Back to the Drawing Board for IU’s Wellness Program

by: Nichole Gunn January 18, 2011

A number of businesses, including universities, are initiating comprehensive wellness programs or tweaking existing ones. But, as with any employee incentive program, the employees need to be on board.

Indiana University (IU), the fourth largest employer in the state, initiated a new wellness program that put a number of employees up-in-arms.

As part of the program, participating employees were to fill out an in-depth health and lifestyle related questionnaire; the answers were to be reviewed by medical staff at Indianapolis-based Clarian Health. More than 500 staff member signed an online petition against the program.

There is obviously a line between creating a wellness program that is designed to help improve employees’ overall health, and one that is overly personal and intrusive. Pheadra C. Pezzullo, a professor of communications and culture explained, “The ethics of the questionnaire presented are deeply fraught (ex., asking if we attend religious services as part of our health profile). The idea of that information going into a corporation's database also raises serious questions.”

IU, employing 17,000 workers, was looking to control the healthcare benefits that have been increasing 8 – 12 percent yearly. Due to the controversy and outrage, IU canceled the questionnaire and deleted data that was already gathered.

According to Larry MacIntyre, an IU spokesman, “The whole intent of this was, give employees a tool to lead to decisions that would lead to healthier lifestyles. But, unless people are somewhat enthusiastic or feel confident about it, it’s not going to be effective.”

Because of this initial problem and the backlash over that one specific aspect of the program, concerns are that the wellness program will find it difficult to succeed.

MacIntyre noted that “there’s some value in the concept, but only if it’s accepted and utilized by employees.” The plan is to go over the program early this year to find a path of acceptance and success.