Benefits of Workplace Wellness Programs

Introduction to Workplace Wellness Programs 

Risky health behaviors by staff members cost a company. Changing those behaviors can save the employer money and increase the staff member’s productivity. 

Because work gives an staff member a stable setting and support system, Workplace Wellness Programs can have a great impact on decreasing high-risk behaviors. This impact results in decrease health claims cost, less absenteeism, and less short-term disability. 

Workplace Wellness Programs can include: 

Awareness Rasing Activities: Health and wellness newsletters, health topics covered in payroll stuffers, healthy emails. 

Health Risk Assessment: Employee health screenings, health fairs, health risk appraisals. 

Educational Programs: Lunchtime wellness presentations, guest speakers at staff meetings. 

Skill Building: Healthy cooking demostrations, activity challenges, CPR instruction opportunites, stress management classes, weight management classes. 

Interventions: Massage, smoking cessation, and skills to help you get the most out of your doctor visit. 

Physical setting: Healthy items in the vending machines and cafeterias, clean air practices, ergonomics, bike racks, flex time, welllit stairways. 

Assessment: Worker needs assessment, baseline Workplace Wellness Program assessment measures, ongoing Workplace Wellness Program assessment of overall effectiveness. 

Why Make available Workplace Wellness Programs 

The typical employer spends about $8,000 a year on an employee’s medical care. This includes medical insurance, disability and worker’s compensation. As these costs climb, medical insurance is expected to rise at least 10% per year. 

A 1999 study showed that companies using Workplace Wellness Programs had a return on investment (ROI) from $1.49 – $13 in benefits per dollar spent. The amount depended on the nature of the Workplace Wellness Programs used. (S. Aldana, American Journal of Wellness, 2001; 15:296-320) 

One study showed that a “stop smoking” element to Workplace Wellness Programs can save between $404 -$40,829 per employee, depending on the age and sex of the staff member. 

The Workplace Wellness Programs at Traveler’s Company included a self-care book, a newsletter, single-topic brochures, and videotapes. The Workplace Wellness Programs saved the company $7.8 million in employee benefi t costs, decreased doctor visits, and it reduced absenteeism by 1.2 days per staff member per year. The estimated Workplace Wellness Programs ROI was $3.40 per dollar spent. 

In 1998, the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) reported a study of 46,026 staff members from six large employers for three years. Employees with an inactive lifestyle had 10% higher costs; staff members with depression had 70% higher costs. 

Benefits of Workplace Wellness Programs 

Increased Productivity – The Canada Life Assurance Company realized a 4% increase in productivity after beginning an employee fitness program. 

Increased Job Satisfaction – According to employee opinion surveys conducted by the Silverstone Group about thier Workplace Wellness Programs, staff members’ morale increased, which helped support a more creative work setting. 

Improved Recruitment & Retention – In the midst of a tight labor market, Workplace Wellness Programs could be a vital tool to draw new recruits. 

Decreased Absenteeism – Canada Life Assurance Company’s absenteeism dropped 42% among staff members in the Workplace Wellness Programs. 

Decreased Workers Comp & Disability – In one year, Boeing Company’s number of back injuries decreased by 34%. Six million dollars was saved by tracking injuries as they occurred. 

Managed Healthcare Costs – Golden, Colorado Adolf Coors Company’s Workplace Wellness Programs returned $6.19 for every dollar spent.

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How to Write Workplace Wellness Program Goals and Objectives

Why have Workplace Wellness Program objectives? 

Workplace Wellness Program objectives take your organization’s priorities for employee health improvement and make them specific and measurable. Well-defined Workplace Wellness Program objectives provide direction for selecting Strategies and a basis for which to measure progress. 

Writing Workplace Wellness Program objectives 

Writing Workplace Wellness Program objectives is not complicated or difficult. It does require some thought, about your organization’s Workplace Wellness Program vision for a culture of health and they should be:     


      Specific Workplace Wellness Program Goals

      Measurable Workplace Wellness Program Goals

      Attainable Workplace Wellness Program Goals

      Realistic Workplace Wellness Program Goals

      Timely Workplace Wellness Program Goals

Specific Workplace Wellness Program Goals: What is the specific outcome your organization is looking for? “Reduce smoking among staff members” is more specific than “Improve the health of staff members.” You may wish to write some objectives about specific outcomes (reducing smoking among staff members) and other objectives about specific progress (implementing a tobacco-free campus policy or decreasing the price of fresh fruit in the cafeteria to 25 cents a piece). 

