In a society increasingly conscious of well-being, with the costs of health care benefits remaining high, many businesses have established or are considering employee wellness programs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has defined these programs as “a health promotion activity or organization-wide policy designed to support healthy behaviors and improve health outcomes while at work.”
Yet there’s a wide variety of ways to design and operate a wellness program. How can you ensure yours fulfills objectives such as reducing absenteeism and controlling benefits costs? Build it on a solid foundation.
Clearly, many business owners believe in wellness programs. Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, a 2017 study of 3,000 worksites by the CDC and researchers at the University of North Carolina found that almost 50% of those employers offered some type of health promotion or wellness program.
Since the pandemic hit, the focus of many wellness programs has begun to shift away from physical health to overall well-being. This means helping employees with improving their mental health, managing their finances and adjusting to remote work. (Some research has found that wellness programs don’t significantly improve short-term physical health or medical outcomes.)
Total leadership commitment
Whether it’s an existing wellness program or one you’re just starting, ask yourself a fundamental question: Who will champion our program? The answer should be: leaders at every level.
If a business takes a “top down” approach to wellness — that is, it’s essentially mandated for everyone by ownership — the program will likely struggle. Likewise, if a single middle manager or ambitious employee tries to lead the effort alone, while the rest of management looks on lackadaisically, the effort probably won’t meet its objectives.
Successful wellness programs are driven by total management buy-in — from the C-suite to middle management to leaders in every department.
A wellness program needs to be a natural and appropriate extension of your company’s existing culture. If it feels forced or “tone deaf,” employees may ignore the program or reflexively push back against it rather than approach it enthusiastically or simply with an open mind.
For example, if your business culture tends to be low-key and you engage a wellness vendor (such as a speaker) who shows up with a loud, flamboyant presentation, your staff may not appreciate what you’re trying to accomplish. Your wellness program’s materials and content should match the tenor and feel of your existing internal communications.
Ultimately, look to establish a “culture of wellness” at your company. For businesses that have never emphasized (or perhaps even discussed) healthy habits and lifestyles, doing so can present a great challenge. Be patient and persistent, bearing in mind that a cultural shift of this nature takes time.
Risks vs. benefits
These are just some of the foundational elements of an employee wellness program to bear in mind. We can help you estimate the costs and assess the risks vs. benefits of establishing or revising such a program.