: Jim Evans

The continuing economic recovery has taken its toll on workplace wellness programs.    

With companies under pressure to reduce expenses, workplace wellness programs have apparently become convenient targets for budget reductions – or outright elimination – notwithstanding the fact that many of these programs took years to implement and have, more often than not, provided a significant return on investment through reductions in workers’ comp claims, lower health care costs among employees, reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, and more.

Still, almost everyone seems to agree that workplace wellness is important.  In fact, President Obama recently hosted a wellness gathering at the White House with top company executives, together with union and public health officials, to learn more about such initiatives. There is even a bill making its way through the Senate that would give tax credits to firms that offer wellness programs.

Most large companies are self-insured for employee health insurance plans and, therefore, pay for employees’ health care costs from their own coffers. More than 60 percent of companies with 10,000 or more employees said they had a wellness program in 2008, up from 47 percent in 2005, according to a MetLife survey (See survey here).

“Keeping healthy employees fit — and productive — is vitally important to a company’s success,” says Dee Edington, director of Michigan’s Health Management Research Center. “The cost of an ailing worker goes beyond just medical expenses,” he says. “There’s also the monetary cost of paying for disability leave, as well as the strain on productivity if an ill person isn’t effective at work.”

Since the shape of President Obama’s health care initiative is still uncertain, and health care costs are increasing by more than 6% annually, many companies are taking a “wait and see” attitude and cutting back on their employee wellness programs without abandoning them altogether.

In the meantime, employees will probably have to take more individual responsibility for their own fitness because it seems – at least for now – that a healthier bottom line is more important than healthier employees for most businesses.  Or, in some cases, employers are outsourcing their employee wellness programs to companies such as Verdure to accomplish both objectives. Contact Verdure Membership Director John Lewis for more information.


Jim Evans is a 49-year veteran of the health and fitness industry and General Manager of Verdure.  Readers can send their questions about health and fitness to 

About the author