Measurable Workplace Wellness Program Goals: Making your objectives measurable provides a means of evaluating your progress and success. There is a saying: “what gets measured, gets done.” Goals which are measurable can be effective motivators for your organization. “Provide more time for staff members to be physically active” is much less measurable than “implement a daily 15-minute walking break into the schedule of all staff members.” “Increase the number of staff members who want to quit smoking” is less measurable than “increase enrollments in the stop-using tobacco program to 120 staff members per year.” 

Attainable Workplace Wellness Program Goals: Establish objectives that challenge your organization to change and that will demonstrate a real commitment to the health of the employees. At the same time, set objectives that are achievable. Goals that are set too far out of reach can be overwhelming and may become a barrier rather than a motivator. 

Realistic Workplace Wellness Program Goals: Write objectives that are do-able, given the skills, time, finances and overall strategy of the organization. A realistic project may push the skills and knowledge of the people working on it but it shouldn’t break them. 

Timely Workplace Wellness Program Goals: When do you hope to achieve the goal? Next week? Next year? Without a timeframe, the goal is still not clear and is much less likely to galvanize resources and energy within your organization. 

“Reduce the percent of staff members who use tobacco from 20% to 10%” is much less of a challenge than “By the end of 2010, reduce the percent of staff members who use tobacco from 20% to 15%”.

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Sample Workplace Wellness Program Ideas

Health Testing:
• Blood checks
• Breast cancer Testing
• Skin cancer Testing
• Diabetes Testing
• Cholesterol Testing
• Eye exams
• Body-fat Testing
• Flu shots
• Posture screening, spinal analysis
• On-site child immunizations
• Prostate cancer screenings
• Fitness Testing
• Depression Testing

Physical Fitness Ideas:
• On-site fitness center or exercise room
• Walking and/or running club (during lunch hour or breaks)
• Bike rack on premises (so employees can ride to work or during lunch)
• Mind/body classes (yoga, tai chi) programs
• Team sports (volleyball, basketball, softball)
• Host an exercise equipment swap

Lifestyle Change or Behavior Change Initiatives:
• Tobacco cessation
• Weight management programs
• Substance abuse programs
• Physical Fitness activity
• Stress management programs

Prevention and Safety Initiatives:
• Back-injury prevention and training
• Ergonomic education
• Tool safety programs
• Fire safety programs

Health Education, Awareness, and Support Initiatives:
• Lunch-and-learn or brown-bag wellness seminars (see your EAP for a list)
• Diet and Nutrition information, plus provide healthy food alternatives in your vending machines and cafeteria, and provide food storage and preparation facilities to encourage healthier eating
• Prenatal care programs
• Work / Life Balance programs
• Elder care programs
• Cancer survivor support groups
• Financial education

Stress-Reliever Initiatives:
• Laughter bulletin board where employees can post jokes and cartoons (in good taste)
• Visiting massage therapist
• Stretch breaks
• Group lunches or celebrations

Disease Management Initiatives:
• Back pain
• Asthma
• Diabetes
• Depression
• Cancer
• Obesity
• Hypertension

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Workplace Wellness Program Ideas: Health Education Initiatives

Employee Health Services

• access to an EAP

• worksite medical services

• worksite medical examinations

• health risk screening and counselling:

      • blood pressure,

      • blood cholesterol ,

      • blood glucose clinics,

      • thyroid.

      • bone density screening,

      • prostrate

• promote self-exams – breasts, testicles

• medical surveillance Initiatives

• immunizations and flu shots

• disability case management

• active rehabilitation

• return to work Initiatives

• self-care education (see health living Initiatives)

• disease management information and presentations:

      • diabetes,

      • stomach disorder,

      • arthritis,

      • asthma,

      • allergy,

      • pain control,

      • foot and back care Initiatives,

      • chronic fatigue,

      • migraines

• health on-line with continuous learning/reminders/tips

• daily/weekly/monthly email tips or news bulletins

• excercise appraisals

• health and safety fairs

• hand-washing tips and reminders

• visiting your doctor guide – tips to efficiency

• links and information on help lines

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Workplace Wellness Program Ideas: Occupational Wellness Strategies

• clearly communicated vision and mission

• clear and accurate job descriptions

• supportive appraisal system

• staff member empowerment through decision-making, pace of work and connection to corporate goals, (on-line tools that connect to goals such as Baxter Healthcare)

• two-way communication training

• ‘no lunch hour’ meeting rules unless it is a lunch ‘n’ learn

• rates of absence and attendance program

• career tracking, (on-line tools like Pfizer)

