Providing Workplace Wellness Centers Could Backfire

Release Date: May 2, 2013 | By Joan MacDonald, HBNS Contributing Writer
Research Source: American Journal of Health Promotion


  • People who used a workplace wellness center on a regular basis experienced an improvement in their quality of life.
  • Declines in mental health reported by people who did not use workplace wellness centers may be attributed to unrealistic expectations and people becoming discouraged when not reaching their health goals.
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People who used a workplace wellness center on frequent basis reported an improvement in their overall quality-of-life, while those that used the center less often reported no improvements in their physical quality-of-life and a decline in their mental quality-of-life, finds a new study in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Previous studies have explored health-specific benefits of workplace wellness centers, such as weight loss and fitness, yet other quality-of-life benefits associated with participating in these programs have not been well documented.

“While fitness is a key domain of wellness, wellness is also relationships, spirituality, quality of life, nutrition, resiliency, stress management and financial well-being,” said lead author Matthew Clark, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the Mayo Clinic.  “To examine wellness we need to include more domains than just fitness.”

The study surveyed more than 1,100 employee wellness center members, whose average age was 39. Participants were split into low, below-average, above average and high users. Low users attended less than once every two weeks and high users two or three times a week.

The percent of those in the above average user category reporting a high physical quality-of-life improved from 49.8 to 59.6 from baseline to follow-up 1 year later. Among high users, the percentage increased from 59.4 to 80.4 percent. There was no improvement in physical quality-of-life scores among the lowest use group and the number of low users reporting a high mental quality of life decreased from 51.4 to 34.5 percent.

“Quality of life is typically measured by having participants answer questions--it's self-reported,” said Joel Hughes, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Ohio State University. “This is a bit harder than measuring weight loss but it is possible to measure a lot of non-physical attributes with great confidence.”

The authors suggest that one way to improve the quality-of-life benefits of wellness programs might be to provide a wider range of features, such as those that reduce stress. Furthermore, they say, participants in wellness programs often have unrealistic expectations and become discouraged when they don’t immediately reach their goals. If participants understand that motivation can fluctuate due to life circumstances, it could help.

“When life is super stressful, the motivation for wellness probably takes a big hit,” said Clark. He adds that it’s important to learn not to engage in negative self-talk.

“If I join a wellness center and do not go, I probably engage in negative self-talk, such as 'there I go again, spending money to join a gym and I am such as loser I cannot even get there.'  Or 'I did not go because I am lazy and worthless.' Negative self-talk just works against people trying to implement positive lifestyle changes. Instead, be positive. Give yourself credit for every change you make, no matter how small."

TERMS OF USE: This story is protected by copyright. When reproducing any material, including interview excerpts, attribution to the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, is required. While the information provided in this news story is from the latest peer-reviewed research, it is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment recommendations. For medical questions or concerns, please consult a health care provider.

For More Information:

Reach the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, at (202) 387-2829 or

American Journal of Health Promotion: Call (248) 682-0707 or visit

M. Clark, S. Jenkins, K. Limoges, P. Hagen, K. Lackore, A. Harris, B. Werneburg, B. Warren, K. Olsen (2013). Is Usage of a Wellness Center Associated With Improved Quality of Life. American Journal of Health Promotion; May-June 2013, Vol. 27, No. 5


Tags for this article:
Workplace Health   Promote your Health   Lifestyle and Prevention   Exercise/Physical Activity   Mental Health  

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