Business of Well-being

Put Wellness to Work

With a growing array of creative tools to excite interest on many levels, wellness programs can be designed to serve organizations of all sizes, locales and cultures. You can choose components as unique, innovative and fun as the people who make up your organization.

Goals for New or Expanding Programs

When planning a wellness program, some statistics on business returns can be very compelling - for every $1 invested groups have experienced an average of $3.50 (73 studies) to $5.93 (42 studies) in savings from fewer medical, disability and workers' comp claims and improved absenteeism.

But many employers who sponsor wellness begin to observe that reducing costs is only one of many significant gains. The process begins with company leadership articulating the value of health-related productivity to workers. It takes participation by all to build successful programs.

Four-Part Strategy for Success

To begin, answer these questions to establish your company's needs, resources and expectations for wellness:

  • Why is health important to our company?What might result if no health promotion initiatives are adopted?
  • What are the trends that appear to weaken our workforce? Examples: absenteeism, smoking, stress or weight problems.
  • What are our ultimate goals? Examples: stabilize health care cost increases; increase work output; improve employee morale.
  • What activities are suitable for our goals and work culture? What is our work culture?
  • What about including an incentive program?
  • What results might we expect and how will they be evaluated?

How can you ensure maximum value for your investment?

In defining your wellness goals and initiatives, focus on these elements: prevention, integration, communication and participation.

I.    Prevention - It's cheaper to keep employees well than to make them well again.

Whether designing health care or wellness benefits, keep in mind the primary driver of soaring health costs is inadequate investment in prevention and disease management. Prevention, including screening, intervention services and self-care education, is the best means of curbing illness and injury.

Regardless of group size, a modest investment in a medical self-care program may be the most cost-effective introductory initiative; if possible, include a basic health risk assessment and print or web-based tools for motivating change.

Personal responsibility requires a mindset change for many employees, but it's key to succeeding with primary prevention. Many organizations have learned that the best approach is to introduce options in stages.

Action Item: Enlist a focus group, including vendors, to review your program options from start-up wellness to disease management. Because they track the experiences of a mix of organizations, vendors can advise you on what's working for groups with similar goals and resources.

II.    Integration - Weave wellness into the daily workplace culture.

Employees can become smarter about health and healthcare when they recognize the principles of healthy living are integral to your organization's overall success. Recent surveys stress the value of making a cultural shift that positions employee health as a vital business goal - a "culture of wellness" at work can dramatically increase participation rates in activities, strengthen the workforce and promote your company as a competitive employer.

One of the most successful ways to motivate employees is by integrating incentives for individuals to better manage their health. Example: Provide a premium discount for taking a health risk assessment, meeting with a counselor to discuss its results and making one or two additional steps toward self-care during the year. On a more basic level, managers can provide opportunities and time off for employees to participate in activities, even if it's just 30-minute group walks three times a week.

Not all companies have the means to provide structural support, or facilities, for health promotion activities. Be creative. Start with a no-smoking policy, sponsor on-site flu shots or diabetes screening and provide a periodic newsletter. What's most important is policy support - the commitment of leaders to encourage wellness and supply whatever tools are feasible for employees to become more aware of their health.

Action Item: Encourage employees to integrate better health into their everyday lives, just as you are integrating it into the entire organization. Failing to explain the purpose and means of integrating wellness at work is a major cause of program failure.

Reward progress.

Participants love tangible rewards - money or items, but they like recognition too. People naturally enjoy getting noticed for their achievements; if they don't get credit, they can lose motivation to continue.

Between 50% and 70% of large employers use some form of incentive to encourage employees to participate in wellness, health risk assessments and disease management. Common rewards: premium reductions, cash, bonuses, paid leave or gift certificates.

Groups apply incentives to promote use of HRAs, tracking activities, tobacco cessation, workplace health challenges, completing online programs or contacting a health coach.

III.    Communication - Exchange ideas up and down every step of the way.

The growth and success of your wellness program depends on effective communication. Employees need to hear from their company leadership why health matters, how it relates to their work and how their choices impact their health care.

Newsletters, print materials and employee meetings are fundamental to education and the most popular communication tools. Many companies also provide 24/7 access to online information regarding health promotion and their worksite wellness programs.

For example, you can use routine company-wide email, payroll stuffers, periodic online/print newsletters and annual health calendars to announce activities. As often as possible, conduct frequent face-to-face meetings regarding benefits information, host or promote participation in wellness fairs, seminars on health issues or sponsor health screenings.

Action Item: If you are rolling out a consumer driven health plan (CDHP), its success will largely be determined by how well employees understand the how's and why's of such a significant plan. Set up a strong communication strategy with incentives to keep employees engaged and learning. Obviously, employees need education to make health care decisions.

A word about confidentiality:
Workplace wellness programs must be carefully crafted within federal and state laws, such as ADA, EEOC and HIPAA, in terms of privacy, reasonable accommodation, confidentiality of personal health information and protection of off-duty conduct. To ensure compliance, obtain a legal review of your programs before implementation.

IV.    Participation - People participate in activities they help create.

Employees often start off with wellness with lots of enthusiasm - whether on their own initiative or within their company health program. Although, without continual reinforcement or incentive, many individuals drop out and program participation drops. Even with incentives in place, the surveys show that providing ongoing motivation is a major challenge for wellness managers.