• continuing education

• job rotation, special project assignments

• time management and interruption management

• innovative ideas program

• change and complaint process

• email guidelines

• technology courses and assistance

• vacation useage

• shift work rotations and breaks

• conflict management skills

• handling negative attitudes workshops 

Occupational Wellness Strategies: Management Training 

• scheduling

• incentive and recognition Initiatives

• workload impact

• communication and feedback skills

• conflict management skills and support skills

• priority setting

• all of which are apart of the four employment relationship factors (trust, commitment, influence, and communication – from Canadian Policy Research Network) 

Occupational Wellness Strategies: Contributions and Benefits 

• massage – try an worksite massage therapist or seated massage breaks

• orthotics

• orthodontics

• fitness subsidies

• education subsidies

• cessation and weight control partial reimbursement incentives

• safety shoe reimbursement

• out-of-country coverage

• vision care

• alternative therapy coverage   


Occupational Wellness Strategies: Building Support

• fitness breaks and stretches

• team challenges

• corporate sport teams such as soccer, volleyball, and hockey

• use employees who are in-house experts e.g., gardening, yoga, construction

• celebrate birthdays, anniversaries – other significant dates and achievements

• 5 minute catch-up at beginning of work week

• pot lucks and food for meetings

• green room for time outs and regrouping self

• encouraging face to face communications

• learn names 

**The creation of health or harm within an company depends on how work is managed.  Workplace Culture Strategies must address high demand/low control, high effort/low reward, fairness, purpose and trust.

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Workplace Wellness Program Ideas: Mental Wellness

• childcare Initiatives and information

• family planning information

• parenting classes

• elder care Initiatives and information

• retirement planning

• personal responsibility leave

• alternative work arrangements such as telecommuting, job sharing

• work-family-life transition support

• anger management and family violence

• family counselling programs

• budgeting and financial counselling

• understanding credit reports

• money safety tips – ATMS, credit cards

• advertising and promotion of community support groups

• cafeteria take-out program

• tax preparation programs

• will, power of attorney, and estate experts

• vacation planning and safe travel

• interpersonal relationship presenters

• motivational presenters

• bereavement information

• shift work and lifestyle Initiatives

• limit overtime

• balance on-line suggestions such as SC Johnson

• family days – bike rodeos, BBQ, picnics

• swimming pool safety

• charity information – United Way, MADD

• other information sessions on: 

• chemical free lawn and garden care,

• menopause,

• infertility,

• lice prevention,

• poisoning,

• fire safety programs

• seat belts and booster seats,

• playground safety,

• internet safety,

• home safety and energy efficiency

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Workplace Wellness Program Ideas: Environmental Wellness Initiatives

• violence in the worksite

• equity in the worksite programs

• harassment policy and training

• literacy/numeracy Initiatives

• professional development and skill enhancing training

• air quality and sick building testing

• smoke-free worksite

• fire safety programs

• hazard control and WHIMS Training

• injury prevention, CPR/First Aid, emergency response Initiatives

• improved signage

• installing guard rails

• work station design, ergonomic and repetitive strain reduction training

• stretching programs

• health and safety written and implemented policies

• Safety Audits

• access to bike racks, showers and change areas

• make stairs attractive and post signs to promote their use

• proper lighting

• monitoring noise levels

• shift work strategies related to lighting, noise, air, breaks etc.

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Workplace Wellness Program Ideas: Healthy Living Initiatives

• Add Stress Management Programs and mental health Initiatives

• Add substance use and abuse Initiatives

• Add smoking cessation and control

• Add nutrition counselling

• Add weight control Initiatives and counselling

• Add promote use of food logs

• Add posting BMI charts

• Add juice dispensing machines

• Add water coolers

• Add snack machines with low-calorie snack choices

• Add snack machines with fruit, vegetable and calcium choices

• Posting nutritional information on snack machines

• Add color-coded cafeteria choices

• Encourage breakfast – suggest choices to start the day

• healthy packed lunch ideas for adults and kids

• partnering with local restaurants for healthy lunch choices

• healthy recipes on-line

• healthy or low-cost cooking Initiatives

• healthy shopping instruction

• naturopaths, homeopaths, herbal remedies and vitamins

• Add information sessions on fad diets

• Add disease prevention information

• STD’s

• active living and fitness Initiatives such as a aerobics, walking or cycling clubs

