Online Program

Workplace wellness programs - a wrong path to promoting workers' health and well-being

Wednesday, November 4, 2015 : 1:34 p.m. - 1:50 p.m.

Nancy Lessin, MS, United Steelworkers-TMC, Boston, MA
There is a growing body of research and academic literature calling into question the basic tenets underpinning workplace wellness programs and highlighting their discriminatory aspects. This research has also documented an increase rather than a decrease in employer spending on health care with these programs, with no net health benefit. At the same time, NIOSH, through its Total Worker Health (TWH) agenda, is promoting the advancement of workers' health and well-being by integrating problematic workplace wellness programs with traditional occupational safety and health programs. This presentation will review recent research uncovering serious problems with workplace wellness programs, discuss lawsuits filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against employers whose programs the agency considered non-voluntary and illegal, and recommend a different course of action for NIOSH. Twentieth–century journalist and social critic Henry Louis Mencken wrote, “…There is always a well-known solution to every human problem – neat, plausible and wrong.” NIOSH’s vision for a National Total Worker Health Agenda, with its linchpin of integrating flawed workplace wellness programs with occupational safety and health programs, unfortunately seems to fit that mold. This presentation will highlight the need for NIOSH to abandon its current TWH vision and return to its exclusive focus on the identification, elimination and reduction of workplace exposures that can cause or contribute to workers’ ill health. Such a program would comport with NIOSH’s statutory mission and duties, and unambiguously improve workers’ health and well-being.

Learning Areas:

Chronic disease management and prevention
Implementation of health education strategies, interventions and programs
Occupational health and safety
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related organizational policy, standards, or other guidelines

Learning Objectives:
Describe the range of workplace wellness and health promotion programs and recent research assessing problems and downsides with these programs. Discuss recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuits filed against employers' workplace wellness programs Evaluate NIOSH's efforts to promote its national Total Worker Health Agenda that includes support for workplace wellness and health promotion programs Identify employer actions, beyond providing safe and healthful workplaces, that would truly promote workers' health and well-being

Keyword(s): Occupational Health and Safety, Wellness

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have been employed in the field of occupational safety and health for over 35 years. I served for five years on the NIOSH NORA workgroup on Organization of Work. I have made presentations highlighting concerns with NIOSH's Total Worker Health Agenda and workplace wellness programs at a National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.