There are a number of steps employers should take when
setting up a wellness program to make sure it will be effective. These
include obtaining support from senior management, assessing the current
level of wellness in the workplace, creating a customized operating
plan, launching the wellness plan, and communicating with and educating
employees about the plan. Finally, employers should continually measure
and assess the effectiveness of the workplace wellness program, adjusting
as necessary when needs are identified.
The critical first step in starting and running an effective
wellness program is getting senior management on board. In fact, save
for a few notable grassroots exceptions, most workplace wellness programs
do not result in a positive return on investment (ROI) without the
committed support of senior management. Of course, this is true for
any workplace initiative that aims to change employee behavior, which
should be the ultimate goal of every wellness program. According to
management guru Peter Drucker, “major change initiatives must be actively
led by senior management.” Other prominent organizations ranging from
the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse
and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to the Society
for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to the Wellness Councils of America
(WELCOA) agree: senior-level support is imperative to get maximum
employee acceptance of and participation in workplace wellness programs.
Senior executives are the people responsible for setting
priorities and allocating resources. To secure the financial resources
necessary to deliver effective programming or to have effective access
to the rest of the organization, the senior staff must be committed
to the effort. Moreover, senior executives can provide additional
assistance to link health promotion objectives to business outcomes—thus,
positioning health promotion as an integral part of the organization.
Last, but certainly not least, senior executives can significantly
increase the likelihood that an initiative will be ultimately successful
by crafting and implementing supportive corporate policy.
Make the business case for a wellness program. Profit, or at least sound financial practice, is the bottom line
of every business, and senior management absolutely needs to see the
financial benefits of incorporating wellness into the workplace culture.
Senior officers need to be convinced that wellness is not merely a
“nice” thing to do for employees’ health but that it’s also a “necessary”
thing to do for the bottom line financial health of the business.
Management expects bad news when it comes time to renew
health insurance contracts. Making the specific case requires gathering
crucial numbers such as the number and cost of workers' compensation
claims and disability claims, and the cost of lost productivity due
to sick days and light duty. Added to the rising increase of health
insurance, the financial case should be easy to make. Data is also
available about the cost of obesity, sedentary lifestyles, smoking,
and stress both in terms of healthcare costs and lost time at work.
This bad news should next be contrasted with the good
news about how the financial side of an effective workplace wellness
program works. A helpful step in gathering information is to research
other workplaces in the industry or the local community to find wellness
success stories close to home that will give senior management similar
scenarios to compare. More good news is that it doesn't take much
of an improvement (less than a 1 percent reduction in risk factors)
to make wellness initiatives pay off. In general, employers can earn
back the cost of programs over the course of 5 years if they can reduce
risk factors by less than 0.2 percent, according to Dr. Ron Goetzel
of Cornell University. Finally, wellness should be treated as an integral
part of the workplace organizational culture by referring to it with
the same terminology and respect that is used for other workplace
Important note. Once senior management
is on board, it will be critical to keep them apprised of progress
and results via formal reporting.
Assessment is required for any program to be successful.
That’s why businesses do market research, politicians take polls,
and producers show films to test audiences. Everyone who wants their
project to succeed needs to research the market, the buyer, and the
competition. “Know your audience” is the primary piece of advice for
speakers, writers, politicians, businesspeople, anyone who has a message
In the context of setting up a workplace wellness program,
this means understanding the needs of the company and those of the
employees and their families. For example:
• What wellness concerns are unique to the industry (e.g.,
ergonomic issues for processing plants)?
• What wellness concerns are unique to the workplace (e.g.,
areas with excessive noise or wet floors)?
• What wellness initiatives would most benefit employees
(e.g., weight loss programs)?
• What wellness initiatives do employees want (e.g. gym
• What potential barriers to success does the wellness
program face (e.g., lack of participation, short-term commitments,
or high employee turnover)?
For a wellness program—as well as any other workplace
project—to be effective, all facets must be defined. There must be
a detailed operating plan that provides specific definitions of what
“works” and doesn’t work for the workplace. The following items should
be an integral part of the wellness program operating plan:
• Mission statement
• Specific initiatives
• Implementation timeline
• Evaluation plan
In addition, it is important to consider and develop
an organizational structure to support the initiatives, such as a
wellness team and committees to run individual initiatives.
Mission statement. An effective
wellness mission statement is broad enough to include the many aspects
of wellness (i.e., including as many of the six dimensions of wellness
discussed above as possible), and detailed enough to mention the specific
wellness initiatives the program offers. Leave room for flexibility
to add and delete initiatives as the program offerings change. The
wellness mission should also support the company's mission statement
Objectives. Based on demographic
and medical research, list the problem areas in the workforce. Once
these are identified, set specific objectives in each health area
using the so-called SMART system. SMART objectives are:
• Specific. Goals are clearly defined.
• Measurable. Goals are quantifiable
with specific numbers.
