A Blog for Clients

Creating a Dynamic Wellness Program

Benefits and perks are an ever-evolving arms race, striving to meet employee needs and compete in the eyes of jobseekers. However, the Wellness program phenomena isn’t just a shiny perk for employees, it is a tool that serves employees and drives business results.

In a majority of organizations, wellness programs primarily focus on physical wellness – offering incentives or reimbursements for physical activity and healthy eating. “Wellness” expands beyond physical well-being, for both humans and employees. And an effective program goes beyond simply making perks available to employees.


Healthy employees, Healthy Business

Personal health plays an active role in the life of an employee, and the health of each individual has an effect on your organization. “Wellbeing reflects the whole person,” says Dr. Jim Harter, Gallup’s chief scientist for workplace management and wellbeing. “The whole person comes to work, not just the worker.”

According to Zane Benefits, employees who eat healthy are 25% more likely to have higher job performance, and employees who exercise at least three times a week are 15% more likely to have higher job performance. In addition, absenteeism is 27% lower for employees who eat healthy and exercise.

“New research suggests that wellness is an extremely powerful element that can play a significant role in employee engagement, productivity, talent retention, and creativity,” says Kristi Welch, VP of Client Services at FitThumb.com.

Wellness programs are designed to promote employee and individual well-being, influencing overall health, morale, work-life balance and engagement, while creating healthier workers and decreasing employer healthcare costs.


The Productivity Drain

Unhealthy employees can have an adverse effect on your organization. They are less productive and have higher turnover rates. Sick or injured employees are more likely to miss work, and incur higher healthcare costs. Yet, absent employees aren’t the biggest drain on productivity.

Presenteeism, where employees are physically present at work but unable to perform at full capacity, creates a greater drain on productivity than being absent all together (not to mention they can potentially spread illness). According to the Institute for HealthCare Consumerism, one in five workers have experienced a health issue that has affected their ability to get their work done, resulting in productivity losses.

For every dollar spent on medical costs and pharmaceuticals, there is $2.30 of health-related productivity losses due to absenteeism and presenteeism.


The Cost of Un-Wellness

Since the birth of the benefits package, and the [implementation] of the Affordable Care Act, healthcare for employees has been a top priority and financial burden. By offering health care benefits, employers are more likely to attract and retain top talent and ensure the wellness of their workers.

However, unhealthy employees are driving the price even higher. The Society for Human Resource Management estimates $650 – $1400 in excess annual medical costs for adults with high healthcare risk, and $900 in excess annual medical costs for physically inactive adults. Wellness Councils of America states 15% of health claims are attributed to sedentary lifestyles.

Meanwhile, employees with high wellbeing have 41% lower health-related costs compared with employees who have lower wellbeing, according to Gallup.


Wellness as Investment

In the face of rising healthcare costs, implementing a wellness program can feel daunting and expensive. However, wellness programs are an investment that benefits employees and the bottom line, and demonstrates care for employees at all levels.

Harvard Business Review reports that after implementing a wellness program, Johnson & Johnson saw a return of $2.71 for every dollar spent. While Forbes reports the average ROI as high as 3:1.

Beyond financial gain, SHRM reports reduced absenteeism, higher productivity, reduced injuries, and improved morale and loyalty. The Institute for HealthCare Consumerism found that employees who participated in wellness programs are more likely to have a higher level of job satisfaction, feel happier with their employer, and be more satisfied with their overall benefits.

Gallup reports that employees who participate in wellness programs report fewer unhealthy days, are more likely to adapt well to change, more likely to bounce back from illness, are less likely to be involved in a workplace accident, and less likely to look for a new job.

A 2015 survey of nearly 2,000 U.S. employees conducted by Quantum Workplace found that employees 38% more engaged and 18% more likely to go the extra mile when they felt their employers cared about their well-being. Employees were also 28% more likely to recommend their workplace to others.


The Power of Wellness, the Power of Intent

While these benefits are encouraging, wellness programs are truly about employees – that’s what makes a program effective. Employees will likely not participate in a wellness program, changing their lifestyles solely for the purpose of saving their employer money.

