A Fresh Look at Wellness in the Workplace

Designing programs and strategies that will make a difference

By Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP January 9, 2020
woman in business suit carrying yoga mat

​Wellness in the workplace—gym memberships, financial counseling, retirement advice, mental health, etc.—has become a staple in many of our organizations. Wellness has played a significant role for me over the past two years, as I successfully lost 100 pounds during that period and continue to stay disciplined and focused in the gym. The weight loss (per doctor's orders) not only made an impact on my physical well-being, but also on my mental and spiritual well-being in terms of personal and professional growth.photo of Matt Burr

As HR leaders, we need to define wellness in the workplace and truly understand what it means for our organizations and workforces. How do we do this? Ask employees which wellness incentives and perks will add value to their professional and personal lives. Designing wellness-related activities and encouraging your workforce to actively participate in them can and will make a difference throughout the workplace. Here's how:

  • Conduct wellness surveys. Survey your workforce (the best time is during open enrollment) to understand if there are needs for new or additional wellness-related perks or incentives, to determine whether existing perks and incentives are being utilized or underutilized, and to discover opportunities to build in new and creative wellness strategies. HR professionals need to have an understanding of this information so they can suggest and implement changes. The SHRM competencies of Communication, Relationship Management, Critical Evaluation and HR Expertise can help you accomplish this.
  • Partner with insurance companies and other providers. Are there benefits and wellness incentives that your organization is currently paying for but not fully utilizing, or could be paying for at a reduced rate? Read the fine print on contracts with your health care, workers compensation insurance and 401(k) administrators, and put your currently underutilized services to work. For instance, deliver helpful wellness information to employees by scheduling a biometric screening or a session with a retirement advisor a few times a year. Remember: it's not the scheduling of these events that makes the biggest impact, but how you communicate about them. The Business Acumen, Relationship Management and Communication competencies will provide the tools necessary to ensure that a partnership is successful and evolves along with the needs of your workforce.
  • Measure, measure, measure. If we are not measuring, we cannot improve. Without necessary data, we have unreliable and inconsistent information. Measuring successes and opportunities enables us as HR professionals to recommend changes and drive strategy. Data influences evolution, budgeting and decision-making. Create metrics that will make the largest impacts relating to wellness in your workplace: usage rates, survey results, on-site visits, costs, etc. Critical Evaluation, Business Acumen, Relationship Management and Communication are a few of the competencies that apply when designing, reviewing and communicating key performance indicators.

Wellness has become a central focus in my life; it can and will make a difference in all our lives. Make wellness a priority for 2020. Set goals and share them throughout your organization. Seek feedback and do not be afraid of change.

Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP,  is an HR consultant and an assistant professor at Elmira College. He holds master's degrees in business administration and in human resources & industrial relations, and a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt.

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