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To Be Effective, Wellness Programs Should Be Inclusive

There are benefits to making wellness a companywide effort

Chris Cutter is the founder and CEO of LifeDojo, a provider of evidence-based wellness benefits.

Wellness programs are a rising trend in the corporate world. One Society for Human Resource Management wellness survey indicated that in this year alone, 70 percent of businesses are offering some kind of general wellness program, 46 percent are providing health/lifestyle coaching, and 40 percent are providing programs for chronic health problems.

Spending in this arena has also gone up. According to Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health, employers spent about $430 per employee on wellness-based incentives in 2010. By 2014, this number had risen to nearly $600. And in 2015, the per-employee average is set to hit $693.

Corporate wellness programs often target high-risk employees—those suffering from conditions such as obesity, diabetes and smoking addictions—and this is for a reason. In the U.S., about 18 percent of full-time employees suffer from chronic conditions. Overweight employees and those with chronic conditions miss about 450 million more workdays a year compared to their healthy counterparts, causing employers to lose more than $150 billion in productivity every year, according to Gallup.

Taking action to help your high-risk workers ditch unhealthy behaviors is a justified investment. But there are also benefits to making wellness a companywide effort.

Not Just High-Risk Employees

Singling out high-risk employees with wellness initiatives can unintentionally result in physical and emotional harm and could even further fuel their risky behaviors. Employees who feel targeted may be embarrassed, which could cause them to withdraw or lash out. Over time, this dynamic will disturb the harmony of the team as a whole, breaking down trust, productivity and communication—all of which can have a major impact on your company’s bottom line.

A truly effective corporate wellness program should include and motivate everyone, rather than pressuring, embarrassing or even bribing high-risk employees to improve their health.

An all-inclusive approach can encompass more physical, mental and emotional health initiatives than a narrowly targeted program—ultimately helping to improve work/life satisfaction, physical health and mental outlook for all employees.

In turn, those efforts will translate to happier and healthier workers, increased productivity, lower absenteeism, lower presenteeism, and higher job retention, all while being uniquely beneficial to the highest risk individuals within the larger group.

Benefits managers can help to create wellness programs that fuel positive change in the workplace by:

Establishing a healthy work environment. An unhealthy work environment will negate the effects of even the best wellness program, so creating a healthy work environment should be your team’s first priority.

Start with your location. Reach out to nearby businesses that promote health and wellness—gyms, restaurants, etc.—and ask if they’ll offer discounts or customized options to your employees. Then, look to improve in-house food and beverage options by replacing junk food and sodas with bottled water, natural fruit juices and healthier snacks. Finally, research office layouts that encourage movement and collaboration.

Starting wellness at the top. Leaders can have an impact by making wellness a discussion topic with their teams, offering to help them create plans for their own health transformation goals, and continually checking in and coaching them to make sure new habits stick.

Developing a support system. Having a support network is a major motivator when it comes to wellness goals. Whether it’s working out with a buddy, kicking a smoking habit as a group or engaging with a private health coach, a support system will help reinforce positive behavior and boost motivation. But remember: Health is a profoundly personal journey for many people, so never force employees to participate in group activities—simply offer them as an option.

Corporate wellness programs that single out certain employees (and thus exclude others) can limit the impact of your company’s efforts overall. An inclusive program can promote a culture of wellness, address the needs of the entire group, encourage widespread participation and make the biggest impact with your wellness dollars.


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