Are Today’s Worksite Wellness Programs A Trick or A Treat?

Worksite wellness programs are all the rage today. But I bet you have never thought of these programs in terms of them being either a trick or a treat? I certainly had not, but as I describe below, I think they can be.

While we tend to think of Halloween as a one evening event, Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve is actually one of three Western Christian celebrations that occur from October 31 to November 2 annually. These religious observances are known as a triduum because they last three days. Halloween on the evening of October 31st is followed by All Saint’s Day and then All Soul’s Day. The basis of the triduum is a time to remember the dead and the faithful departed Christians.

The practice of wearing costumes on Halloween is believed to be a way for the living to disguise their identities to avoid being recognized by any departed soul that might be seeking revenge or vengeance before they depart earth. Another thought is people dress up in costumes, especially creatures that generate fear within us, as a way of poking fun at Satan.

The practice of Trick-or-Treating is said to date back to the medieval period and the practices of mumming, souling and in later years, guising. Today, the practice of Trick-or-Treating refers to the threat to perform mischief if no treat is given.

So are employers today playing a game of Trick-or-Treat with employees when it comes to worksite wellness programs? If yes, what is the trick and what is the treat? Here is my thinking:

A Trick

Based on my current understanding and perspective, the employer can use today’s worksite wellness program as a trick against employees in a couple of different ways. The first way is to shift more of the health insurance cost on to the employee under the guise of a health insurance premium differential that requires wellness program participation. A second way would be to charge a health insurance premium surcharge to an employee for smoking or some other “unacceptable” measure of health status or behavior. A third way would be to make the wellness program all about compliance and participation, rather than engagement. These types of programs are being called “Wellness or Else” type programs. The employee participates to gain an incentive or avoid a punishment, rather than to engage with the program with the goal being to enhance their health and wellbeing.

A Treat

Typically, employees view the benefits they receive at the workplace as being a treat, if not an outright entitlement. Without question, health and dental benefits, vision plans, EAP programs, work-life programs and even wellness programs can all be described as being treats provided by the employer. For employees who are already doing the right thing when it comes to their health and wellbeing, having the employer pick-up or reimburse the cost of their gym membership is certainly a treat, as the employer now assumes the cost an employee was willing to pay themselves anyway.

So how does your worksite wellness program stack-up? Is it seen as a trick, or a treat? I certainly hope it is being seen as a treat.