Building a Successful Workplace Wellness Program

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Employees spend an average of almost nine hours a day at work—more awake hours than any other place—so it seems logical that employers would want to develop a workplace that encourages and promotes healthy behaviors. Effective and successful workplace wellness programs can help improve an organization’s culture and change lives. Companies can also benefit from lower turnover rates, fewer absences, increases in productivity and higher job satisfaction.

Designing a Wellness Program

Decades after the launch of the Wellness Council of America, one might think that the steps for getting a wellness program off the ground are easy—give employees a gym membership or stop bringing in sweet treats. Hold Weight Watchers meetings or teach yoga classes onsite for interested employees. Support employee athletic endeavors such as running in a 5k by paying their entry fees.

However, it’s not that simple. Lack of employee engagement, a shortage of leadership support, and complicated incentives all have the potential to derail all have the potential to derail your wellness program before it starts. Here are a few tips on how to build a successful workplace wellness program and some things you will want to avoid as you build your successful workplace wellness program.

Plan First

Don't rush into a workplace wellness program. Instead, take your time to develop a formal strategic plan with measurable goals. Without a plan, you will always be reacting to the pressure of the day instead of focusing on specific objectives. As part of this plan, be sure to get buy-in from management and include as many employees and departments as you can. Consider recruiting employees for a wellness committee to help you reach across the entire company. The more people involved, the easier it will be to spread the word about the program.

Don't assume you need a large budget. Exercise creativity in identifying free activities to improve employee health. Things like walking meetings or healthy potlucks can help promote a healthy workplace without breaking the bank.

Optics and Inclusiveness

Show your employees they are valued. You want your wellness program to demonstrate that the company cares about employees’ health, not give the impression the company is coercing them to take a Health Risk Assessment. Keep it simple and straightforward—don't be negative or insult employees and don't build a wellness program with only the intent to decrease health care costs. Don't build a complicated wellness program. If employees don't understand wellness offerings or don’t know how to participate, they will get frustrated and give up.

Position the wellness program as something much bigger than just a human resources (HR) initiative. Think about how the program will strategically impact the business and how it plays a role in your culture. However, involve HR and be sure to apply equitable principles to your program to ensure inclusiveness. For example, if your organization has a night shift, provide night shift workers the same access to wellness events and programming as the day shift.

Stick with It

Give your workplace wellness culture time to develop. Don't stop the wellness program because it hasn’t saved millions of dollars, but make sure you have realistic expectations. Behavior change takes time, and most wellness programs do not see a positive return on investment for at least 18 months. One thing to remember is that you won't be able to tell if the program is working if you aren't measuring it. Look into ways to collect data on your employees’ health status. Biometric screenings are a great way to collect objective data.

Once the program is up and running don't put it on autopilot. Run regular reports and assess how your wellness program is improving employee health. Your program should evolve with your employees. Another way to plan for success is to avoid selecting programs that are not relevant to your workforce. A smoking cessation program, for example, will do little to impact costs if smoking and its related illnesses are not cost-drivers for your health insurance plan.

Prioritize Privacy

Don't forget to address employee privacy. Some employees may ask, "What do they need that information for? Can they fire me because of my poor health? Stress repeatedly that personal health information is confidential.


Wellness can have a profound effect on your company culture, turnover rates, recruitment efforts, and overall productivity. Follow these recommendations and your workplace wellness implementation will go so smoothly, that you’ll wonder why you waited so long to get started.