123: Breaking down the University of Illinois Workplace Wellness Study with David Molitor and Julian Reif

The Illinois Workplace Wellness Study was published about a year ago. A member of our Redesigning Wellness Facebook Community. I read the study, commented, then moved on with my life. Then the study started grabbing headlines like “wellness doesn’t work” and gaining attention.

Even a year later, it’s vital to understand the year one results of this study. This study is a randomized controlled trial, considered to be the gold standard of research. And we don’t have a lot of rigorous evidence available on the effectiveness of workplace wellness, so this study matters.

This interview is with David Molitor and Julian Reif, both Assistant Professors at the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois, are two out of the three researchers of the study who are my guests today (full bios below).

In this interview, David and Julian tell us what got them interested in studying workplace wellness they break down the findings very clearly and I ask them about that wellness vendor webinar where a wellness industry expert drew different conclusions than I understood them to be.

We talk about the future of the study because it’s still going on, when new results will be available and they’ll tell us what they recommend we as wellness pros take should away from the results.

You’re Invited to our Encore Webinar: If you’re still on the fence about joining our training, Rebecca and I are hosting an Encore Webinar, “The Critical Steps to Increase Your Impact and Influence as a Wellness Professional” on January 17th at 2 pm EST. Register HERE.

Many health promotion efforts are stuck in an old paradigm, operating on outdated thinking or flawed assumptions.

This webinar will separate myth from reality – and jump start your path to confidently bringing your organization into the next generation of worksite wellness. You’ll leave with valuable insights and practical takeaways on how to increase your influence in your organization

You can register for the webinar HERE.

Interview Highlights:
  • [6:00] What got them interested in studying workplace wellness.
  • [7:20] The key difference between their study and most other published studies.
  • [9:22] How they decided upon the wellness program design in the study (biometrics screenings, health risk assessments and wellness activities). Note: it was designed in 2013.
  • [11:30] What they set out to find – 1) how financial incentives effect participation 2) who participates in wellness programs when offered 3) estimate the effects of the program
  • [17:14] Key findings from the study.
  • [32:06] The one item that was surprising from the study.
  • [42:45] Their key takeaways for practitioners and employers can do with the year one results.
Mentioned:

Year-end wrap up with Bob Merberg (where we talk about the webinar)

The study website: https://www.nber.org/workplacewellness/ (includes main results, the paper with full set of the results and the employee surveys used).

Full Bio:

David Molitor is an Assistant Professor of Finance at the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois and a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His research explores factors that shape health and health care delivery in the United States. He is a Principal Investigator of the Illinois Workplace Wellness Study, a large-scale field experiment of workplace wellness conducted at the University of Illinois. His work has been supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, J-PAL North America, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Twitter: @davidmolitor

Julian Reif is also an Assistant Professor of Finance and Economics in the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois, and Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His research interests include population health, health care, and public finance. His research examines the value of health and longevity, the mortality and medical spending effects of air pollution, and the mortality effects of Medicare Part D. He is also a Principal Investigator of the Illinois Workplace Wellness Study. His research too has been supported by J-PAL North America, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Twitter: @julianreif