Business of Well-being

Overcoming the Challenges to Wellness in the Work Place

Is your company's wellness program waning? Has the program become stale and banal? If so, now is the perfect time to reassess, reclaim and reinvigorate your wellness program. Starting a program can be relatively easy but maintaining a program takes effort. Wellness programs often get stale, loose touch and stop being effective. Companies are busy.

The primary focus of any company is to be profitable. Most companies are tightening their belts, looking to cut cost and do more with less. We are all doing this to some degree. But remember this ever important fact: Your employees are your number one asset. The service or product you offer is only as good as the employees who offer it.

Take care of them and they will take care of business - your company's business.Understanding the challenges that wellness programs face is important to figuring out how to maximize results and create a successful program. According to the National Worksite Health Promotion Survey (NWHP), there are 5 primary challenges facing employee wellness programs. While these challenges are significant they are not insurmountable. This article will explore those challenges and offer suggestions to help propel your wellness program forward.

Lack of Staff Member Interest

Make sure you have a real time understanding of the needs of your employees. Employees are dynamic and ever-changing and your wellness program must also be. A quick way to take the temperature in the room, so-to-speak, is to survey your employees. A survey is a good way to get valuable data and feedback. Furthermore, employees want very much to be heard. Let them tell you what matters most to them, what health issues they are facing and what they would like to learn more about.

No doubt, you will find some common themes. Be prepared to take follow up once you have heard from your employees. You might also consult with your company's health care provider. They can provide a group aggregate report that will yield useful information regarding rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia in your employee population. Armed with this knowledge, you can concentrate your efforts accordingly.

If your wellness program is already established, review past successes. What were employees most excited about in last year's program? What activity or program component had the most participation and yielded the greatest results? If employees are still talking about the chair massages they received at last spring's health fair, that is your first clue! Why not build on that by making chair massage a staple in your program? Chair Massage Mondays could be a hit in your organization.

Insufficient Staff Resources

A wellness program is not going to run itself. While there are many low cost options and low effort activities that can be done in the name of wellness, resources will need to be invested to get maximum participation and results. The best way to start is by establishing a wellness committee that meets regularly. If possible, they should be employees from all levels of the company that represent every department of the organization.

Your committee will need a budget in order to be effective. How much you ask? Keep in mind that the return on investment for a wellness program is generally $3 for every $1 spent and it takes roughly 3 years for a program to yield significant returns. Companies who invest small tend to see small results. That is not to say that only big investments count. Smart investments make a difference. Make sure your Wellness committee is equipped with the resources needed to create the best possible program.

Inadequate Funds

As previously stated, a good program will need a budget. That budget should allow for the printing of materials, marketing, occasional speakers, fitness classes, and on-site screenings. Whatever your employees deem most important and whatever the company is willing to pay for should be accounted for in the budget. One of my corporate clients did a great job establishing a wellness committee but the company failed to give them a budget.

So, every time I suggested a program offering they had to go back to the Operating Committee to approve the expenditure. While many of the programs were approved they often did not get off the ground because the funding was approved at the last minute. This left little time to market the programs to employees and garner participation. The planning for the next year's programs now includes a discretionary budget for the committee.

Companies should also budget for an incentive program. If your program does not include an incentive program you are missing out on one of the most necessary and effective components. According to Maritz Inc, the world's largest employee incentive company, "a successful employee wellness program motivates workers - before and after signup." I work with clients every day who cringe at the thought of offering incentives. Mention incentives and all employers see are dollar signs.

The reality is that if healthy habits were that popular everyone would be doing it. We all need a little motivation and some more than others. Companies should remember that Wellness programs are indeed an investment and over time, they do offer a great return. Furthermore, incentives do not have to break the bank. Do not underestimate the power of a t-shirt! I have met employees who would kill to have a prime parking space for a month. Ever thought of offering employees an opportunity to have coffee with the boss?

I once worked for a company that randomly selected me to have coffee with the CEO. We sat for 15 minutes and he answered my questions and I answered his. Upon my return to my desk, everyone was dying to know how they, too, could be selected to enjoy coffee with the boss. Not to mention, I felt valued as an employee.

I particularly like this incentive because it involves upper management, which is critical to the success of any program. There are many such low cost, super effective incentive ideas. Understanding your company culture and staying in tune with your workforce can provide the insight needed to create an effective inexpensive incentive program.

Failure to Engage High Risk Employees

If your company is like most, 10% of your employee base is consuming 80% of the health care costs. It does not take a rocket scientist to tell you who your primary focus should be when developing a wellness program. Addressing this segment of your employee base will produce significant returns. This segment, however, tends to be the hardest to reach. I notice that most of the time it is the 5K runners, power walkers, and the Yogis who attend my on-site fitness classes.

Their participation is important but they do not represent the 10% that will really move the needle as far as health care savings. To reach high risk employees, survey them to understand what types of activities interest them. I recently did a Lunch N Learn seminar entitled Create a Fitness Program That YOU Love for one of my corporate accounts. While the group was small, it was mostly the high risk guys that showed up. Many knew they needed to do something about their health but they were never going to be gym rats and had no desire to be tri-athletes.

The seminar helped them to discover activities they enjoy commit to doing them and build a fitness program around them. By all means, incentivize these employees (all employees for this matter). Free is always good. Many of my corporate clients pay for the majority of the Wellness programs I bring in. This is an important piece when trying to engage high risk employees. Finally, I believe that at the end of the day my health is ultimately my responsibility.

There is nothing wrong with placing some of the onus upon your employees. Why not make some of the programs you offer mandatory for employees who choose to participate in the company's benefit package?

Inability to Elicit the Support of Upper Management

I shared my example of how coffee with the CEO affected me. That happened some 12 years ago and I still remember it like yesterday. The company I was with had 3 different CEO changes while I was there but like most of my co-workers, I felt the company thrived more under the CEO who got to know us and got involved in what was happening at our level.I get to speak with members of corporations at every level.

Many times I get the approval for programs from VP's and when I implement the programs to the general population I get plenty of feedback on the success or failure of those programs. The future of a program is more times than not linked to the buy in of upper management. Last year, I launched on-site fitness classes with a small corporate client. Attendance was lackluster. I began to inquire why as I would talk to employees in the hallways.

Many were reluctant to participate because they felt they would be perceived as not being serious about their careers if they took a noon hour class. I took that feedback back to the Operating Committee. As soon as department heads and members of the Operating Committee started taking classes, it broke the ice.

Employees followed their lead.Wellness programs are certainly not without challenges. They are a significant undertaking that require constant attention and resources to achieve their greatest potential. Nonetheless, I have yet to hear of a company or an employee regretting their efforts. In fact, those that stick with it are most certainly glad they did. For a list of references pertaining to this article please email

About the Author

Kaye Kennedy is certified in group exercise, personal training and Pilates. She is the Director of Corporate Wellness for MBS Wellness, a company that specializes in creating and implementing employee wellness programs. The company provides cutting-edge, hands on consulting to assist companies in achieving the maximum results from a wellness program.  The MBS' team of experts includes doctors, physical therapists, nutritionists, trainers, and insurance brokers.  

The company offers a comprehensive array of products and science-based programs with proven results - health impact, cost impact, and ROI. MBS Wellness has consulted and/or implemented successful programs for companies like The Boston Store, Johnson Controls, Jamba Juice, the Oakland Athletics Baseball Company and others. To learn more about starting a Wellness program for your employees or enhancing an existing program, visit, email Kaye at or call 510.547.1763.

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