Companies across the United States are implementing health and wellness programs to increase employee productivity and prioritize healthy living. But what works for one business won’t always work for another. Each company has a unique culture, and health and wellness programs need to be adapted accordingly.
Millions of people have quit their jobs in the last few years, causing what we’ve all heard as ‘The Great Resignation.’ There are a lot of factors that have contributed to this phenomenon, such as retirement, mental and physical burnout, dissatisfaction on the job, and more.
As more people leave their jobs to seek their next adventure, employers are left scrambling to find ways to not just attract new talent but also retain those people for the long haul. The good news: employees are talking about what they want – and need – from their employers, it’s just up to companies to listen.
Today’s workforce is saying it loud and clear: health benefits and work/life balance are top priorities.
Enter: health and wellness programs.
Health and wellness programs go far beyond just providing health care coverage for employees. They instead aim to look at all dimensions of well-being, including the physical, emotional, financial, social, occupational, and intellectual health of each person.
But, what’s the best way to do create and implement an effective corporate health and wellness program? It takes time, research, and a solid strategy to create a robust program that aligns with the culture of the company.
Focus on Education
While creating a program that works is key, it won’t go anywhere if your staff isn’t educated about its importance. Many health and wellness programs encourage employees to adjust their lifestyles, but they won’t want to take that advice if they don’t understand the benefit of that, or if companies don’t explain why and how that should be done.
For example, if companies offer free gym membership as part of their health and wellness programs to encourage employees to be more active, they must understand why it’s important to go to the gym. Providing education on the benefits and helping to motivate team members – through encouragement, or even through a reward system – are some key ways to ensure buy-in.
“The basis of wellness is helping employees understand and act in ways that support their health today and tomorrow,” said Sam Dolezal, wellbeing officer at Union Bank & Trust. “I usually turn to the marketing and education that catches my eye.
“What emails, radio ads and print ads reach me? Was it what they said, or how they said it? I then try to re-create it internally to fit our needs. You are not educating wellness professionals in many instances – you are educating a wide range of individuals who are all looking for something different. Keep that perspective in mind when building your marketing and education efforts.”
Lori Thomas, director of workplace culture and wellbeing at The Wellbeing Partners, said it’s essential to work with employees, providing them with the education and tools to prioritize health and wellness.
“Providing employees with facts and information about options is the best type of education,” Thomas said. “The goal of the organization is to empower its employees to make the best choices for themselves.
“The information they need to do that includes the facts that exist on the topic (research and science-based facts), how to personalize or apply the information to their individual situation, and what options or resources are available to them with easy access to those options/resources. One size does not fit all when it comes to health and wellness. We can’t begin to know what is best for every individual person, and we shouldn’t assume we can.”
“You need two things to have a successful health and wellness program: creativity and connection,” Dolezal said. “These seem fairly simple on the surface, but without either, your program will falter.
“Creativity will help you build a program that speaks to people … Employees will engage in something that they find intriguing and compelling. From a connection standpoint, you will quickly need to become everyone’s best friend. You need the C-suite to believe in you, the employees to engage with you, and a team around you to trust and support you. If you are able to build connections with people, you will find that many times, employees will come forward with ideas and the team around you will help make many things possible.”
Erica Eikmeier, RTG Medical employee wellness coordinator, noted that knowing your people is one of the best things you can do when implementing a new program. Simplifying things is also beneficial in encouraging adoption.
“Get to know the employees and what their specific needs are by talking with them,” she said. “Find ways to accommodate all levels of fitness and wellness.
“Buy-in and participation seem to be the biggest challenges with a wellness program. Keeping the program simple and making participation easy will help with that. You should also strive to make the wellness program an important part of the company culture … make it simple. It should be easy for an employee to participate. The less complicated it is the more likely you will have participation. Provide follow-up to your employees. Measure success and share that with the employees so they see the value in the program.”
Weaving Wellness In
A company has many moving parts and introducing a health and wellness program that people want to use will take work. But, according to Thomas, one of the best ways to get people excited about it is by truly integrating it into the culture and not just treating it as an add-on.
“Consider the organization’s mission, vision, and core values and determine how to align your wellness strategy mission, vision, and core values with those of the organization,” she said. “Weave wellness into what is already being done within the organization.
“People are busy and adding another thing to their list of things to do is not appealing. The more you can incorporate wellness into day-to-day happenings within the organization, the more people will engage. For example, encourage, and model, walking meetings rather than needing to sit in an office or conference room to talk. Or if the organization does an employee survey once per year, include questions about wellness, safety, inclusivity, belonging, etc. in that survey.”
Know What’s Trending
Adapting a health and wellness program to a company’s unique company culture is a critical component to its success, but so is staying on top of wellness trends. From new fitness equipment to diet plans, to the latest technology or gadgets, there is almost always something new that employees are learning about.
Focusing on mental health has become one of the most common threads in new health and wellness programs this year. For example, some companies may see the benefit of providing paid time off for employees to take a mental health day, or they may consider providing reimbursement for counseling or therapy services.
Many employees today also want their companies to remember that they are human. So, whether it’s running into a child care snafu, and they need to work from home that day, or they need to readjust meetings to make time for a last-minute doctor appointment, businesses that prioritize people and their humanness is what will help keep employees happier on the job.
“One trend that I am enjoying seeing that is more of a mindset shift is the focus on overall health versus physical health,” Dolezal said. “People are taking an interest in social, emotional, mental, and financial health alongside physical health.
“Keeping a pulse on trends can help you design programs that pique employees’ interest and help them navigate this constantly changing world. Trends will always be there and by offering resources for employees to navigate them, we allow them to make better educated decisions.”
Once you have done a full examination of your company’s culture and have a good sense of who your people are and what they’re looking for, you will better be able to dive into creating a health and wellness program that is as unique as your company. Take some time to get feedback or suggestions on which incentives would be most welcomed by your team.
“From a national perspective, companies offer a wide range of incentives,” Dolezal explained. “Health savings account deposits, paid time off, health insurance premium reductions, flexibility such as a work-from-home day or ability to leave early, gift cards, material items such as fitness trackers and apparel — the list goes on and on. Personally, I think about what associates want, but wouldn’t or couldn’t buy.”
However, remember that no matter how comprehensive a health and wellness program is, flexibility is vital.
“Get the idea of making everybody happy off the table because it will never happen,” Thomas said. “Focus on what will make the biggest impact on the most people.
“You can provide anything and everything for the employees, but you can’t make them use what you have in place … ask yourself why the program, initiative, or activity you want to do is important to the organization and if it is important to the employees. If it is not something that both the organization and employees find value in, re-think it.”