How to Revive Your Corporate Wellness Program in 30 Days or Less

Why Corporate Wellness Programs Fail – And What You Can Do to Make Yours A Success in The Next Four Weeks

Corporate wellness program

The benefits of an effective corporate wellness program for both employers and employees are well established.

A well-executed wellness program will result in healthier, happier, and more engaged employees, raising productivity, job satisfaction, and retention, and lowering absenteeism and health care costs. In fact, when done right, investing in corporate wellness will actually save your business money in the long run. This has prompted companies across the country to implement a plethora of different types of programs; a recent study by the RAND Corporation found that more than 85% of U.S. companies employing 1,000 people or more offer some sort of corporate wellness program.

But not all corporate wellness programs are created equal.

In a follow up study, Gallup determined that of the 85% of U.S. employers with a wellness program, only 24% of their employees actually participated in that program. Furthermore, RAND estimates that U.S. employers spend upwards of $6 billion a year on programs that reach less than a quarter of their workforce.

That’s a lot of wasted resources.

So what accounts for this disparity? And more importantly, what can you do as an employer to ensure that your wellness program is effective, and helps – rather than hurts – your bottom line?

It turns out that even the most well-intentioned wellness programs can be susceptible to a laundry list of common pitfalls, sabotaging your program’s chances of success before it can even get off the ground. The following are proven, actionable tips and best practices you can use to overcome these common obstacles and breathe new life into your company’s flagging wellness program. We’ve broken it down in four weekly increments so that you can revive your employee wellness program in less than 30 days.

WEEK ONE

Focus on Communication

how to start a corporate wellness program

Photo by Ryan McGuire, via StockSnap’s Creative Commons License.

The failure of a corporate wellness program may be the symptom of another larger problem – a lackluster internal communications infrastructure.

One of the most common reasons wellness programs go un-utilized is a simple lack of awareness. Gallup determined that while the vast majority of large companies have a wellness program, only 60% of employees were aware that the program even existed. This simple oversight can drastically lower a program’s participation rate, and undermine its efficacy and value from the start.

Reviving your wellness program might be the perfect excuse to audit your internal communications, and to make sure that there are consistent company-wide communications from senior leadership to all levels of your organization. Since communication, and education,  is key, you’ll want to tackle this task in week one.

Don’t forget that internal communications should be a two way street, not a top-down exercise. Your internal communications plan should include a means for employees to provide feedback, such as a suggestion box or employee interest surveys. This feedback should then be taken into consideration as you craft future communications and develop additional wellness programs and activities. Creating opportunities for dialogue between employees and upper management can help you gain insight into which types of health and wellness programs will be successful and which will fall flat.

If a comprehensive communications overhaul isn’t feasible in 30 days, something as simple as posting signs about your program throughout the office, performing weekly or monthly wellness literature “desk drops”, or holding monthly “lunch and learns” may be enough to make sure that employees are aware of your company’s wellness program and its benefits.

For tips on how to make sure your internal communications programs are up to snuff, check out Fast Company’s Top 5 Tips For Creating Effective Internal Communications.

Appoint A Wellness Champion

Corporate Wellness Programs ideas - elect a champion

Snack Super Hero Captain H.U.M.A.N. is the quintessential wellness champion.

 A 2010 Harvard Business Review study found that nearly all the companies with successful wellness programs had dedicated wellness managers that not only developed and implemented wellness programs, but also continually championed those programs internally.

While HR or Employee Engagement personnel may be the obvious choice, you can also open it up to volunteers from the rest of the organization to champion wellness initiatives. Their passion and enthusiasm might just be what your wellness program needs to get people motivated.

Provide Access to Healthy Eating Options, Including Healthy Snacks

It goes without saying that nutrition should be a cornerstone of your health and wellness plan. There are mountains of evidence demonstrating that the food we eat can have a direct impact on cognitive performance, productivity, mood, and the likelihood of developing chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.

While focusing on healthy eating might be a no-brainer, companies often err in their approach. Most companies assume that education is the most important factor when it comes to the adoption of healthy eating habits. Yet better information doesn’t necessarily lead to better choices. Most of us know that morning donut isn’t necessarily the best choice for our health and productivity throughout the rest of the day, but many of us choose to indulge anyway. What many companies fail to realize that there’s another even more important, yet often overlooked factor — access.

healthy office snacks for your employees

The reason is twofold: first (and perhaps most obviously), employees simply can’t make healthy choices without access to healthy options. Studies have shown that employees consume the majority of their daily caloric intake in the form of meals and snacks at work, making access to healthy food in the workplace critical to the quality of their overall diet — and by extension, the success of your employee wellness program.

The second reason has to do with the fact that junk food is most appetizing when your energy and glucose levels are low. These drops in energy inevitably occur when employees don’t have access to heathy snacking options. Researchers at Florida State University demonstrated that when workers grazed on healthy food throughout the day, they were able to avoid the low glucose levels that erode will power and make unhealthy food seem appetizing.

Likewise, experts at Carnegie Mellon recommend making meal decisions before you’re hungry to reduce the appeal of unhealthy food. Planning meals in advance is one simple way to achieve this, as are services like SnackNation, which keep your office stocked with only healthy snacks. With plentiful access to healthy snacks,  your employees are more likely to make good food choices, thus improving overall health and wellness over time.

Providing healthy snacks will have an immediate impact on morale, health, and productivity. So ditch the burgers, sugary sodas, and donuts, and make access to healthy meals and snacks a priority in week one. Your workers — and your bottom line — will thank you for it.

