5 easy steps to a wellness program employees love
Commentary: Starting a wellness program may feel like rocket science, but it can actually be quite easy. In fact, theres a good chance that you already have some pieces in place: according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, over 90% of all firms with 25 or more employees already offer at least one wellness activity.1
Most organizations think of corporate wellness programs as a holistic investment that will help boost employee engagement at work. As Janet McNichol, human resources director at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association puts it:
The true value of a wellness program is not measured in medical-cost savings. Wellness programs positively impact employee engagement, and they help you recruit and retain people that want to work in a healthy environment. Nothing sends a stronger message that you care about your employees than focusing on their well-being.
Marianne Davis, director of human resources at Natick Public Schools adds:
I love our wellness program because it demonstrates that we really care about our employees as people. We want them to eat well, sleep well, exercise, and know how to combat stress.
To help you get your wellness program started, well introduce you to a program structure that weve consistently seen work at organizations like Fujifilm.
As you review the program, remember that the most important thing to starting a corporate wellness program is, well starting. Its very common to get so deep into strategy and planning that a program never actually gets off the ground.
These five steps will make it easy for you to launch and maintain an engaging wellness program:
- Pick activities: Offer employees activities as part of your program.
- Promote: Send a regularly scheduled email promoting the activities.
- Engage: Employees read, become aware, appreciate, and participate.
- Get feedback: Measure the impact youre making on employee engagement.
- Learn: Make adjustments based on your experience.
Step 1. Pick activities
Every month or so, youll pick activities that youd like to promote. These can be simple tips like how to do a 5-minute core workout or events like a flu shot clinic.
- Start by taking an inventory of what you currently have available for free. Theres no reason to make big investments before youve implemented a process that gets employees to tune in.
- Reach out to your broker and vendors. They may have free or low-cost resources youre not aware of.
- Dont worry about planning the entire year up front. Instead, focus on the next month or quarter. Remember that the goal is to get started.
Here are some simple wellness activities we've seen included in most programs:
- Wellness tips & actions. Link to articles from your insurance vendor or a media site like Everyday Health. And of course, you can also sign-up for Airbo and browse and copy free content.
- Gym membership discount. Many health plans already offer gym membership discounts, but many employees arent aware of them or are confused about how to use them.
- Employee healthy stories. Nothing is quite as inspiring as seeing someone you know adopt a healthier lifestyle. Every quarter or so, Fujifilm puts out a call for employees to submit stories about how they got healthy and then publishes them to rave reviews.
- Healthy food options. Provide healthy meal options at company meetings, vending machines, and cafeterias. Remove unhealthy options or significantly increase their cost.
- Weight loss programs. Sponsor formal weight loss programs like Jenny Craig, or simply explain how someone can sign up and what the cost is.
- Flu shot or vaccinations. Arrange for on-site flu shots and other vaccinations. If its not possible, promote a local pharmacy.
- Healthy walks. Promote local and national events like National Walking Day by the American Heart Association.
As you get your program off the ground, you may want to consider investing in more advanced interventions such as health risk assessments, biometric screenings, smoking cessation programs, lifestyle or behavioral coaching, nutrition or healthy living classes, Web-based resources for healthy living, employee assistance program. You can also check out this list of activities provided by Kaiser Family Foundation, organized by company size and industry.
Step 2. Promote
The key to this step is the following insight from Gallup: due to poor marketing, only 24% of employees participate in corporate wellness programs.2
By consistently communicating youll address the biggest wellness program stumbling block right from the start, and set yourself up for long-term success.
The simplest way to promote your program is to send a regularly scheduled email that highlights available activities. The interval of the email can be monthly, bi-weekly, or weekly. The key is to do it consistently so that people get used to seeing it, and eventually engage.
- Make a schedule. Schedule a recurring time on your calendar when youll focus on your wellness program. We suggest 30 minutes per week. Marianne Davis, HR director at Natick Public Schools, takes time out every Wednesday evening to send wellness content to her employees. She calls it Wellness Wednesday.
- Simpler is better. Stick to a simple structure for the email. The shorter, the better. Its more likely that youll send something if its easy to do. And its more likely that people will read something thats short and to the point. When you have longer content, link to it.
- Add metrics. If youre adding links to your email, an easy way to track how many people are reading is by measuring how many people click on the links. Shorten your links via Googles URL shortener, and youll be able to track how many people clicked on them.
- Add a prize. A simple trick that we picked up from Derek Kanehira, vice president of human resources at Hawaii National Bank, is to add a prize to the newsletter. Pick random names, and put them into your email as winners of the random prize every month. Heres the twist: the only way to find out that youre a winner is to actually read the email.
Step 3. Engage
Employees will engage at different levels, each of which is independently valuable for different reasons.
- Level 1 - Awareness: This is simply when someone knows that your program exists. Amazingly, 40% of employees at companies with wellness programs aren't even aware of them.3
- Level 2 - Appreciation: Each activity isnt going to be the right fit for every person, but every person can appreciate it as part of their employee value proposition.
- Level 3 - Participation: The best way to see that youre offering something useful is that people use it.
Marketers use funnels to visualize the goals of their outreach, and your wellness program outreach naturally lends itself to the same framework. Each step of the funnel will see some drop-off, but the point is to keep nudging people forward over time.
Step 4. Get feedback
Measuring how your wellness program is performing will help you improve it over time. Its also important positive feedback that will give you energy to keep your efforts going. That positive feedback can have a transformational impact on how you feel about your job. As Marianne puts it:
Whereas in the past, my presence in a worksite might have meant that someone was in trouble, it could now mean the oppositethat someone is going to win a great prize! That makes me happy.
The simple survey below will help you assess how many employees are aware of your programs, appreciate them, and participate in them. As you roll out your outreach efforts, youll see movement in these figures.
Measure before you start. This will help you set a baseline metric that you can show improvement over almost right away.
Sample survey instructions
- The replies to the first three questions are meant to be provided on a 1 to 5 scale, where 1 is Strongly Disagree, 3 is Not Sure, and 5 is Strongly Agree.
- The last question is open ended.
- When summarizing the data, group 1s and 2s into Disagree, 3s into Not Sure, and 4s and 5s into Agree.
We would like to learn your opinions about well-being at [company name]. Please rate your level of agreement with each of the following statements.
- [company name] offers well-being activities that are intended to help me improve my health.
- I appreciate the well-being activities offered by [company name].
- Ive taken a healthy action as a result of a well-being activity offered by [company name].
- Do you have any ideas or feedback for us regarding [company name] offering well-being activities?
Step 5. Learn
The more times you run through this cycle, the more you'll learn. Each time, take a few minutes to reflect and make improvements. As you make changes, your employee engagement will grow. As our friend Mary Poppins suggests, there's always fun to be had, and you may be surprised to find just how enjoyable a wellness program can be.
And especially so if you happen to think that accomplishing great results is fun: According to RAND4, employers with wellness programs rate them effective at reducing medical costs, absenteeism, and boosting productivity.
Vlad Gyster is founder and CEO of Airbo, a platform to discover and deliver engaging employee programs, communications, and trainings.