A company is only as healthy as its employees. Successfully choosing and implementing the right corporate wellness program for employees is therefore important to the health of employees and the company. The best program for your employees is one that takes into consideration their changing situations and needs.

For example, employers globally invested in mental health services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although this helped thousands of employees, a large number of the workforce was still disproportionately affected falling several work hours short in a workday. In this case, offering employees wellness programs that include any emergency support for children/elderly, flexible working arrangements, mindfulness apps, financial support, and perhaps other more specific support would’ve been ideal.

The best corporate wellness program focuses on improving the overall health of the employee. The right program lowers healthcare-related costs, reduces absenteeism and injuries, and improves employee productivity. Here, we will provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to choose and implement the best corporate wellness program with your employees in mind.

Step 1: Assessing Needs For A Wellness Program

The assessment stage includes the observation of trends, the needs of employees, risk assessments, and environmental assessments. There are several legal implications behind each of these assessments. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a reliable resource to learn more about the assessment stages and best practices. A link to the CDC guidelines is available here.

Step 1.1. Observe trends to assess requirements

Several employers in the United States and abroad were ahead of the coronavirus pandemic and the effect the pandemic would have on the physical and mental health of employees. This forward-thinking approach enabled them to provide employees with wellbeing support during the coronavirus-related lockdowns. Continue to observe trends in employee health and wellbeing to be able to assess changing requirements - this is a good starting point!

Step 1.2. Evaluate the needs of your employees

A forward-thinking approach alone is not enough to provide a supportive wellness program to employees. Take this assessment a step further by evaluating the needs of your employees. By doing this, you can ensure that your wellness programs are primarily designed to help your employees. Some quick ways to evaluate employee needs are through anonymous surveys, 1-2-1 meetings with managers or HR professionals, and simply asking what support the employee requires. Employee productivity also provides a good insight into employee health and wellbeing.

Step 1.3. Consider bringing in a team to conduct individual health risk assessments

Health risk assessments can provide an insight into the support that an employer should consider implementing for each employee. This can include assessments to understand an employee’s health status, risk of developing preventable conditions, and also include a provision of interventions that an employee may consider implementing in their lives to promote health and wellbeing.

A common example of a health risk assessment is a display screen assessment which provides advice to employees on best practices to prevent eye strain, back pain, and other conditions associated with sitting at the computer for long hours.

Step 1.4. Bring in a team to conduct environmental assessments and audits of the workplace to identify any health and safety concerns

Identifying health and safety concerns in your employee’s environment is essential to understand the health risks that the employee is exposed to at work. This may include exposure to asbestos or cigarette smoke or other issues relating to the worksite. The environmental assessment may also identify hazards and falls in the work environment, and consider ways in which you may be able to prevent these.

Step 2: Choosing A Wellness Program

Based on the information collected from employees and other external teams, choose a wellness program for your employees. Look away from a one-size-fits-all policy and turn towards flexibility in what is being offered. Employees with children may require emergency support for children, while smokers may require a smoking cessation program.

Look to target problem areas identified in large cohorts of your employees, but also implement a program that helps in the prevention of chronic conditions such as obesity, management of blood sugar levels, high cholesterol, and mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Consider defining some goals in this phase and don’t forget to set a budget for your wellness program.  

Popular wellness programs include nutrition education, exercise programs and activities such as yoga, programs for stress management, and also health screenings for preventable diseases. Again, look at what your employees need, and allow them the flexibility to choose their own plans in a manner that they find most supportive. They should also have the option of changing these plans as their needs change.

Step 3: Building Support From Management

You’ve assessed the environment and the needs of the employees  - great! Your next step is to bring in support from management. Workplace management/senior leadership is in the best position to promote well-being in the workforce - without their support, a wellness program will quickly crumble. A study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion suggests that management style and perception may influence the participation trends of other employees, so make sure you put in a little extra time to gain their support.

When you’re “pitching” wellness programs to management, make sure that your health promotion initiatives and campaigns are well planned. A poorly planned wellness program will probably not get a green light from management and will do more harm in the long run. Provide management with an insight into the benefits and reasons to incorporate and encourage the wellness program. Feel free to take this a step further to involve managers in policy development and implementation plans.

Another thing you should definitely plan for in this phase is a way to strengthen management roles. Provide your management with training opportunities that can also help them to accommodate employee participation, training on how to manage changes in employee flexibility, and provide them with ways in which they can truly encourage employees to take sick days, leverage flexible working hours, and use vacation time.

Step 4: Implementing A Wellness Program

Steps 1-3 take you through the preparation required before a wellness program is rolled out. In this step, you need to think about ways in which you implement and roll out the workplace wellness program. The program has to be implemented in a way that is employee-driven - wellness works best in a community rather than a hierarchy. So take the time to build a culture of wellness, collaboration, team building, and inclusivity.

Most companies establish a wellness committee or a buddy system made up of volunteers. The role of this committee is to motivate and support other employees to improve their physical and mental health. The committee has many responsibilities including evaluating the program, evaluating engagement, bettering the program based on employee needs, and identifying goals and objectives for every stage of the wellness program. Make sure your committee is representative of your entire cohort of employees.

Step 5: The Awareness Stage

Very often, employers put in amazing wellness programs for their staff. However, for the most part, the staff are completely unaware of the help and support they can get. A good wellness program without any awareness provides little benefit to people who most need these services. Increasing awareness of the plan is, therefore, a very important step in encouraging your workforce to improve their health and wellbeing.

The entire company, including senior management and the wellness committee, plays an important role in the awareness stage. Consider ways in which you can communicate the benefits of the health and wellness program to employees. Perhaps send them email reminders, signposts around the office, and our personal favorite, provide fruit baskets during lunch hour at least once a week. Usually, employers have compulsory lectures on wellness and mental health - however, the engagement during these compulsory sessions is limited. Feel free to think out of the box!

Step 6: Evaluating Your Wellness Program

Evaluation is a very important part of your wellness program. It allows you to take feedback from employees and make the program more suited to them. To successfully evaluate your program, it is important to establish some metrics against which to evaluate the success of your program - were people able to manage their stress better? Was there a reduction in smoking habits? Did more people engage with the program?

Employers usually evaluate their wellness programs via an annual employee survey. You may consider doing these more often as this may help you identify and resolve challenges along the way and also provide relevant care as and when required. An evaluation will also help you track measurables such as absenteeism, hours billed by the employee, the costs of health and employee assistance programs, and the cost of healthcare for that particular employee.

Whether you are seasoned in developing a corporate wellness program or looking to advance the current program - definitely look beyond the one-size-fits-all approach. Start by assessing the needs of your workforce, based on which you can design your program and decide what components to include. Bring in and train senior management so they can encourage the use of the program. Finally, evaluate what is going right and what isn’t and leverage this information to continually refresh your offerings around your employee’s changing needs and requirements.

Developing a wellness program that is right for your employees doesn’t have to be difficult. For help with customizing your program, and making it better suited to your employees, contact us to learn how we can help you implement the perfect corporate wellness program for your employees.