Wellness Programs, the Right Way

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businessman meditating under tree in officeThe goal with any wellness program is to facilitate a healthy work environment. This will increase engagement and lower healthcare costs. Wellness programs, which are thoughtfully implemented, do just this, but wellness programs that are pushy and intrusive, will do quite the opposite.

The benefits of a successful wellness program are plentiful, including less down time due to illness, higher retention and job satisfaction and increased productivity. With new healthcare initiatives on the horizon, wellness programs are going to become even more popular. Smoking cessation programs, workout and weight loss programs have shown proven health benefits, and reduced healthcare costs.

Whether you’re improving or implementing a wellness program in your organization, there are some very important dos and don’ts to consider. Matthew Faustman of Forbes sums up wellness programs in a great way,

“As you might imagine, it’s a kind of carrot-and-stick question: Do employers entice employees (the carrot version) to participate in wellness programs, or do they punish employees (the stick version) who refuse to participate?”

Those employers who use the “stick version” are having a difficult time getting employees on board. Penn State University is having this problem with their employees. They are experiencing some serious push back on their pushy wellness program. The university charged a monthly non-compliance fee for those employees who did not agree to fill out the wellness questionnaire.

You might wonder why anyone would fork over cash instead of just taking the survey. Well, apparently the questionnaire contained questions that solicited some very personal information. The form required information about marital status, finances and job specifics. The questionnaire even went so far as to ask female employees if they planned on a pregnancy within the next year.

While the motive behind these misguided attempts at engagement is for the best of everyone involved, wellness is a personal and touchy subject, and should be handled as such. A healthier workforce is good for everyone and it saves all parties more money. Wellness programs give employers the opportunity to show their organization that they are valued, but they need to be implemented with thoughtfulness and tact.

On that note, Faustman adds,

“Ultimately, it’s about creating a sense of engagement rather than accountability. It also comes down to helping employees get excited about being part of a healthy culture.”

Companies like Progressive and Twitter have seen incredible returns on their investments in on-site gyms and healthy catering options. Good for them. Not everyone has the budget, or even half the budget for programs like theirs. We can all agree that any investment in employees is a good one, but the funds aren’t always there. The Wall Street Journal pulled together several great ideas for low-budget, easy ways to facilitate wellness in the workplace:

  • Clean out the vending machines and replace junk food with healthier snack options.
  • Invest in pedometers. They are an easy and cheap way to get employees talking about fitness. Some insurance companies will even provide them free of charge, or at a reduced price.
  • Give employees facts about the fast food they usually turn to. Posters with nutrition information in break rooms and cafeterias can be very effective in fostering better food choices.
  • Offer employees health-risk assessments. Insurance companies or third-party vendors can provide these for a small fee.
  • Reviews claims and find out where your workforce needs the most wellness education.

Wellness programs should be confidential and voluntary. Personal wellness and fitness can be a contentious subject; going about it the wrong way can cause serious damage to the culture and brand. Framing the subject in a way that promotes value and caring goes a long way in engagement and effectiveness of the program.

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Courtney McGann is the content creator and PR gal for Red Branch Media, an Omaha-based marketing firm. Red Branch Media was formed in 2006 as a simple consultancy. Today, the firm is a full-service B2B marketing agency, primarily focused on human resources and global workforce vendors. In the past Courtney has managed online communities, professional social outlets, marketing campaigns and event planning.