Employer Wellness Programs: Six Tips to Maximize Employee Satisfaction

While the jury may be out on whether wellness programs improve employees’ long-term health, and the status of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s wellness rules, several recent studies show that employees welcome such support, and the benefits to employers extend far beyond improvements in absenteeism. In fact, one recent study, reported in the Harvard Business Review, noted:

… when people reported participating in a wellness program, they noted greater satisfaction with the activities offered, they perceived themselves as healthier and more productive at work, and they had a more positive attitude toward their employer. Perhaps not surprising, 79 percent of employee participants say they are extremely satisfied with their wellness program, compared to 41 percent of employee nonparticipants. They also indicated they were more likely than nonparticipants to stay with their employer and to refer someone to the company.

Knowing this, why wouldn’t employers offer wellness programs if they can boost employee productivity and satisfaction through improved health? Frankly, one reason is that many don’t know where to start. Also, it can be difficult to measure ROI on these plans, making many employers question if the investment is worth it.

However, many employees value programs that encourage them to improve their health, and luckily, there are lower-cost ideas to help you get started. In honor of Employee Wellbeing Month, here are six tips to building a wellness program that will excite your employees and improve their health.


1.Have a plan

With so many options available, it might be tempting to start up a bunch of programs at once. But having a plan in place allows you to communicate the program to your employees ahead of time, obtain management buy-in (see #2 below), strategically roll out programs to specific audiences, and gauge employee acceptance, as well as control costs. Remember that you’ll need to reach individuals with differing levels of interest in and knowledge of wellness programs, so one size will NOT fit all.

2.Obtain leadership support

Employees like to see their management “walk the walk.” If employee wellness is truly an important initiative for your company, make sure your management team not only supports, but visibly participates in, elements of the wellness program.

3.Start small (and then expand as needed)

Not every program needs to start with a wide range of services and benefits; until your workforce has “bought in” to the concept, you’ll want to manage your investment. Start with smaller, less-expensive initiatives and build out once your organization feels comfortable with the basics. For example, you could stock the kitchens with healthier food and drink options, provide healthier options at company lunch meetings and events, more heavily promote your EAP, and post health tips and tricks on your website, around the workplace or via email. After that, you can expand to more comprehensive programs that require employee engagement, such as team walking competitions (count your steps over a period of time; winning team wins a prize) and/or a Wellness Webinar series (track how many employees sign up or view the recording).

4.Make sure employees know about the program!

In the survey cited earlier, 69 percent of employees say the biggest barrier to their participation in wellness programs is lack of information. Make sure your managers and supervisors are equipped to discuss the program(s) with their direct reports. As you garner more and more success stories, encourage those employees to share their stories. Use multiple communications channels—paper, face-to-face, email, social media, even video—to spread the word. Repeat your message over and over—the old marketing “rule of seven” (people need to “hear” a message seven times before they’ll act to buy or use a product or service) is still applicable in many cases, though your “sweet spot” may be more or less.

5.Don’t ignore financial wellness.

PwC’s 2017 Employee Financial Wellness Survey found that 53 percent of employees are stressed about their finances; those employees are more likely to be distracted by their finances at work, miss work due to their personal financial issues and cite health issues caused by financial stress. As with health-focused programs, there are a range of low- to no-cost options available. Check with your savings or pension plan TPA for resources; ask them or your broker to hold on-site information sessions (during lunch breaks or during the evening when family members can attend). Topics might include budgeting, mortgages, wills and other important estate documents and debt management.

6.Don’t forget to engage remote employees

If your company has remote employees, it’s important to cater to them as well since they won’t be able to benefit from wellness programs that require them to be inside the office. For starters, live stream any on-site fitness or wellness seminars, webinars, or presentations so off-site employees can watch them. Also, include them in any health contests, raffles, or team-based competitions and adjust as needed for their participation so they don’t feel excluded. Publicize both onsite and remote employee wellness achievements to increase engagement and camaraderie amongst employees.

Remote workers can also benefit from financial wellness programs that we discussed previously. If, down the road, you offer either financial or health-based consultations on-site, try to make them available to remote employees via telephone or Skype.

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