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Are Employer Wellness Programs Helping?

Many employers offer an array of benefits to support their employees. However, a recent Oxford researcher found these benefits may not be successful. The study analyzed 90 workplace interventions such as virtual therapy, time management, and mindfulness practices. They asked 46,336 workers at 233 companies about apps, coaching, relaxation classes, and financial health courses. These workers did not report a positive impact on their well-being. Resilience and stress management appeared to impact employees negatively. Interestingly, workers given the chance to do charity or volunteer work did report improved well-being.

The information came from British workers at a single moment in time. Financial and insurance service workers, younger workers, and women represent more of the individuals surveyed. William Fleming, the study's author, compared workers at each employer who participated in the programs with workers from the same employers who did not. He said employers should support employees by prioritizing "core organizational practices" like schedules, pay, and performance reviews.

Companies hope these programs benefit their workplaces with improved worker health and productivity. Some U.S. research supports that wellness programs do help. A 2022 study of 1,132 U.S. workers found that 69.3% of participants improved their depression through therapy and medication management. A Yale psychiatry professor told the New York Times that Fleming's study included less proven interventions and grouped them into broad labels. Mental health programs do improve well-being. Per the NYT, controlled studies demonstrate lower stress and decreased anxiety and depression from mindfulness practices.