Before you create a wellness program, be sure your vision follows these guidelines.

Programs should be:

  • Sincere
  • Culturally-sound
  • Supported, promoted, and celebrated by leadership
  • In addition to other basic benefits



Potential ROI should not be the sole reason a program is created. If the program is implemented without sincere intent to improve the life of employees, it could create an adverse effect. Wellness programs should make employees feel cared for, not used. Insincere programs are more likely to be superficial, and therefore, ineffective.



Be sure that any program is designed with the reality of your culture in mind. Not all workplaces enjoy sunshine and rainbows, and that’s okay – there are wellness options that align with every kind of culture. Align programs with the organization mission, vision, and values and be sure that your culture supports wellness initiatives.

“Well-designed workplace wellness programs should reinforce the company mission and values at every turn, orienting newbies and reconnecting veterans in need of a boost.” – Henry Albrecht, CEO of Limeade

The most important cultural aspect for a successful program is accountability, for leadership and employees. Demonstrate transparency and establish trust by following through with promises, and encourage employees to do the same.


Supported, Promoted, and Celebrated by Leadership

Your wellness program needs to be actively supported and recognized by any and all leaders within your organization. Quite literally, they will lead the way. Managers play a critical role in employee engagement. Gallup documents a relationship between employee engagement and well-being, with managers serving as a conduit between the two.

Leaders must participate and communicate that they value the program in order for employees to feel comfortable.

For example, if your wellness programs include special extended lunches to take a workout class, senior leadership should lace up their sneakers and attend. Then, during meetings, they will recognize and celebrate others who also attended. They should regularly communicate the value of the program.

This will demonstrate sincerity, and will encourage others to participate, especially any programs that occur during the day.

It is up to leaders to remove obstacles that may prevent any and all employees from participating. For example, according to Humana and the Economist Intelligence Unit, employers and employees agree that the biggest obstacle to increased participation in wellness programs is lack of time. Leaders should create time-conscious programs in response.


In Addition to Other Basic Benefits

Wellness programs are not a substitute for a benefits package (health, dental, vision, etc). However, if you are limited in how much insurance you can offer employees, a wellness program can help fill the gap.


Make the Wellness Program of your Dreams

When thinking of wellness, most think of diet and exercise. While these are essential for a healthy lifestyle, wellness is dynamic, and a wellness program should mirror that.











Gallup and Healthways break down wellness into 5 factors, but we add a sixth.







But in the era of Google-sized programs, small programs can feel insufficient. These programs don’t have to be giant, expensive entities. In fact, you’ll find that many of our suggestions come at little to no cost. While in-house massages and on campus gyms are attractive, employees simply want to feel cared for more than anything else.



Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals

Defining a purpose across an organization can serve as a powerful motivator for employees, while increasing job satisfaction. Knowing exactly how one’s role contributes to the greater world instills a unique responsibility in each employee.

A study by Deloitte found that in organizations with a strong sense of purpose, 73% of employees were engaged, compared to only 24% of employees in organizations without. In addition, according to Humana and the Economist Intelligence Unit, some 67 percent of employees said participation in wellness programs increased their engagement in their employer’s mission and goals.

  • Define, document, and promote your organization, team, and individual purpose (if you need assistance, see our White Paper.)
  • Include recognition and celebration for team and individual accomplishments
  • Go out to lunch to celebrate new hires
  • Subsidize personal development books and courses
  • Offer structured career paths
  • Set aside time for leaders to meet with any and all employees for “coffee talk”



Having supportive relationships and love in your life

Workplace friendships are a delicate dance, but a vital ingredient to a successful work life balance. Humans are pack animals, who thrive in collaborative environments.

Employees with a best friend at work tend to be more focused, more passionate, and more loyal to their organizations. They get sick less often, suffer fewer accidents, and have more satisfied customers, along with increased productivity.

