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Posted: March 11, 2014

Top five tips for workplace wellness programs

Take the best from the biggest and apply it

Lee Newman

If you’ve recently launched a worksite wellness program or you’re thinking about offering a wellness program, you’re not alone.

A recent RAND Corporation analysis found that about half of U.S. employers offer wellness promotion initiatives. These efforts range from offering vouchers for gym memberships to implementing multi-component programs that combine health screenings, preventative interventions and wellness benefits, such as on-site clinics.

Many studies show that there are health risks that are both modifiable and that contribute directly to health care spending. These types of risks, such as smoking and inactivity, can be addressed through workplace wellness initiatives. As a result, wellness programs stand front and center as a sure way for promoting healthy behaviors and providing supportive environments to make sure our workforce sits (or stands) happy and healthy.

The idea of launching a wellness program, however, can seem daunting – especially for small businesses, which often lack the resources of their larger counterparts. A 2012 National Small Business Association survey found that 22 percent of respondents (decision makers of businesses with between two and 100 employees) offered wellness programs. Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed said there isn’t enough information available to small businesses about implementing wellness programs.

We don’t know a lot about the evidence for small business, but we do know what works for larger organizations. The RAND Corporation report cited five core elements essential to implementing a program. These elements also confirm evidence-based models published in both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Worksite Health Scorecard and the World Health Organization’s Healthy Workplace Framework.        

So, here’s how to take the best from the biggest and apply it to smaller organizations: 

  1. Secure leadership engagement at all levels. As senior executives and managers start to view wellness as a business priority and solid investment, the company will have the foundation it needs to support a wellness program.  When leaders and managers across all levels empower employees to participate in the development of the program, participate in activities, and continue to put resources towards health and wellness, it sends a message to everyone that this is something the company values.
  2. Ask employees what they need and want. It’s essential to get a response from employees to design programs in a way that create opportunities engagement.  This means making sure activities are convenient, easily accessible, and most importantly, address the underlying needs and interests of the workforce.
  3. Access and utilize existing resources and relationships. Start by looking at what you are already working with. Do you have five minutes in scheduled meetings to talk about wellness goals, or have health plan offerings that you could promote at little or no cost?
  4. Develop and execute an effective communication strategy. Using multiple communication channels, delivering clear messages and informing employees about the importance of these programs should be prioritized and consistent.
  5. Check in. Conducting periodic program evaluations can help organizations create a feedback process and determine what’s working and what’s not. This saves time and money in the long run.

These five steps are the building blocks to creating a “culture of health” that is employee-centered. Investing in workplace wellness is a long-term strategy to impact significant employer-facing costs such as health care, workers compensation, and the costs associated with recruiting and retaining high quality employees. 

If you’re searching for assistance in creating a culture of health, The Center for Worker Health and Environment offers a range of free resources. Go here for more information.

With enough support, a happy and health employee could lead to a happier and healthier business.

Lee Newman is a professor at the Colorado School of Public Health and co-directs Health Links Colorado at the Center for Worker Health and Environment. He will serve as a keynote speaker for the 7th Annual Colorado Culture of Health Conference, April 30, 2014.

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