Wellness Case Study: IBM


A couple weeks ago, we discussed a wellness program at Pennsylvania State University that financially punished employees who refused to participate in a wellness survey. This program, now cited as an example of What Not To Do in corporate wellness, was so unpopular and legally shaky that it was eventually canceled. This week, we’d like to talk about a highly effective program at IBM that takes the opposite approach.

At IBM, Wellness Pays Off

At IBM, employees are given the chance to earn money for making healthy choices. IBM offers four different 12 week wellness programs. Participation in these programs is entirely voluntary. Employees can sign up at will and choose whichever program they prefer. All programs are administered online and last a total of 12 weeks.

During their participation in the programs, employees check in online, set goals for themselves, participate in suggested activities, track their progress and record everything in the online system. When the program is finished, employees who successfully completed all 12 weeks will see $150 added to their paychecks. Employees can participate in these programs as desired and can earn up to $300 annually for their participation. IBM’s four wellness programs include:

  • Diet and nutrition. Employees are instructed to set a goal. Based on that goal, the program recommends calorie intake levels and activities that will help the employee meet those goals.
  • Children and family health program. This program helps employees improve the health of their children by instructing participants to engage in activities like cooking together, exercising together and eating meals together.
  • Physical fitness program. Employees are encouraged to engage in 30 minutes of activity 3 times per week.
  • Personal vitality. The personal vitality program focuses on behaviors that can help employees better care for their health and avoid preventable conditions.

What’s the ROI?

IBM reports that 80 percent of their 430,000 employees sign up for at least one of the wellness programs every year, and about half of them will actually succeed with the program to earn the $150.

IBM’s healthcare costs are rising more slowly now. In fact, it’s estimated that between 2005 and 2007, IBM saved $190 million on health care costs. Healthy employees are staying healthy, and employees who were less healthy are becoming more healthy. Overall, the program is a success for the employees as well as IBM itself.

Why Does It Work?

IBM’s wellness Director, Dr. Joyce Young, says that a 12 week program is the minimum amount of time necessary for employees to change their behavior. In other words, the programs are just long enough to have a lasting effect on employees. The upshot: those who participate in the wellness programs have a lower increase in healthcare costs than employees who don’t.

As time goes on, IBM adds new programs to reach the needs of its employees. The family and children wellness program is relatively new. In fact, this program is another example of why IBM’s wellness program is so successful: because it’s trying to target its population while they’re at a young age. The earlier that wellness is introduced, the more influence that program can have over the health of the participants.


Want to know more about IBM’s program? We recommend these articles:

Want to know more about how your company can encourage your employees to participate in your wellness program? Contact HealthyWorks. We can help you set up a wellness program that can have a lasting impact on your employees and healthcare costs.