5 Best Practices for Implementing Successful Workplace Wellness Programs

According to Gallup, the annual per-person cost of lost productivity due to sick days is $28,800 among employees ranked with the lowest well-being scores. However, for those with the highest well-being scores, the per-person annual cost is only $840.

This huge cost differential is the reason why employers are increasingly focusing on robust workplace wellness programs. What’s more, when health and well-being are actively promoted in the workplace, companies are 2.5 times more likely to be viewed as top-performing organizations. As a result, meaningful well-being perks can help organizations attract and retain the best talent in the field and drive meaningful business outcomes.

Not just a nice-to-have: How workplace wellness programs impact business results

Corporate wellness initiatives reduce costs on multiple levels: when employees are healthier, they demonstrate greater productivity because of less time off due to illnesses. Lost productivity costs are nontrivial: A 2009 study showed that among the thousands of employees surveyed in over 10 employers, lost productivity costs were 2.3 times higher than pharmacy or medical costs. What’s more, SEB estimates that moving 10% of its employees from high-risk and medium-risk to low-risk health status yields an ROI of 6 to 1.

Although harder to measure, successful workplace wellness programs have demonstrated their effectiveness in fostering deeper bonds between employees. Workplace wellness programs require trust between an employer and an employee, since health is such a personal issue. When these programs take off, employees experience higher morale and contribute to a positive workplace culture, all of which influence key metrics around productivity and retention.

Behavior change is a daunting task for employers, especially when it is in the realm of personal health. Employees are more receptive to change, however, than their employers might initially think:

Among employees with access to a workplace wellbeing program, 60% say they are inspired by their company culture to make healthy choices.

Workplace culture and wellness programs positively feed off of each other, too: 87.4% of employees state that wellness positively impacted work culture, and 48.9% of employees surveyed said they participated in the program just to be included in the workplace culture, according to Virgin Pulse’s 2014 study.

Leadership and managers may know the importance of corporate wellness programs, but designing and implementing an effective one is a whole different story. If your program is still in its infancy, we have good news for you: winning pioneer programs at other organizations have already proved that success is possible, and they’ve illuminated the best pathways to take to get there:

Five best practices for establishing stellar corporate wellness programs:

  1. Program commitment by leadership and managers: When senior leaders are public about their participation, other employees are inspired to participate. For example, Johnson & Johnson identifies a “champion” for each component of its wellness program, who is a member of the senior management team and responsible for that component’s promotion at the organizational level. Although an advisory board designs their corporate wellness programs and campaigns, managers at each office drive participation. In this way, employees have familiar leaders and friends to collaborate with for wellness program events.
  2. Tailor the wellness program launch for each specific office/site: It is common to see corporate campaigns such as “5-a-day, the veggie way” or the “10,000” step challenge implemented at the organizational level. Once these are launched, it is up to individual managers to carry on the proverbial torch and organize local events catered to the culture of each office. This practice facilitates the greatest levels of camaraderie and team bonding for program activities. What’s more, company leadership must ensure that front-line managers have adequate resources and support to carry out launch events. For these events, companies like FedEx and Johnson & Johnson offer standardized training for managers in order to promote base-level consistency and expertise.
  3. Choose the timing of your launch wisely: When you roll-out a new wellness program, there is always the potential for employees to greet it with confusion. Why this program, and why now? When you pair your program with a specific event, however, it provides a greater foundation for traction in the workplace. For example, if your campaign is focused around improving cardiac health and promoting regular aerobic exercise, you could time your launch event around February since it is American Heart Month.
  4. Maintain a diverse selection of programs: Wellness is very personal, and different employees will be motivated by different wellness acts. Kaiser Permanente’s Live Well Be Well Campaign has offerings in six major categories: healthy eating, physical activity, emotional health and wellness, prevention, and healthy workplace and community. The University of Delaware goes above and beyond by making the selection of programs fun for employees: they are given an allotted amount of fake “dollars” with which they can sign up for various classes (ex: Healthy Eating 101 or Group Exercise), depending on their interests.
  5. Promote your program during the onboarding process: When you feature wellness initiatives in early meetings with new hires, you have the opportunity to win their participation from day one. For example, John Deere encourages employees to complete an online HRA within the first 60 days of their employment by including a link on the checklist for new hires. HP offers workplace health and safety training during the onboarding procedure, but the company also requires that employees take an online refresher course annually so that the lessons learned during onboarding continue to stick.

health and wellnessInterested in learning more about implementing a successful well-being program? Check out WeSpire’s well-being Project Library to see how behavioral technology can drive meaningful long-term impact for your employees and company.