12 Tips to Implement an Effective Employee Health Program

As healthcare costs rise, employers are becoming increasingly involved in employee health and wellness. Navigating employee health can be difficult for employers, especially when considering incentives, return on investment and engagement levels.


Some programs focus on wellness initiatives such as yoga classes, while others take on a clinical approach that begins with physician-patient engagement.


Below are 12 tips to consider when implementing an employee health program:

  1. Recognize that having healthy employees is a strategic business issue. A healthier workforce creates competitive advantage through improved productivity, decreased absenteeism, lower medical care costs and a reduction in disability and workers' compensation claims. Remember: "you cannot judge a book by its cover."

    A person who looks perfectly healthy may indeed suffer from chronic disease, whereas an overweight person may have chronic disease risks but no disease. Only a physician is qualified to determine an individual's true health status.
  2. Research what other companies have done so that you know what is possible. There is no single definition of a health program and they can vary greatly in scope. Over time, engaging 90 percent of your employees in understanding and improving their health and medical care actions should be your goal.

    Health management begins with physician engagement. Physicians can help to guide desired behaviors that are cornerstones of a productive and long life - eating healthier, moving more, losing weight, quitting smoking, limiting excessive alcohol, controlling stress and receiving preventive care.
  3. Do not just get senior leadership's approval, get their SUPPORT. Is the health of employees featured prominently in the company's vision or mission? Do managers and supervisors see part of their role as "walking the talk" of healthy behaviors? Without real and observable support, program results will not be optimized.

    At EHE, employees are required to have an annual physical exam. Employees also see our management team practicing the sound principles of good health by having their own physical exams, going to the gym and eating healthy foods and are more likely to be encouraged to do the same.
  4. Understand that any health program is a long-term investment that cannot be evaluated by a typical short-term ROI analysis. Typically, the earliest impact can be seen in positive employee attitudes and in decreased absenteeism.

    Healthcare cost reductions often take three to five years even for well-conducted programs. Johnson & Johnson estimated that between 2002 and 2008, its company health program saved them $250 million in healthcare costs. The return for every dollar was $2.71.
  5. Define and measure your goals. Too often, programs begin without a clear understanding of what is to be achieved. Also, walk before you run. Health is a marathon, not a sprint.

    Start with a goal or series of activities that fits your organization in terms of culture and budget. Not every company can afford to install a gym in their office, but every company can afford to encourage employees to walk more.
  6. Don't go it alone. There are countless numbers of vendors that are able to provide direction, support or turnkey solutions. Services that are convenient for employees have been shown to increase participation.

    If these services can be delivered onsite or near-site, that's even better. At EHE, we certify doctors across the country to carry out our clinical guidelines. EHE's health resources are accessible nationwide to our patients and employees alike.
  7. Be prepared to provide incentives. Financial incentives, whether inside or outside of your healthcare benefit design, have been shown to significantly increase participation and success.

    For example, employees who undergo a physical exam can be given an extra personal day or a similar reward. Incentive programs can encourage other employees to become more engaged with an existing plan.
  8. Make it a BIG DEAL. Brand the program, create icons and logos as you would any product and launch it with great enthusiasm. Making health "front of mind" and not an afterthought or simply an "HR" activity is key to company-wide adoption and business success.

    As an example, EHE participates in the American Heart Association's National Wear Red Day. An annual favorite, the campaign features EHE employees dressed in red, each well aware of their personal heart health and risks of developing heart disease.
  9. Reward positive actions visibly and often. Employees already demonstrating health behaviors should be celebrated and commended. Others who are starting the journey to better health by participating and succeeding in small steps should be similarly rewarded.

    Public recognition and non-monetary rewards unique to your company tell employees that they are "champions" who've mastered significant challenges valued by peers and the organization.
  10. Get the family involved. An employee's family, home and community environment impact health behaviors at work and vice versa. Improving one's health is ALWAYS accelerated by the support of others, and employers can facilitate this by allowing family members to participate in many of its health programs.

    Invite families to participate in company-sponsored healthy lunches or company 'field days.' Teaching families how to live healthier ensures that healthy habits in the office aren't discouraged at home.
  11. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.  Does the CEO "walk the talk" and can you show him or her in action? Use multiple channels, newsletters, e-mails, posters, regular staff meetings - whatever and however you can create a sense of momentum, urgency and, yes, fun.

    EHE provides employees with weekly health newsletters, "lunch n' learns," educational materials both online and in person and announcements of health-related events and activities.
  12. Have fun and create some friendly competition. Esprit de corps is real and motivates individuals to attain higher goals than they might have achieved alone. And the "high" that people feel as they get healthier and fit is REAL both physically and psychologically.

    Have an office baking contest using healthy ingredients or break the office into teams and award points for each achieved health goal, whether it's quitting smoking or having a mammogram.

Communication and leading by example are keys to productive and engaging company health programs. Clearly expressed goals, expectations and rewards will motivate employees to participate beyond a mandatory level and truly experience improved health from company initiatives.


About The Author

Deborah McKeever is the president and COO of EHE International, the recognized leader in preventive medicine since 1913. Follow EHE on Twitter@EHEIntl.