For any employer that has implemented a wellness program as part of employee health benefits, there are two things to say:

First, congratulations. Not only do these employers clearly recognize that helping employees become more aware and educated about their well-being will ultimately reduce cost and improve productivity, but they’re also creating an incredibly positive internal culture.

Secondly, it may be time for these employers to ramp up their programs.

Employers often tell me they want more bang for their wellness buck. They want to provide a year-round comprehensive wellness program, increasing engagement and participation to drive behavior change.

But how can employers get more out of their wellness programs without also growing their budgets? What are inexpensive ways to enhance a wellness program?

The hardest part is finding new and creative ideas that others haven’t thought of.

Also see: Healthy during the holidays: 10 low-cost ways to promote wellness

First, start with a strategy. Just because you don’t have a budget doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a strategy. Create a three- to five-year plan. Once you know what you’re solving for (reduced diabetes concerns? Improved healthy heart indicators?), then you can seek resources to meet your goals.

Second, if you do decide to pay for something, pay for data – conduct health screenings to establish baselines and then measure progress. This information – understanding areas of progress and targeting areas for improvement – benefits the employee and employer.

Third, leverage partners and experts, such as:

  • Your wellness provider, specifically wellness strategists and strategic account executives. They work with dozens of clients with similar demographics, industry, budget constraints, etc. They will have creative ideas to share.
  • Other benefits providers (401(k), EAP, medical). Their resources can include webinars, lunch and learns, , online educational tools and more on physical, financial, emotional and mental well-being.
  • Interns. University interns in nutrition, exercise, and health promotion will have cutting edge and new ideas to share. Your organization can become a terrific internship site for these students.
  • WELCOA (www.welcoa.org), one of the nation’s most-respected resources for building high-performing, healthy workplaces. There’s a small fee for membership, but WELCOA provides excellent information – survey templates, checklists, white papers, best practices and more.
  • Government or nonprofit organizations. Have you checked out the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s National Healthy Worksite? Other groups include the www.prevent.org and the various Heart, Lung and Diabetes Associations.

Also see: 20 characteristics of a successful worksite wellness program

Finally, if none of these resources provide what you need, here are some of my personal favorites – DIY, inexpensive ways to enhance your wellness program:

Physical activity

  • Map out indoor and outdoor walking trails accessible to employees of all abilities.
  • Advertise an exercise equipment and video swap.

Nutrition

  • Use vending machine commissions to help fund wellness programs.
  • Create a homegrown fruit and vegetable exchange.

Stress management

  • Offer chair massages through a local massage therapy school.
  • Send out daily quotes with encouraging messages.

Tobacco

  • Provide a tobacco savings calculator tool.
  • Leverage the Great American Smokeout tools and calendar events.

The bottom line is clear: The next time someone says you can’t get more out of your wellness program without blowing your budget, you can say with confidence that you just don’t think that’s true.
Sandi Eskew is a senior wellness strategist at Interactive Health, a provider of comprehensive, outcomes-based worksite wellness solutions designed to engage employees in the management of their health through early detection and identification of health risk factors.

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