Workplace Wellness Programs

Getting Your Program Started

Once an organization decides it wants to implement a workplace wellness program, the first question is often, “What kinds of activities should we include?” Before you have that discussion, you should lay the groundwork for your program and gather more information. The following is a list of steps you can take to get your wellness program started.

Gain Support from Management

Support from all levels of management is key to the success of your wellness program. To ensure the support of management, inform managers about the program early on and encourage them to participate. Communicate the program’s goals and benefits clearly and often. Gaining management support will ensure you have sufficient resources and staff time to develop your wellness program.

Assemble a Workgroup

Your wellness workgroup is a committee responsible for promoting the workplace wellness program, planning activities, recruiting team leaders and conducting evaluations. The size of the workgroup will depend on the size of your company and the scope of the program or activities. The workgroup should be large enough to represent your workforce and should include staff that represents various departments, such as marketing, union representatives, human resources and administrative staff. If you already have a wellness or health promotion committee or other groups interested in taking on this role, involve them in the workgroup.

Designate a Coordinator

Management or the workgroup should identify a wellness coordinator to oversee the program. Although members of the workgroup can share responsibilities, having one person in charge of coordinating efforts increases the likelihood the program is managed well. The level of success for a wellness program is often linked to the coordinator’s time and ability. It is important that some or all of the coordinator’s time be dedicated to the wellness program. If that is not possible, consider contracting with an outside party to provide assistance.

Schedule Workgroup Meetings

The workgroup should meet regularly, at least on a quarterly basis. The workgroup may meet more often during peak times when planning or implementing new activities or programs. The frequency of meetings will depend on what the workgroup plans to accomplish.

Analyze Your Needs

Complete a workplace environmental assessment and conduct an employee interest survey to collect information on the topics that would be of most interest to the staff. Set program priorities and plan initiatives based on the results of these assessments in order to improve your return on investment (ROI).

Develop an Action Plan

Action plans should include specific goals and objectives, strategies to meet these goals, a timeline, a budget and an evaluation plan. If your goals are clearly identified, it will be easier to gauge the effectiveness of your wellness program.

Invest Accordingly

Building a successful workplace wellness program requires time as well as money. Some larger organizations may spend 20 hours per week for three to six months preparing to launch a workplace wellness program.

Costs will fluctuate depending on whether costs are paid by you, employees, or the costs are shared. The Wellness Council of America estimates that a wellness program costs between $100 and $150 per employee each year, but can produce an ROI of between $300 and $450. Keep in mind that the ROI will likely be higher with more comprehensive programs.

Implement and Communicate the Plan

You need an effective communications strategy to put your plan into motion and to encourage employee participation. In addition, be sure to educate employees so they understand why you are implementing a wellness program and what benefits they can gain from participating.

Evaluate Outcomes

Periodically review your program goals and compare outcomes to your goals and objectives. Keep employees involved in the evaluation process and adjust programs and initiatives based on employee feedback and evaluation results.

Following the steps above and not rushing the planning process will make your workplace wellness program more successful in the end.

Download the checklist PDF to assess your workplace as well as to identify wellness program strengths and areas that need improvement.

FAQs about Wellness Programs

When you are considering implementing a workplace wellness program, you may have a lot of questions. Below are some answers to frequently asked questions about wellness initiatives.

We can’t do a comprehensive program right now, but is it still worth doing something?

Absolutely—even a small activity can plant the seeds of success for your program to grow. Engage in some low-cost activities, like providing a health and wellness bulletin board or newsletter. You can also coordinate walking groups or encourage managers to hold walking meetings when it is nice outside. These small steps can promote a healthier workplace.

There is so much we could do in our program. Where do we start?

After you have secured management support, researching the health needs of your employees is

the best way to identify which activities will resonate most with your employees. Make sure the first programs you develop are fun and interactive, because they will be the first impression that employees get of your wellness program. Start with programs that have broad appeal instead of those that might only be of interest to a smaller, more targeted group. In addition, because there are many regulations governing workplace wellness programs, make sure to review legal considerations or consult with legal counsel before implementing a wellness program.

We have tried health and lifestyle programs but participation is small. What can we do?

Keep trying, and be patient. It will take some time for your program to get going. Remember that, ultimately, you are trying to change workplace culture, and change is a process that happens slowly over time.

One approach that has proven successful for employers, though, is to offer incentives for participation or attendance. For instance, you could offer free healthy snacks if employees attend a wellness meeting. Another approach is to invite people in the organization who are well-liked and respected to participate in your program in the hopes that it will encourage other employees to join as well.

We have a lot of work to do in the area of nutrition. How can we avoid getting the reputation of being the “food police”?

In educational sessions, talk about the health issues around fats, added sugars and portion sizes, but avoid demonizing unhealthy foods. If people feel like they are being attacked for their lifestyle habits, they may be reluctant to participate in future wellness initiatives.

Instead, empower employees by teaching them the benefits of healthy eating and the positive impact it can have on their life (more energy, better sleep, etc.). Encourage employees to add more healthy foods to their diets and make healthy foods available at work to encourage employees to grab an apple rather than buy a candy bar out of the vending machine. As employees begin to eat healthier, they will notice how unhealthy foods make them feel sluggish, and they will begin to avoid them on their own.

CEO and leadership support is important, but they will probably never come to lunch-and-learns or walking groups. How can we show their support to employees?

Some of the best support management can provide is HR and financial resources for the program. Endorsing a policy change that supports wellness is another important type of high level support. In addition, you can plan a program kick-off and have leadership visibly present and participating. Get the event on their calendars early, or ask leadership to write a short email or intranet post that demonstrates their excitement about the wellness initiative.

Some employees are suspicious about the motives of the program. What can we do about it?

Employees may be hesitant to share their health information and participate in wellness activities because they may feel like employers shouldn’t be monitoring their health. Wellness programs may also cause unhealthy employees to become nervous about their job security, especially if your company has recently gone through downsizing.

The most important thing you can do to curtail suspicion is to encourage honest, open communication. Tell your employees not only what you are planning, but also why you are doing it. Discuss the benefits of wellness programs for the company and for the employees. You can mention the high cost of health care as an incentive for creating the program, but also talk about how you value your employees’ well-being and want to equip them with the resources to live healthy lives. Reassure them that their personal health information will be protected and only used for wellness purposes.

Source: Wisconsin Worksite Wellness Resource Kit

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