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What do Workplace Wellness Programs do? Evidence from the Illinois Workplace Wellness Study


  • Damon Jones
  • David Molitor
  • Julian Reif


Workplace wellness programs cover over 50 million U.S. workers and are intended to reduce medical spending, increase productivity, and improve well-being. Yet limited evidence exists to support these claims. We designed and implemented a comprehensive workplace wellness program for a large employer and randomly assigned program eligibility and financial incentives at the individual level for nearly 5,000 employees. We find strong patterns of selection: during the year prior to the intervention, program participants had lower medical expenditures and healthier behaviors than nonparticipants. The program persistently increased health screening rates, but we do not find significant causal effects of treatment on total medical expenditures, other health behaviors, employee productivity, or self-reported health status after more than two years. Our 95% confidence intervals rule out 84% of previous estimates on medical spending and absenteeism.

Suggested Citation

  • Damon Jones & David Molitor & Julian Reif, 2019. "What do Workplace Wellness Programs do? Evidence from the Illinois Workplace Wellness Study," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 134(4), pages 1747-1791.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:134:y:2019:i:4:p:1747-1791.

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Page, Lionel & Sarkar, Dipanwita & Silva-Goncalves, Juliana, 2019. "Long-lasting effects of relative age at school," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 168(C), pages 166-195.
    2. David M. Kaplan & Longhao Zhuo, 2018. "Comparing latent inequality with ordinal data," Working Papers 1816, Department of Economics, University of Missouri, revised Feb 2019.
    3. Christopher Blattman & Nathan Fiala & Sebastian Martinez, 2018. "The Long Term Impacts of Grants on Poverty: 9-year Evidence From Uganda's Youth Opportunities Program," NBER Working Papers 24999, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Clarke, Damian & Romano, Joseph P. & Wolf, Michael, 2019. "The Romano-Wolf Multiple Hypothesis Correction in Stata," IZA Discussion Papers 12845, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    5. Kvarven, Amanda & Strømland, Eirik & Johannesson, Magnus, 2019. "Identification of and Correction for Publication Bias: Comment," MetaArXiv dh87m, Center for Open Science.
    6. Guido Friebel & Matthias Heinz & Mitchell Hoffman & Nick Zubanov, 2019. "What Do Employee Referral Programs Do?," NBER Working Papers 25920, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Blattman, Chris & Fiala, Nathan & Martinez, Sebastian, 2019. "The long term impacts of grants on poverty: 9-year evidence from Uganda’s Youth Opportunities Program," SocArXiv vctuh, Center for Open Science.
    8. Syon P. Bhanot & Christina A. Roberto & Anjali Chainani & Charles Williamson & Mehra den Braven, 2019. "Testing effects of loss framing and checklists: evidence from a field experiment on wellness program participation in Philadelphia," Journal of the Economic Science Association, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 5(2), pages 210-222, December.
    9. Pierre Azoulay & Wesley H. Greenblatt & Misty L. Heggeness, 2019. "Long-term Effects from Early Exposure to Research: Evidence from the NIH "Yellow Berets''," NBER Working Papers 26069, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Courtin, Emilie & Nafilyan, Vahe & Avendano, Mauricio & Meneton, Pierre & Berkman, Lisa F. & Goldberg, Marcel & Zins, Marie & Dowd, Jennifer B., 2019. "Longer schooling but not better off? A quasi-experimental study of the effect of compulsory schooling on biomarkers in France," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 220(C), pages 379-386.
    11. Hahn, Youjin & Islam, Asadul & Patacchini, Eleonora & Zenou, Yves, 2018. "Friendship and Female Education: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Bangladeshi Primary Schools," CEPR Discussion Papers 13221, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    12. Daniel Bauer & Darius Lakdawalla & Julian Reif, 2018. "Mortality Risk, Insurance, and the Value of Life," NBER Working Papers 25055, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Faraz Usmani & Marc Jeuland & Subhrendu Pattanayak, 2018. "NGOs and the effectiveness of interventions," WIDER Working Paper Series 59, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    14. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve & Christian Krekel & George Ward, 2019. "Employee Wellbeing, Productivity and Firm Performance," CEP Discussion Papers dp1605, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs
    • M5 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics


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