Five Best Practices for Workplace Wellness

In new guide, employers share their wellness success stories

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Oct 16, 2015

Many employers are looking for new ways to help employees stay healthy and productive. To aid their efforts, a new report from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Transamerica Center for Health Studies, From Evidence to Practice: Workplace Wellness that Works, describes five best practices for successful workplace wellness programs.

“To do this the right way, employers must address both the individual risk factors affecting their employees and the organizational factors that help or hinder employees' efforts to reduce their risks and get healthier,” commented Ron Goetzel, a senior scientist and director at Johns Hopkins’ Institute for Health and Productivity Studies, who led the research project. “The strongest workplace wellness programs are building a culture of health that interweaves individual health needs with the overall company goals and are backed by senior leadership.”

Highlighted in the report are these best wellness program practices:

Administer a baseline survey to assess employees’ physical activity levels, dietary preferences and interest in health and wellness options. At American Cast Iron Pipe in Birmingham, Ala., employees take a health risk assessment and are placed in one of four well-body clubs. They are then encouraged to meet customized health goals throughout the year.

Identify a senior leader who will support and participate in the company wellness program to demonstrate the importance of making health and wellness a priority. Honest Tea, based in Bethesda, Md., offers an array of wellness and fitness classes on-site.

Make bold choices to implement changes and create a culture of healthy employees. Cleveland Clinic moved to a smoke-free environment in 2006 with policies that included free tobacco-cessation programs for employees and zero tolerance for smoking on site.

Reward employees for healthy behaviors and results. Columbus-based Medical Mutual of Ohio upped its maximum wellness incentive from $50 to $350 in 2010 and from $350 to $1,000 in 2014. Participation rates rose to 90 percent for the company’s health assessment and to 70 percent for the full wellness program.

Frequently share updates with employees and senior leaders. The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor attributes its program’s success to communications through a variety of channels, including a robust and interactive online presence.

“Wellness programs are most effective when they are clearly tailored to the goals and needs of specific populations and provide sufficient opportunities for employee engagement and input,” the report found.

Principles Put into Practice

The report also delves into best practices at organizations. For instance, at the Allegacy Federal Credit Union in Wake Forest, N.C., the incentive program includes a 20 percent employee discount for gym membership, with the opportunity to earn an additional $15 a month for going to the gym more than six times each month. Other incentives at Allegacy include the opportunity to earn health savings account contributions of up to $1,000 for participating in the program, and additional health insurance discounts for reaching health goals set with wellness coaches.

“Investing in building a culture of health will never be a bad business decision,” said Garrick Throckmorton, Allegacy’s assistant vice president of organization development. “It’s the right thing to do for the employee and for the business’ viability over the long term.”

At Medical Mutual, to earn a maximum $1,000 incentive, employees have to complete an online health assessment, participate in activities such as lunch-and-learn sessions, take online educational classes and make at least eight trips to the gym each month. If an employee uses tobacco, he or she pays a higher monthly premium, but tobacco users can participate in a telephone-based quit program to earn the credit.

“A wellness program is more than just setting up a gym. It is looking at the entire employee population, the families and corporate culture and figuring out how you can encourage people to change their behavior,” said Cindy Ballog, manager of health promotion, wellness and disease management at the firm.

American Cast Iron Pipe has a wellness team that visits individual departments, offers support groups, partners with local hospitals to bring in guest speakers on a variety of topics, and follows up with employees who may need extra help.

“The worst thing that a company can do is a screening and that’s it. You’re not going to get the result you want,” said Sheri Snow, the company’s wellness manager.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow me on Twitter.

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