8 Steps to a Successful Workplace Wellness Program

William Byron

The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.

It’s the ultimate win-win situation: Creating a wellness program at your workplace is one of the best actions you can take for your employees and your organization. For every dollar spent on a well-designed wellness program, employers save on average $3.27 in reduced employee medical costs and $2.73 on reduced absenteeism, according to research from Harvard University.  Worksite wellness programs help employees get and stay healthy by giving them the education, tools, and support needed to transform poor lifestyle habits into good ones, especially for quitting smoking, eating better, exercising, and seeking preventive health services. Establishing a wellness program at your worksite can increase employee engagement and job satisfaction, encourage team building among staff, lead to greater productivity, and create a happier, healthier work culture.

The American Heart Association (AHA) notes that to be considered comprehensive, workplace wellness programs should provide:

Health education

A supportive social and physical environment

Integration into other organizational initiatives

Linkage to other related programs, such as employee health and safety programs

Wellness screenings

The steps below can help you meet these five criteria and develop a comprehensive wellness program in your city or town. 

Form a Committee. Establish a wellness committee to determine the needs of your staff and the resources available to implement a wellness program to address those needs. Try to include staff from all departments to ensure everyone is aware of the programs and resources available to your employees and their families.

Include the Right Components: Almost 40 percent of all deaths, 80 percent, of all chronic diseases, and 75 percent of all healthcare expenditures in the United States are related to Americans not being able to sustain four healthy habits, according to the AHA. Those habits are abstinence from smoking, adequate physical activity, eating five fruits and vegetables daily, and consuming little or no alcohol. Providing education, challenges, support and services to help employees sustain these good health habits is important to any comprehensive workplace wellness program. Stress reduction and other mind-body activities are also important elements to a successful wellness program, and many programs now also incorporate oral wellness.

To be sure the program you offer meets your employees’ specific needs and reduces healthcare costs, your wellness committee should review claims data, noting the most frequent and most costly claims. The committee can use this information to recommend educational materials, activities, and services for your wellness program that address specific lifestyle changes to reduce those claims.

Assess for Success! Individuals should start a wellness program with a clear understanding of their current health status, so they can set health goals and create a plan for achieving them. Comprehensive workplace wellness programs typically offer two types of assessments. One is a confidential self-assessment, usually taken online, which can provide the individual a health status report as well as health goals to strive for.

The second type of assessment is a biometric screening done by a third party—often the participant’s primary care physician, or medical professionals hired as part of the wellness program. The biometric screening can provide individuals with “vital statistics” including their blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels, body mass index, and waist circumference. Research indicates that simply learning these numbers makes individuals more likely to take steps to improve their health.

Designate a Wellness Coordinator. Encourage someone on your staff to be a coordinator who publicizes and runs worksite challenges and other wellness activities. Having one go-to person for the wellness program streamlines the program and may increase staff participation. For example, among HealthTrust Members, those groups that have a HealthTrust Health & Safety Coordinator on their staff typically have significantly higher completion rates of health assessments and biometric health screenings, and higher participation rates in all components of Slice of Life, HealthTrust’s wellness program. Ideal candidates for a coordinator may be a human resources staffer, a member of a safety, wellness, or joint loss management committee, or any employee interested in promoting a healthy work environment.

Offer Rewards. Better health is its own reward, but studies show that employee participation is higher in wellness programs that offer financial incentives, such as reimbursements, cash rewards, and raffle entries. Financial incentives can also be effective motivators in helping people quit smoking, lose and maintain weight loss, and modify other behaviors that are often difficult to change.

Include Professional Input. Wherever possible, offer your employees the online or in-person services of experts such as personal health coaches, nutritionists, stress-reduction experts, physicians, or other medical professionals. The professional input could come in the form of webinars and/or workshops presented at your workplace, or ongoing help from, for example, an online personal health coach who can answer participants’ questions, send them educational materials related to their goals, and offer them encouragement.

Heed HIPAA.  Employees may be hesitant to participate in a workplace wellness program if they are concerned about how their personal health information will be used. Make sure your wellness program is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA); reassure your employees their personal health information is fully protected and will not be shared with their employer or anyone at their worksite.

Make it Fun. Whether coworkers team up to compete for rewards for reaching fitness and diet goals, hold walking meetings, share healthy potluck lunches, or engage in other activities, a successful wellness program can energize your employees, increase staff bonding, and create a happier, healthier environment. Doesn’t that sound like a great place to work?

American Heart Association article: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2015/04/13/CIR.0000000000000206.full.pdf

Harvard University Study: http://www.workplacewellness.com/images/Workplace_Wellness_Programs_can_generate_savings.pdf

William Byron is the Assistant Manager, Health and Safety, for HealthTrust, Inc..   He may be contacted at 603.230.3311 or at wbryon@healthtrustnh.org.

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