  • Include social collaborations, ie happy hours, team contests, and company lunches
  • Coordinate team events or activities for new hires as soon as they start
  • Create a softball or kickball team and compete



Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security

Financial wellbeing effects all aspects of wellbeing. According to the Institute for HealthCare Consumerism, workers facing debt and unstable financial situations reported their stress has caused occurrences of ulcers, digestive problems, migraines, anxiety and depression.

Do not pry into employee’s financial status, but provide them with the tools to build their own finances – creating better, more focused workers.

  • Bring in experts to advise on 401(k) saving
  • Provide financial literacy and budgeting tools
  • Offer financial coaching and education on productive saving and spending, and investing basics
  • Start an employee-donated emergency fund to help those affected by a sudden financial crisis due to catastrophic events



Liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community

Provide a safe workspace, this includes removing toxic teammates. Focus on your organization’s role in the local community and get involved.

“Promoting community charity walks, races and other events reminds employees that work is a community, not just a paycheck. Allowing employees time for volunteer activities of their choice fosters autonomy, renews a sense of purpose and provides a jolt of motivation.” –Henry Albrecht, CEO of Limeade

  • Volunteer at local charities
  • Donate to community causes
  • Coordinate lunches from neighborhood small businesses
  • Coordinate team outings to local attractions and hotspots



Having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

According to Humana and the Economist Intelligence Unit, 91% of employees participating in wellness programs have improved their fitness, while 89 percent said participation has improved their overall happiness and well-being.

Don’t force employees into physical routines or healthy eating habits, make your program so fun and widespread that they can’t resist joining in. Think of it as positive peer pressure.

  • Regularly stock a fresh fruit and veggie bowl in the breakroom
  • Host webinars on different wellness topics, encourage internal employees with expertise to share their knowledge and lead the webinars
  • Coordinate fitness competitions
  • Set up a reimbursement system for gym memberships and workout classes (that way, employees can choose a fitness routine that works for them)
  • Offer great health insurance
  • Discourage people from coming in sick
  • Provide reasonable paid sick time



Internal health centered around confidence and self-esteem, enabling you to fully enjoy and appreciate other people, day-to-day life and your environment. Using abilities to reach your potential.

Good mental health may be the most important, and hardest to detect, aspect of wellbeing. It is vital for the health of your employees, and your business.

About 44% of employers said stress management programs would be the single most effective way of establishing a culture of wellness, according to a study by Humana and the Economist Intelligence Unit. While 80% of workers feel stress on the job, for many employees, mental health goes beyond that.

Nearly 30% of young adults age 18 to 25 have a diagnosable mental health disorder, and 5% of U.S. adults have a mental health-related disability that seriously impairs their daily functioning, according to Volkbell Human Resources. Additionally, behavioral and mental health issues comprise approximately 6% of total health care costs.

Harvard Business Review states that depression and stress have proved to be major sources of lost productivity. And according to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, for certain conditions, such as anxiety, employers lose as much as $20 in productivity for every dollar they spend on medical care and pharmaceuticals.

Mental health is a personal matter, and there are ways to respect the privacy of your employees while supporting them

  • Don’t let frustrated people keep working. Encourage them to take a walk and record their steps. (It’s a physical + mental double whammy!)
  • Encourage people to actually use their vacation time, primarily by using yours
  • Ensure that all health insurance options include mental health care benefits
  • Establish comfort and an open environment where mental health claims are taken seriously and handled accordingly
  • Train managers to look for signals that an employee might be having a hard time
  • Reduce physical stress due to noise, lack of privacy, poor lighting, poor ventilation, poor temperature control or inadequate sanitary facilities.
  • Allow employees to bring in their pets
  • Consider offering “Ferris Bueller Days,” where employees can take a day off for any reason

As you build your program with passion and intent, document the plan, consistently coordinate future events, and maintain the program. Make information about the program available to all employees, and send out regular reminders about different aspects of the program.

Frequently survey your employees for their feedback on the program and adjust accordingly. Practice patience, cultural shifts take time. The key is to continue with the program consistently.

More than anything, these programs should be fun. These programs should be implemented because you love and care about your employees. You want to give them a fantastic work life, allowing them to be their best personal and professional self.