• Achievable (attainable or actionable). Goals are possible for employees to meet with the resources provided.
• Relevant (realistic or results-oriented). Goals are appropriate to employees and the organization's mission
• Timed (time-framed or time-specific). Goals are to be achieved within a set time.
Goal-setting, both for the wellness program and for employees,
is crucial. In order to change employee behavior, employees need SMART
goals that inspire and motivate. When employees get specific targets
to aim for that are challenging yet achievable, they are more likely
to rise to the occasion. And when the wellness program has specific,
targeted goals, results can be measured against those goals to demonstrate
the effectiveness of the programs.
Identifying specific initiatives for achieving
goals. Continue the process of integrating wellness into
the workplace culture by including the wellness initiatives already
in place, such as health insurance, dental insurance, employee assistance
program (EAP), or health savings account (HSA). Perhaps some of the
objectives will involve modifying existing plans. Describe the initiatives
that will be used to achieve objectives. In choosing initiatives,
decide whether external or internal resources will be used. For those
programs kept in-house, create a leadership team and assign team members.
HR should take responsibility for the company health policies (insurance,
benefits, leave, disability, and vacation, as well as ensuring that
all federal and state regulations are followed). The HR manager should
also act as a point of contact for any other portions of the wellness
program (for example, a Weight Watchers® program,
exercise program, or smoking cessation program), but it will be more
effective for non-HR personnel to work as team leaders, mentors, and
coaches on the wellness team. Having employees involved on wellness
teams makes the team less intimidating to other employees and will
encourage more participation.
Whether using in-house or outside resources, choose the
initiatives that will best meet the organization's goals. If the workforce
is a typical American workforce, weight loss programs and/or "get
active" programs may be a good starting point. Regarding weight loss
choices, there are several commercial weight loss programs available
that include meetings and support groups. Consider partnering with
one of these groups that has a local chapter, such as Weight Watchers.
Meetings can be held in the workplace or off-site to include family
members as well.
For "get active" programs, consider partnering with the
local YMCA. The YMCA Healthier Communities Initiatives program can
help employees and their dependents get involved in an active lifestyle.
. In addition, many employers start a formal walking program by mapping
out routes in and around the worksite, issuing pedometers, and counting
At some point in the workplace wellness journey, a health
fair at the worksite may be a good option. Some workplaces may choose
to kick off their wellness program with a health fair; others may
want to ease into their wellness program and help build momentum by
promoting an upcoming health fair at which more wellness initiatives
will be revealed, and/or prizes awarded.
Develop a communication plan. The
wellness operating plan also needs to detail how the wellness message
will be communicated. There are several options, including but certainly
not limited to:
• Including a brief wellness tip in workplace meetings
• Sending a weekly wellness e-mail tip
• Including a wellness section in workplace newsletters
• Hanging wellness posters on cafeteria or break room bulletin
• Distributing a wellness newsletter monthly or quarterly
• Conducting monthly or quarterly lunch time wellness talks
• Regularly communicating wellness success stories
Develop the implementation timeline. Create a specific timeline for the wellness program. Outline when
each step of each initiative will begin and end. Give ample time for
each step to be completed.
Plan for the ongoing evaluation of wellness
initiatives. Effective wellness operating plans need to
have a clear evaluation plan. This is the only way to know definitively
whether the initiatives have “worked.” In the evaluation plan, describe
how each initiative will be measured. Design pre- and post-assessment
forms for the overall wellness program and for individual initiatives.
Develop a budget for the wellness program. Even if the company does not intend on investing a significant amount
of money initially on the wellness program, an itemized budget is
still important. Follow the process and format for budgeting used
by other departments in the company. This will continue the process
of integrating wellness into the organizational structure and give
it the same level of importance as other departments.
When developing a budget, first consider the scope of
the program. How many employees will be involved? If it is a program
where employees have to elect not to participate, 80 percent
of employees are likely to participate. How many dependents and retirees
will be involved? Will there be paid guest speakers? Will the company
plan on buying equipment, such as pedometers? What kind of incentives
will be offered?
This is a good time to consider what kinds of incentives
the company would consider offering for participation in the wellness
program. Financial incentives can be great motivators. According to
some studies, the most effective monetary values run from $300 to
$1,000. If this expense is too great, consider smaller incentives,
such as discounts to sports or health food stores, gym memberships,
or extra vacation time.
Gather figures for outside speakers, equipment, incentives,
and other expenses. With these factors in mind, estimate what the
program will cost. Next, consider who will pay for the wellness program.
Will the employer pay all expenses? Will employees pay for the initiatives
they participate in? Will they share the expenses?
To help make the wellness program as effective as possible,
make sure the program launch includes these three elements:
Get senior management involved. As
noted above, a wellness program will succeed only if senior management
is part of the process and supports the initiative. Have senior management
speak at a kickoff event, or perhaps even challenge employees to a
contest to see if they can reach certain goals before senior managers
meet those goals.
