The Redesigning Wellness Podcast

198: Research on the Effectiveness of Traditional Wellness Programs with Julian Reif, Assistant Professor of Finance and Economics at the University of Illinois

Julian Reif

Do traditional biometric screening and incentive-based wellness programs have any meaningful effect on the physical health of employees? Today’s guest, Julian Reif, Associate Professor of Finance and Economics at the University of Illinois, is a principal investigator on the Illinois Workplace Wellness Study and is here to discuss the study’s answer to that question.

In addition to his associate professorship, Julian is also a Senior Scholar at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs and a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

This episode breaks down their research findings based on a two-year randomized controlled trial. Julian explains the set up of the study, including why randomized control trials are preferable to observational research design, which many other wellness studies are based on. He walks us through the study’s primary findings in the second year of data collection and the most important concepts for us to take away.

This episode is sponsored by Workplace Money Coach.

The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on employees’ financial lives has been dramatic. It runs the gamut from severe hardship as a result of job loss to excessive cash flow surpluses due to limited spending opportunities. 

Whatever our employees’ financial situation might be during these uncertain times, Workplace Money Coach is here to help them stay on track to meet their financial life goals. 

In order to serve your employees in a safe and healthy way, Workplace Money Coach has launched the Living Paycheck to Purpose program as a virtual option with a focus on maintaining the group discussions and thought-provoking activities that make their program dynamic. 

Now, your employees can engage in your wellness offerings and stay on top of their financial goals from the safety and convenience of their home office. 

As a bonus to their Living Paycheck to Purpose virtual program, Workplace Money Coach is offering Redesigning Wellness listeners a complimentary coaching session for all participants of the program so employees can get individualized attention for their financial situation. Just mention that you heard about the program through the Redesigning Wellness Podcast. 

You can learn more about Workplace Money Coach’s financial empowerment program at Schedule a call to see if the Living Paycheck to Purpose program is right for your employees.

Interview Highlights (with timestamps):
  • [8:02] Randomized control trials vs observational research design
  • [15:26] Forming the study sample
  • [20:39] How the study was designed
  • [24:22] Research findings
  • [37:05] The future of the study
  • [45:41] Expectations of whether or not two wellness programs would have an effect on healthcare costs
  • [49:06] What Julian would like people to take away from the study
Mentioned in this episode:
Full Bio:

Julian Reif is an Assistant Professor of Finance and Economics in the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois. He is also a Senior Scholar at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs and a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Professor Reif is an applied microeconomist who primarily studies health economics. His research focuses on health policy evaluation and the value of health and longevity. He has studied the health and medical spending effects of air pollution, the health and drug utilization effects of Medicare Part D, and the value of medical innovation. He is also a Principal Investigator of the Illinois Workplace Wellness Study.

In 2020, he received the Kenneth J. Arrow Award for the best published paper in health economics. His research has been supported by J-PAL North America, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. His studies have been featured in numerous media outlets, including the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Professor Reif received his PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago and his BA from Vanderbilt University. Prior to pursuing his PhD, he worked as a Senior Consultant at Bates White.