Step by Step: How to Begin a Worksite Wellness Program

By Michelle Carbery, Corporate Wellness Specialist at Independent Health

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that lost productivity due to absenteeism in the U.S. costs employers $225.8 billion annually, or $1,685 per employee. Employers who implement a comprehensive workplace wellness program can help bring down these costs, effect positive lifestyle changes among their workforce, and create a culture of health within their company.

Perhaps that’s why 67% of employers plan to expand their wellness programs in the next few years, according to a survey from the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) and Fidelity Investments.

As a corporate wellness specialist at Independent Health who works closely with local employers to deliver worksite wellness solutions, I’ve seen firsthand that when employees are better taken care of and taking part in managing their own health, they’re not only sick less, but when they’re at work they’re more efficient workers. That atmosphere is contagious, even out in the community. People want to work at these types of workplaces.

Sounds great! So how do you build a successful worksite wellness program?

First and foremost, it’s imperative that company leaders enthusiastically support the effort and provide incentives right from the get-go. After all, employees aren’t going to buy in to it unless they see it’s important to the whole organization. Choosing a wellness team or coordinator to drive and promote wellness efforts throughout the year is also key.

Once it’s been established who will take the lead, then consider these five steps:

Step 1: Determine Eligibility

Consider who you would like to include in your program. Do you want to engage only full-time, benefit-eligible employees? Will you include spouses? Will you allow those who opt out of company-sponsored health insurance to participate? You can always look at your company’s health insurance claims data to determine where the health care spend is greatest and use that information to set goals.

Step 2: Establish Incentives

When it comes to incentives, some companies offer paid time off, cash prizes, or gift cards. Others keep with a healthy living theme and offer professional, in-office massages, admission to healthy cooking classes, or “wellness” passes to leave work to see a doctor or go for a walk.

Have your wellness team or coordinator conduct an interest survey to gain employee input. Twenty percent of people are intrinsically motivated, meaning they will automatically do what they need to do to stay healthy. So, how do you motivate the other 80 percent? Are they competitive? Do they want recognition? Do they enjoy team activities? An interest survey can help you get those answers.

Step 3: Choose Challenges

Everyone loves a good challenge. This is your opportunity to choose the types of activities you want your employees to engage in throughout the year and how they will earn points toward your wellness incentive.

It’s important to find the right blend of programs that are balanced and meaningful to your employee population. This is another reason why the interest survey is so important. Do you need feel-good programs to boost morale? Do you have specific goals on managing weight and/or chronic disease? Do people simply need some motivation and education to live a little healthier?

Also, consider your industry. Employees in factory positions might benefit from an ergonomics program, for example. Or, employees working at a desk most of the day might benefit from steps challenges.

Step 4: Verify Employee Progress

Monitoring employees’ progress helps shape your wellness program moving forward. It’s important to make reporting measures as simple as possible for employees to ensure maximum participation. You can use paper tracking, create online reporting systems, or use health insurance claims data to award points. The companies I work with often utilize Independent Health’s customizable FitWorks® online program to track participation in wellness programs, doctor visits, and other measures.

In addition, I highly recommend that yearly surveys be conducted to assess the value of all the challenges and activities you offer through your program.

Step 5: Promote and Communicate

When you’re ready to launch your wellness program, consider the best way to reach and motivate your employees. I suggest offering a free, healthy lunch to introduce the program, or make it a mandatory meeting. Otherwise, incentivize employees to participate. Keep in mind that emails tend to get lost, particularly in busy office environments, so find other ways to reach employees. Some employers I work with post information on bathroom stalls where they have a captive audience. Be creative!

Creating a Culture of Health

For nearly 30 years, Independent Health has been providing employers throughout Western New York with the tools, resources and expertise they need to motivate their employees to take charge of their health. If you’re an employer who is interested in creating a healthier workplace, we may be able to assist you. For additional information, click here or contact your broker or an Independent Health benefit consultant today.

Michelle Carbery has been employed with Independent Health for 22 years and served as one of the company’s Corporate Wellness Specialists since April 2017. In her current role, she is responsible for creating, promoting and delivering wellness programs and presentations to local employer groups. Michelle is a certified Wellness Program Coordinator, Advanced Group Exercise (ACE) Instructor, Les Mills Body Pump® Instructor and SPINPower® Cycling Instructor. She also instructs a variety of group exercise classes at the Independent Health Family Branch YMCA in Williamsville.