Business of Well-being

What Makes a Corporate Wellness Program Effective?

Hallmarks of an Effective Program

All successful, effective corporate wellness programs have some common features. At a minimum, an effective program requires:

  • Management commitment
  • Solid research and planning
  • Employee buy-in and participation

To have the best chance of success and a meaningful return on investment, a program should also have:

  • Collaborative team support
  • Expert vendor support
  • Measurable goals
  • Periodic evaluation
  • Necessary updates

The minimum requirements have been reviewed at length in Part 1, however, they deserve a quick summarization here:

Management Commitment

If your workforce perceives a wellness program as a "do as I say, not as I do" offering from management, they will not be inclined to take advantage of it. If the inhabitants of the executive suite are corpulent, florid, and breathless, and do nothing to change that, the program, and the employers' commitment to it will be viewed as an exercise in hypocrisy.

Management must not only commit to the importance of the wellness program, a good proportion of executives, managers and supervisors must participate in the program to lead by example.

Solid Research and Planning

You must understand your employee population, their needs and propensities in order to choose a program that offers appropriate services and solutions for them. You must also research available programs to ensure you are selecting one that provides the flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and resources you and your employees need.

Employee Buy-in and Participation

Employees must understand the program, why it is necessary, how it will benefit them, and how to use it. You must find ways to motivate them to use the program and reward them for reaching certain goals. Do not neglect yourself or other executives or management when thinking about motivation, rewards and incentives.  

Executives and management may be senior to the remainder of the staff in terms of corporate hierarchy, but may be well junior in terms of health, fitness, and wellness. You may consider such incentive options as contests, a special parking space for the winner, a half-day off, "fitness bucks", recognition, massage gift certificates, etc.  

Use your creativity, and get feedback from the employees as to what will motivate them. What Will Make Your Program Stellar? To really kick your program up to the level where it will bring as many employees as possible under its spell and help them improve their health, vigor and productivity, there are a few more program characteristics that are essential.

Collaborative Team Support

People generally accept change better if they feel they've contributed to the decision-making that drives it. Your program will enjoy a more effective launch and more acceptance up front if  trusted employee leaders (these are not always managers or supervisors but frequently line employees to whom others naturally look up) participate in the research, planning and development phases of the wellness program.  

This is much more effective than presenting staff with a finished product that they never saw coming. They will feel more connected to the process, and the program will have built-in advocates sprinkled throughout the company in strategic areas.

Another benefit of the collaborative approach is that the work required to launch and monitor the program will be shared amongst several people, rather than burdening one. The ability to obtain various perspectives is also valuable.

Expert Vendor Support

Some health insurance companies offer wellness programs (generally of a very limited variety). If you're going to take the next step and go beyond the minimal program your health insurance company may offer, then you will want a vendor with expertise and good support systems that dovetail with your main objectives.

A vendor with a human resources background and no fitness expertise, for example, will provide you with a different product than a vendor with healthcare and fitness professionals on staff. The optimal vendor needs to understand change implementation, corporate behavioral management, fitness, sports psychology, motivation, nutrition, health assessment protocols, confidentiality regulations, and a host of other disciplines.

Very few vendors have such broad expertise in-house, so it is quite common and appropriate for some services or resource needs to be outsourced to other vendors that have specific expertise. Your vendor may continue to act as the point person and coordinator for the structuring of the program and the implementation of those portions in which they have expertise.

Measurable Goals

As with any corporate objective, you must establish your current benchmarks, identify the desired goals, and have a way to measure your progress. If your short-term goal is to get your healthcare insurance costs down, you will want to find out what behaviors or activities can earn you premium credits with your company.

If they don't offer any wellness program discounts, you might want to shop for another insurance company. In this case, the insurance company will dictate your goals. If your goal is to get your direct healthcare costs down, or to minimize your on-the-job injuries, you will have somewhat different milestones and benchmarks.

If your goal is to maximize employee productivity and minimize absenteeism, again, your metrics will vary. Your vendor will be able to assist you in determining what your true goals are, and in defining benchmarks, metrics and milestones so that you can track your progress.

Periodic Evaluations

You will need to establish a schedule upon which you will evaluate your progress to see if the program is having the desired results. If participation is low, you will address the motivation/reward/incentive model, or communication regarding the program and its benefits, or survey your staff to see what their issues with the program are.

If participation is good, you will want to determine if you're making progress on your goals pertaining to absenteeism, productivity, injuries, etc. Surveys, performance metrics, insurance company loss data, direct healthcare loss data (not individually identifiable, of course), all can provide such needed information.

Necessary Updates

In addition to program changes needed to improve utilization or outcomes, there will often be new services or activities made available, or new programs may become available, which you will want to consider. If a program is getting stale, and participation is backsliding, you would want to offer new activities and/or services.  

You will want to do periodic surveys of participants and non-participants alike to see what their experience of the program is, or what their point of resistance to the program is. As you adjust the program offerings to address these issues to the extent you can, you will enjoy increasing utilization and benefits.

About the Author

"Training veteran Greg Justice didn't just get in on the leading edge of an emerging industry 20-some years ago, he helped create it. Opening the first personal training studio in Kansas City, Justice has, over the years, laid the groundwork for countless others to follow. Being a trailblazer, however, takes a willingness to plow into the thicket of uncertainty.  

It means forging ahead with nothing but faith. As one of the true leaders of the personal training industry, Justice now has the benefit of hindsight and the insight of experience, both of which he eagerly offers up to the hundreds of trainers he has mentored." - Shelby Murphy Personal Fitness Professional magazine, Journey to Success, May 2009 Greg Justice, MA opened AYC Health & Fitness, Kansas City's Original Personal Training Center, in May 1986.

He has personally trained more than 40,000 one-on-one sessions. Today, AYC specializes in corporate wellness and personal training. Greg holds a master's degree in HPER (exercise science) (1986) from Morehead State University, Morehead, KY and a bachelor's degree in Health & Physical Education (1983) from Morehead State University, Morehead, KY.  

Greg is also an AFAA certified personal trainer (CPT). He has worked with athletes and non-athletes of all ages and physical abilities and served as a conditioning coach at the collegiate level. He also worked with the Kansas City Chiefs, during the offseason, in the early 1980's.  

He has been actively involved in the fitness industry for more than a quarter of a century as a club manager, owner, personal fitness trainer, and corporate wellness supervisor where he worked with more than 60 corporations. Greg writes articles for many international publications and websites including Exercise & Health, IDEA Fitness Journal, American Fitness Magazine,,, Personal Trainer University, and has a monthly column called "Treadmill Talks" in Personal Fitness Professional (PFP) magazine.

He has authored a book titled "Lies & Myths about Corporate Wellness" and has been a contributing author for two other books. He currently serves at the President of the Association of Professional Personal Trainers (APPT). Greg was an adjunct professor of exercise science at Avila University and currently serves on the faculty of Personal Trainer University.  

He mentors and instructs trainers interested in Corporate Wellness through his Corporate Boot Camp System class. He developed this course because of the need of CEOs and HR Professionals for achieving a means of positive, effective, and lasting change toward more healthy and productive employees. His system is tested and proven and combines the three major areas that business needs to address if they are to see a return on their employee benefits investment.

Learn about how you can become a Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist→