Endorsed by the Affordable Care Act, employee wellness programs are increasingly popular with organizations that believe in the importance of health in business. The promotion of wellness cultures in corporate environments have led to numerous studies on the pros and cons of implementing such programs as an investment in an employee’s well-being and happiness.

A couple weeks ago, Coexist, a social enterprise company based in the UK, announced plans to create an official “period policy” that would allow female employees to take time off during their menstrual cycle.

“It’s not just about taking time off if you feel unwell, but about empowering people to be their optimum selves,” said Bex Baxter, director of Coexist, in an interview with The Guardian. “If you work with your natural rhythms, your creativity and intelligence is more fulfilled. And that’s got to be good for business.”

The “period policy” is not a completely uncommon concept. While we might cringe at the idea in North America, according to a CBS News article, other countries including Japan, Korea, Philippines and Indonesia have implemented laws that allow women to take time off during their time of month.

As expected, the debatable nature of the “period policy” is just part of a larger controversial topic regarding the return on investment of corporate wellness programs.

Since 2009, Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) have conducted surveys analyzing the development of corporate health programs designed to improve employee productivity by creating a healthier work environment. The latest survey shows employers spend an average of $693 per employee on wellness-based incentives in 2015, a 17 percent increase from 2014, according to a Fidelity report.  But they did not include the total cost of the program in their analysis, they only focused on the incentives.

A 2012 report in the American Journal of Health Promotion revealed companies with wellness programs spent 25 percent less in costs related to sick leave and health care plans. On the flip side, these programs benefit employees, well because, one could argue that healthier employees mean happier and more productive employees.

So if the goal of corporate wellness training programs is to achieve higher productivity, lower health care costs and improve employee morale, then what is the construct of a program that could deliver on those results? According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), the return on investment of wellness training programs depend on its design and implementation. “Most studies of wellness programs are of poor quality, using weak methods that suggest that wellness programs are associated with lower savings, but don’t prove causation,” said Austin Frakt, in a New York Times article.

Despite the increase in popularity of wellness programs, their true impact is rarely evaluated, according to a 2013 Workplace Wellness Programs Study conducted by The Rand Corporation.

So when searching to find data on effective program design, I found a SHRM piece that suggests the four steps for designing an effective wellness program:

  • Set the goals of the program
  • Decide the company’s level of involvement
  • Establish the budget and expected return on investment
  • Choose employee rewards

I was pretty surprised that the program design had little discussion of the training required to affect the kind of change that the returns on the investment would require.  Further, the “period policy” may be a bit excessive in an employee wellness program, the concept itself may be worthwhile to think about, while taking into the rest of the design of a solid employee wellness transformation program that is truly focused on helping employees change their behavior when it comes to wellness. As with most corporate initiatives, it’s all about the design and delivery of the program. But, happy and healthy employees should lead to an increase in engagement, productivity and morale.