How to institute a workplace wellness program

In the third installment in our HR series, we turn to one of the key ways employers can reduce turnover and not only retain employees, but also make them want to come to work every day for an employer who cares about them and their wellness.

young, smiling woman facing skywardAlthough some employers think that a wellness program is only for the big guys, there are things even small companies can do to help their workers maintain good health. It is truly a worthwhile investment. As we all know, good health saves businesses money in terms of reduced absences, greater productivity, reduced stress, lower medical costs and — ultimately — increased profits.

A Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Annual Trust study of company wellness programs in 2015 found that 50 percent of firms offering health benefits in 2015 also offered wellness programs targeting tobacco cessation, weight loss and other lifestyle or behavioral coaching. As one might expect, large firms with at least 200 employees offer these programs more often than smaller companies.

But it is possible for even small businesses to put some features in place to enhance wellness. You should design a program that works for YOU and YOUR employees. Here are some simple ways to get started.

  • What’s in your vending machines? Are you tempting your employees with unhealthy snacks? Out with the bad, in with the good. Replace candy and chips with granola bars or fruit cups.
  • Get them moving. Create a friendly competition among workers or departments by investing in pedometers for your employees and encourage them to compete based on the number of steps each team takes each day.
  • Most of us would be alarmed at the number of calories we eat each day. Some companies have created a pocket guide to calories for common fast-food restaurants and unhealthy snacks. That keeps the facts in front of your workers, hopefully causing them to think twice before going across the street to the burger joint. Most restaurants post the nutritional information for their food onsite or online.
  • You can provide a simple health assessment for your employees for just a few dollars each. Perhaps your insurance company can provide them, or check with a local healthcare provider to see if they have someone on staff who could do a basic screening for your workers. No one wants to hear bad news, but in some cases it may motivate an employee to adopt better habits. Ensure that the assessments are voluntary, and guarantee that the information will be kept confidential. You might even offer an incentive for workers to participate, including a modest gift card, a gas card, tickets to a sporting event or a half day off with pay.
  • Review your employees’ healthcare claims. Do you see a pattern in terms of illnesses, injuries or hospitalizations? Consider bringing in experts to talk to your employees, particularly if you are seeing numerous similar problems emerge, such as lung conditions, bad backs or diabetes.
  • Consider a friendly competition for overall improvement in your workforce. What incentive could you offer to your entire team for a 10 percent weight reduction companywide or for halting the use of tobacco? All of us can use a bit of peer support when we are trying to make difficult lifestyle changes. You can build a sense of teamwork at the same time you are enhancing your workers’ health by creating a program that encourages them to support one another.
  • Have a fully stocked and equipped kitchen available. The best way to encourage healthy eating is to provide options for healthy cooking. Encourage employees to take turn preparing lunches, and keep plenty of cookbooks on hand that include quick and healthy recipes.
  • Map a walking or jogging route around you facility, something that can be completed in 30 minutes at a brisk pace. You could even conduct walking meetings with a few employees. One company instituted a morning and afternoon recess for employees — 15 minute breaks during which they are not allowed to sit down.
  • Reward unused sick days. Perhaps a few hours off with pay to do holiday shopping? Or consider giving gift certificates for movies, dinner with family or the local bookstore.
  • Ensure workers can enjoy their weekends. Limit the off-time emails and requests for assistance. Let your staff truly relax and enjoy their time off. They will return to work on Monday less stressed and more eager to get back to work.
  • Create an online wellness program that offers reminders to workers to take breaks, do a few exercises at their work station or step outside for a few minutes to destress.
  • Check with your local university or community college to see if students would be interested in coming to your site for a few hours each month to provide massages. Ask your employees if anyone could lead a yoga class a few times a month.

Wellness programs do not necessarily have to set you back financially. There are no- and low-cost things you can do to encourage healthy habits and a more active lifestyle.

Whatever program you design must have the employees at the center and should reflect their interest and willingness to participate. It should not be about the bottom line. Well-presented, implemented and rewarded, a good wellness program will help ensure the bottom line takes care of itself.


In case you missed the prior installments: