Business of Well-being

Making Worksite Wellness Work During a Zero Budget Time

Worksite Health Promotion Programs have steadily increased in popularity in recent years. While Fortune 500 companies have been offering wellness programs for well over a decade now, the staggering cost of employee health care has caused mid and small sized companies to finally adopt their own preventive programs. For employers who desire to decrease their health care, low productivity and absenteeism costs, the question is no longer "Why should I implement a worksite health promotion (wellness) program?", but "How do I offer it during a zero budget time?"

Even if your organization has not had to close down sites or lay-off personnel, it is likely that any new expense will be scrutinized. While most studies conclude that wellness programs deliver a positive return on investment, the metrics by which ROI are often measured can be "soft," making it difficult for these programs to win the approval of a CFO who is more interested in hard dollar results. The bottom line is that for many employers, there simply isn't the cash there to implement a traditional, comprehensive program.

So employers are now faced with two issues, both of which are difficult and equally pressing;

1.) How do I change my employees' behavior, so they make the right choices with their health? (Preventable conditions account for 80% of health care cost!)  

2.) How do I make an impact with little to no budget, that doesn't put even greater financial strain on my company?I am happy to report that there are a number of things employers can do right now to increase their employees' health WITHOUT increasing their budget.


There are people in every organization that are passionate about health. These people eat right, exercise and get their preventive screenings done because it is intrinsically important to them. These are the folks you need to seek out and deem your "wellness champions." They will volunteer their time to help get the message out there and you will not need to burden an already overworked and underpaid HR department. These champions comprise your organization's wellness committee, and the rest of the suggestions below can all be performed by this committee - for free.

Kick-off event

In order for employees to see that your wellness program is important and supported by senior management, there needs to be a kick-off event to get things started. This will help to not only serve as an informational base, but as a means to generate excitement about getting and staying healthy. Your company's Employee Health & Wellness Fair can be just that, or it can be branded and advertised like other benefit programs throughout your company. Of course this will depend on the creativity of your champions, but the better the branding, the more likely people will want to attend and participate in future programming.

Local hospitals and non-profit organizations in nearly every county offer community service programs that are perfect for this type of event. Hospital staff will come on-site and perform blood pressure screenings and cholesterol checks. The American Diabetes Association will set up a table with loads of information on how to prevent this growing disease. Local gyms and fitness centers will take advantage of the free advertising and provide trainers armed with exercise and diet and nutrition information. Even spas will volunteer a massage therapist to give employees some relaxation throughout the day, in exchange for some good PR.

This is all FREE and the employees love it. Also, the value that free health screenings provide for both the employer and employees is immeasurable. Last year, a municipality in Pennsylvania held a wellness event for city employees, where blood pressure measurements were taken. One employee's blood pressure was so high that he immediately went to the hospital and discovered he had an 80% blockage in one of his arteries. Thanks to the screening that day, he was able to get the help he needed before suffering a major heart attack. If this type of event reaches just one person, your company will prevent a large medical claim, not to mention save a life.


Internal competitions can be held without paying a big name firm to administer them, and they serve a dual purpose in making wellness fun as well as providing some extra motivation for employees with a competitive side. Since the start of NBC's hit, The Biggest Loser, company-sponsored Biggest Loser Contests have been held in dozens of organizations around the country. Participants make teams within the organization and support each other in their shared journey of weight loss. Each employee will pay $5 or $10 to enter in the 2 month challenge, which creates a nice pot for the winner to earn at the end of the contest.

Considering the prevalence of obesity and its contribution to dozens of expensive medical conditions, challenges like these can make a huge impact for all stakeholders. Walking and stretching programs are another great way for employees to find solidarity with their co-workers and contribute to real, lifelong behavior change. Exercise is essential for health, though many do not get the exercise they need because they are "too tired" after work or "don't have enough time." Both of these major excuses can be diminished through lunchtime programs that encourage people to get moving with other coworkers, at no cost to the company.

Online tools

Nowadays, nearly all big insurance companies offer members health risk assessments and online health programs through their website. The member simply creates an account using the information found on their ID card, and they instantly gain access to several health promotion tools. They can go through a free Health Risk Assessment that will instantly provide them with tailored health feedback based on their responses.

They can also participate in an online program that will assist them in changing their behavior to decrease their health risks. Highmark Blue Shield offers several online programs through HealthMedia that focus on areas such as tobacco cessation, weight loss and stress management. Again, all of this is FREE for members of the health plan.


Any worksite health promotion initiative, whether free or budgeted, will have no impact if employees do not know it exists. Make sure your wellness champions and senior management promote these programs through word of mouth, flyers and e-mail. Remember, screaming from the rooftops does not cost a thing. There is no such thing as over-communication, especially when it comes to programs that will increase employee health and productivity.

About the Author

Carolyn Grace Calvey is the Wellness and Communications Consultant at Riverside Consulting Group in Malvern, PA. Riverside is dedicated to providing exceptional expertise in all areas of employer-based benefits consulting. Carolyn helps organizations leverage investments in human resources through effective usage of benefit plans and employee wellness programs. She works with employers to gauge critical elements of wellness program success, such as senior management support, budget for incentives, and the overall culture of the organization.

She believes that health promotion is the best tool companies have at this time to lower their long-term health care costs, while also increasing the health and happiness of their most valuable assets: employees.Her career has included roles as a benefits analyst and consultant for a wide range of clients throughout the country. For the last several years, Carolyn has enjoyed leading the company's Worksite Health Promotion Practice, as well as developing communications as one of the firm's value-added services.

Carolyn is a graduate of St. Joseph's University, where she earned a degree in Business with a concentration in Social Justice. As a communications professional, Carolyn has extensive experience and training in Adobe InDesign from the Delaware Academy of Art and Design. Riverside Consulting Group emphasizes the importance of prevention as a guaranteed way to curb major benefit cost drivers, and also helps employers maximize their benefits investment through specifically-tailored strategies for all benefit plans.

Information about their services can be found by emailing Carolyn directly at Carolyn G. CalveyRiverside Consulting Group, Malvern PA

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