 

WEEK TWO

Get Buy-In at The Manager Level

So your internal communications channels are in place, you’ve appointed wellness leaders, and your office is awash with healthy and delicious snacking options from SnackNation, but attendance at onsite yoga classes is nonexistent and the gym space you worked tirelessly to install is gathering dust.

Now what?

Week Two is the time to get buy in from your secret weapon — middle managers.

employee wellness program buy in

Middle managers can be your secret weapon to ensuring widespread adoption of your wellness program. Photo by Reynermedia, via Flickr’s Creative Commons License.

Middle managers are the direct link between the c-suite and the rest of your organization, and have the most immediate impact on the behavior of rank and file employees. As such, managers set the tone for the adoption of your wellness program, and ultimately help determine its success. A Gallup poll found that buy-in from middle management was the single biggest factor in the level of company-wide participation in corporate wellness programs.

Make sure you communicate the benefits of your wellness program to middle management, and encourage both managers and their team members to participate. Some companies go as far as integrating wellness goals into their managers’ business goals. When employees see managers taking an hour out of their day to use workout facilities, it sets a precedent, and signals that its acceptable to use work time to take advantage of health and wellness programs.

Dedicate a portion of week two towards educating middle management on the benefits of your wellness program. The more of your middle managers who actually participate in your wellness program, the more this beneficial behavior will proliferate throughout the rest of the company.

 

WEEK THREE

Incentivize Participation

Incentives can catalyze your corporate wellness program.

Photo by Pictures of Money, via Flickr’s Creative Commons License.

If it’s week three and you still don’t have the participation you had hoped for, incentives can be the shot in the arm your program needs.

Sometimes your workforce just needs a little nudge in the right direction, and rewards for participation in specifics programs can do the trick. Incentives can take the form of anything from gift cards to apparel to an extra day of vacation. For example, some companies offer stipends for employees who bike to work at least three times a week, equal to the money saved on parking costs, or gift cards to employees who participate in voluntary health screenings or pledge to go tobacco free.

Outdoor apparel and lifestyle company Eddie Bauer has taken this approach, providing employees with up to $100 in reimbursement for any good or service that promotes physical, mental, or spiritual wellness, such as a workout clothes, new hiking shoes, or yoga classes. Known internally as “outside money” (since it’s meant to inspire employees to get outside), it’s proven to be hugely popular within the company.

Incentivizing participation can often be just the catalyst you need to revive a flagging wellness program, and inspire your workforce to make healthier choices for years to come.

Launch Wellness Challenges

Leverage the spirit of competition to launch your corporate wellness program.

It’s important to choose the right group challenge for your team or organization. Photo by Damon Bowe, via Flickr’s Creative Commons License.

Competition often brings out the best in us. Leveraging the spirit of fun and friendly competition can be another great way to kickstart participation in your wellness programs. Pit different teams against each other to win an extra day of vacation, premium parking spots, or a healthy catered lunch, or hold competitions within individual teams, rewarding top performers, or providing group incentives for team goals. The goal is to create a supportive, positive, and fun climate in which teams and individuals can succeed in reaching their health goals.

The types of challenges should vary according to the nature of the participants. Make sure your wellness challenge is voluntary and suited to the specific needs and character of your team. A weight loss challenge might be the perfect fit for a highly competitive sales team, but might not be the best idea for a more introverted group of engineers or graphic designers, for example. Other ideas include a target number of yoga classes per team member per month, a target number of total miles ran, or a target number of days biked to work.

Done correctly, wellness challenges can double as a team bonding exercise, bringing your organization closer together and increasing the fun factor while inspiring lasting lifestyle changes.

 

WEEK FOUR

Develop a Wellness Culture, Not Just a Wellness Program

snacknation team - employee wellness

By week four the tactics described above should have provided a surge in participation. Now is the time to take a step back and focus again on the bigger picture, to make sure that your wellness program is part of a larger company culture of engagement and support.

According to research by Gallup, a successful wellness culture doesn’t just focus on physical activity and weight loss, but has multiple touch points, including nutrition, mental health, community, and purpose, and is consistent with business goals and company ethos. A solid wellness culture requires a holistic, multi-faceted approach that speaks to all these areas not just a few. Take stock of the progress of your programs during week four, and determine if they are consistent with your larger company-culture. If not, you may have more work ahead of you.

Likewise, it’s important to avoid mixed messages. If your corporate culture is cut-throat and overly stressful, or if you expect your workers to work in hazardous conditions, an emphasis on health and wellness will lack credibility and will likely fall on deaf ears. A Seattle Times inquiry actually found that launching a wellness program in a pressure-cooker environment will actually do more harm than good. When there is too much pressure to participate, a wellness program may actually increase stress, and add to an already toxic situation.

Your corporate wellness program will only be perceived as effective and legitimate part if its part of an overall culture of engagement, that includes strong communication and support. Take week four to see if the progress you’ve made is sufficient, or if an inconsistent company culture might be to blame. 

 

Conclusion

Wellness programs can have a tremendous upside for your company, but only if your employees take advantage of them. To ensure widespread adoption, programs must be thoughtfully planned, continuously championed, and part of an overarching culture of support and engagement.

One the simplest ways to get your wellness program on the right track is with SnackNation. SnackNation takes the expense and hassle out of healthy snacking for any office by providing pre-packaged snack boxes with a custom mix of the latest healthy snacks designed to fit your office’s specific needs.

Ready to kickstart your wellness program into high gear? Try a FREE box of healthy snacks from Snack Nation (just pay $9.95 S&H). Click HERE for details. 

Click here.