Play to the audience. Remember that
effective wellness programs are aimed at the vast middle ground of
the employee population, those employees who are generally healthy
but who have one or two problem areas and are considered a medium
risk. For most workplaces, that encompasses approximately 80 percent
of the workforce. Also be sure to keep in mind and address the health
needs of employees’ family members and dependents.
Make it fun. Generate excitement
for wellness by making the launch activities enjoyable. Some workplaces
choose to launch their wellness programs with a health fair. If a
health fair is the kickoff activity, make sure it is well-organized
so that it will run smoothly.
Once the program is launched, it is important to continuously
communicate with employees. The real benefit to the company of a wellness
program is the long-term reduction in healthcare costs and healthier,
more productive employees. Therefore, maintain an ongoing effort to
communicate, educate, motivate, and empower employees with the goal
of changing behavior. The wellness program, initiatives, and goals
should be a regular part of employee communication.
Measuring the results of the overall wellness program
is vital to assess and adjust the program based on what works best
with a particular group at a particular location. Execute this step
in the same way as employee performance reviews, annual budgeting,
or other formal, annual, continual improvement efforts. Doing so provides
yet another way to ensure the wellness program is integrated into
the organizational culture. In other words, think of wellness performance
reviews as an (at least) annual time to report the progress and problems
in the wellness program, to make adjustments, and to set new goals.
Assessments should not measure only dollars and cents.
A financial ROI is critical and it is important to have positive numbers
to report to senior management to continue or even enlarge the scope
of your wellness program and perhaps receive a bigger budget. But
it is also important to measure health changes and employee satisfaction.
Employee satisfaction. Because the
success of the workplace wellness program depends on employee participation,
this is an important measurement. Some key indicators include employee
morale, absenteeism, and retention and turnover. An annual employee
survey is a good tool for gathering information that will help assess
employee satisfaction before and after the implementation of a wellness
program. In addition, statistics on who is participating in the program
and to what extent they are participating will provide important data
for measuring employee satisfaction.
Employee wellness. The goal of the
wellness program is to help employees stay well. When a program is
developed, first assess the current level of wellness. Based on the
health risks identified during the assessment, the wellness program
will focus on specific areas and goals, and established timelines
for achieving goals. Because the program targets key health concerns,
measuring related changes in employee health is important. Measurements
might include changes in BMI (body mass index), blood pressure, cholesterol
level, blood sugar, smoking habits, and prescription usage. In addition,
it is important to measure individual activity level.
ROI. A wellness program requires
a long-term commitment to improving employee health and, over time,
a company should realize financial benefits such as reduced healthcare
costs and greater employee productivity. However, it is important
to manage expectations in the short-term. So, while it is important
to immediately track and measure the return on a wellness investment,
it is important remember that most financial benefits will be long
ROI analysis deals strictly with the financial impact
of the wellness program and is fast becoming an essential evaluation
method for workplaces that invest in wellness. ROI analysis answers
the question, “For every dollar invested in wellness, how many dollars
does the employer get back?” Calculating ROI is critical to the long-term
success of a wellness program because it:
• Is a concrete way to validate the wellness program as
a business tool
• Can be used to justify the cost of the wellness program
to senior management
• Can be a useful tool for choosing future wellness initiatives
Using the following formula when measuring the ROI provides
the percentage of return earned for every wellness dollar spent.
ROI percent = ((Monetary Benefits minus Wellness Costs)
divided by Wellness Costs) multiplied by 100
To get the figures for this formula, keep track of wellness
costs, including: design and development (outside consultants for
health risk assessments, outside partnerships); promotion (newsletter
and poster printing); administration; delivery (staff, technology,
outside consultant); materials (pedometers, health fair supplies);
facilities (on-site exercise equipment, walking paths, outside gym
memberships); employee wages (wellness team members); and evaluation
(outside evaluation consultants). After wellness program implementation,
keep track of monetary benefits, including: health insurance savings;
productivity increases through presenteeism reductions; absenteeism
reductions; lower workers' compensation costs; and lower turnover
Two other measurements to consider are cost-effectiveness
analysis (CEA) and cost-benefit analysis (CBA). CBA works hand-in-hand
with ROI and monetizes all costs and all benefits. Results are then
presented in a ratio of benefit-to-cost and ROI. A 3-to-1 ROI means
$3 were saved for every dollar that was spent. Cost-effective analysis
is helpful when trying different programs to achieve the same wellness
initiative, such as smoking cessation or weight loss. The cost effectiveness
of Program A can be compared to the cost effectiveness of Program
B by looking at the cost for each employee who achieved a goal to
stop smoking or to reach goal weight. Costs include program discounts,
group rates, and inflation adjustments. Results are reported as an
incremental cost per unit of effectiveness for each respective program.