Action Item: Make sure employees have a voice in your program. Poll them. Find out specifically what activities they will or won't pursue. Post results, solicit feedback - keep members involved all the way.

Here are tested efforts from survey respondents proven to add new participants and re-motivate dropouts:

  • Provide channels for employee feedback from both active participants and those who have avoided or disengaged from the activities. Survey non-participants to learn why they are not involved.
  • Devise a balance of activities with attainable goals for individual needs - from daily joggers to couch potatoes - in every age group.
  • Use themes to spark interest. For example, try a fitness or nutrition theme aligned with monthly health observances.
  • Why not circulate wellness success stories of those who want to share their progress? Seeing the results of others can be inspiring.
  • Encourage participants to recruit new joiners; award both with bonus points.
  • Recruit alternating volunteers on staff to help with wellness coordination.
  • Advertise through any and every means often. Distribute calendars of events to everybody.
  • Set up wellness tables around the facility that contain take-away health brochures and other resources for employees and their families.
  • Offer orientation sessions for new hires.
  • Continually ask employees what they want and what health changes they need help with.
  • Help folks clearly see the value in participating - the investment of their time must make sense.

Keep your program alive and well

A successful wellness program is an evolving program. A few times a year, host low-cost events such as stress or nutrition seminars and company-wide contests - a weight-loss challenge or walk-for- charity.

When you continually invite folks to participate in new, fun activities and actively promote them, you will generate interest and new advocates. The bottom line is about people: recharged, engaged workers, enhanced morale, better job focus, and less absenteeism and presenteeism.

Wellness Program Design for Startup and Small to Mid-Size Companies

The matrix below lists some popular wellness components. It offers a sampling of corresponding steps that small to mid-size companies might implement with minimal cost and administration. These measures can bring significant gains in disease prevention, health promotion and employee performance and morale.

Key Components - Basic Steps - Additional Steps

Key Components: Health Education First focus: tobacco use, physical inactivity, poor nutrition, obesity, overweight, safety and stress. Basic Steps: Start with periodic newsletters and self-care brochures; flu prevention guidelines, shots, ergonomics awareness. Additional Steps: Employ basic interventions such as diabetes, blood pressure screens; web-based info portal; workshops on medical consumerism and workplace safety and prevention.

Key Components: Supportive Workplace Environment. Basic Steps: Use workspace for after-hours exercise classes or seminars; establish smoke-free worksites; reward tobacco cessation, exercise or weight loss goals. Additional Steps: Arrange health club discounts; support charity fitness runs/walks; supply healthy food options in cafeterias, at work functions; start company-wide fitness challenges (e.g., 10,000 Steps).

Key Components: Workplace Integration. Basic Steps: Enlist senior management and diverse staff in broad planning, identifying goals and integrating systems. Additional Steps: Choose wellness goals in line with organization's work goals/mission; brand the wellness program.

Key Components: Link Related Programs: EAP, health plan, safety goals, preventive services. Basic Steps: Communicate info about related opportunities; integrate lifestyle messages (e.g., obesity, back care) into safety meetings. Additional Steps: Provide custom publications announcing benefits, job safety, lifestyle, EAP services and preventive screening reminders.

Key Components: Preventive Screening. Basic Steps: Promote preventive screenings through email, posters and all company communications. Additional Steps: Sponsor/co-sponsor health fairs with health screenings; promote screenings with national health observances.

Key Components: At-Risk Interventions. Basic Steps: Promote resources and support for behavior modification of at-risk practices (observe privacy issues). Additional Steps: Provide incentive-based programs to encourage ongoing positive changes.(e.g. weight management); tobacco quit line.

Key Components: Evaluation & Improvement. Basic Steps: Conduct periodic employee surveys to identify wellness needs and interests; measure participation rates. Additional Steps: Identify (1) leading medical claims by prevalence and costs and (2) indirect costs related to disability, workers' comp and sick days.

About the Author

Diane McReynolds, Executive Editor, Personal BestEdited by Gayle Christopher, Ph.D., Managing Editor of, a Personal Best Resource

For the complete white paper "Wellness at Work: Practical Information for Setting Up a Corporate Wellness Program", and other free resources, please visit is an online resource, offered by Personal Best, for Wellness, Human Resources, Benefits and other professionals offering expert content as well as community on relevant topics focused on initiating, administering, funding, etc. wellness initiatives in a corporate environment. Dr. Gayle Christopher, Managing Editor, received her degree in physiology from Auburn University.

She has taught university level courses in anatomy, physiology and human health and has worked in academia, government, large corporations and small businesses. Diane McReynolds is Executive Editor of Personal Best publications. She has 28+ years experience publishing works in health care, health promotion and employee communications.

Personal Best ( is a leading publisher and provider of newsletters, brochures, posters, booklets, calendars, journals and other related communication tools covering matters of health and wellness, safety, productivity, shift work and personal money management.  We strive to meet the business goals of our Clients by promoting and encouraging personal goals for healthy living.

Representing more than five decades of experience in serving the wellness needs of thousands of organizations in the U.S. and Canada, Personal Best is committed to supporting those organizations that believe in the power and future of wellness.

For more information, please visit or You may contact Dr. Christopher at You may contact Diane McReynolds at

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