• Add self-defense training

• Add relaxation training

• chiropractors

• relaxation and energy specialists

• Add stretching classes such as yoga, tai chi

• Add active living challenges

• walking challenges with pedometers

• stair climbing challenge

• sleep and sleep disorders e.g. snoring

• napping information and sleep rooms

• alertness and driving sessions

• encouraging light breaks

• create a wellness Yellow Pages

• information sessions on 

      • insect bites,

      • memory enhancement,

      • motion sickness,

      • nose bleeds,

      • healthy skin,

      • frost bite,

      • gingivitis and mouth care,

      • hair loss,

      • ear infections,

      • fever,

      • psoriasis,

      • TMJ,

      • varicose veins,

      • shingles,

      • defensive driving,

      • sun safety,

      • avoiding home and vehicle theft,

      • food safety

      • handwashing 

**Healthy Living Initiatives should assist in the development of self-efficacy which means that the individual has a senses that they can influence the course of events in their normal daily life, that they can deal with their normal consequences, that they feel confident and sure of themselves.

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Workplace Wellness Program Environment Assessment

Why Complete a Workplace Wellness Program Environment Assessment? 

The purpose of completing the assessment is to identify your worksite’s strengths and areas in need of improvement. The assessment will lead your workgroup to recommend actions for changes to make the worksite more supportive of healthy behaviors (i.e. healthy food choices in snack machines, policies to enforce no smoking on worksite grounds or encouraging walking during break times). You may find some of the actions for supporting healthy behaviors are easy to do and others may not be feasible or efficient in your worksite.  The assessment results can also be used as a baseline measure for evaluation.  The initial assessment can later be compared with a follow-up assessment several months later to note progress. 

Who should do the Workplace Wellness Program Environment Assessment? 

Identify a workgroup (at least 4-5 workers) who will be responsible for completing the assessment.  This may be a subset of your wellness workgroup.  Forming a diverse group from all areas and levels of your company is important for meaningful assessment and successful planning and implementation. Suggested members include: human resources, employees from various departments, administrators, supervisors, staff member or wellness staff. 

When should the Workplace Wellness Program Environment Assessment be Done? 

Use the assessment as a starting point for your wellness initiative. Once you have completed the assessment, determine which areas the workgroup will focus on (i.e. healthy eating, physical activity, general health, etc.). Establish a time for the workgroup to meet and monitor the progress. Also determine a schedule for annual assessments, so that the assessment can serve as a tool for continuous improvement and accountability over time. 

Part 1 – Wellness Assessment Checklist 

Complete a Worksite Wellness Assessment Checklist to determine what wellness components you currently have at your worksite.   This can be done with the full workgroup or you may want a few key personnel (such as the Human Resources lead, Wellness Coordinator or Workgroup Coordinator) to do a preliminary scan based on information they gather and then let the full workgroup react to their findings. Ask your broker for a sample wellness assessment checklist or create your own. 

Completion of the checklist provides a reference point of the wellness functions that are currently in place or in process and it provides an overview of some of the items that should be considered for a comprehensive Workplace Wellness Program. 

Checklist Components: 

Categories.  There are six major categories (General, Physical Activity, Nutrition, Health Screening, Tobacco Use and Emergency Response Plan).  Each category has several questions that address what you currently have in place at your worksite. 

Current Status.  Initially, list whether you have the component (Yes), are in the process of instituting the component or you are planning for the component (In Process) or don’t have the component at all (No).  At the end of each category, sub-total the number in each column and then total all of the categories at the end of the checklist to get an overview of where your worksite Workplace Wellness Program currently rates. You should also use this baseline measure as a benchmark for later evaluation.  By evaluating where your worksite is on each wellness component, you will be able to get a general idea of your status across each category and all 57 items. 

Potential Priorities.  After you have completed the assessment and the employee interest survey, you can use the potential priority column to indicate what components you might want to focus on that are either currently in process or don’t exist.  This can serve as a first screening of possible areas to focus on as you develop your action plan. 

Part 2: staff member Input 

Why would we want to do an employee survey? 

You should conduct an employee survey to get a better understanding of your target audience (your company’s employees) and get an initial idea of their current health habits and interest areas.  The survey can be tailored to your worksite and can be done in paper form or through the use of survey instruments on the internet or that can be purchased.   You can create your own employee survey or ask your broker for a Workplace Wellness Needs and Interest Survey.  

As was the case with the worksite environmental assessment, the employee survey results can also be used as a baseline measure for later evaluation.  The initial survey results can later be compared with a follow-up survey several months later to note progress. 

You should also consider engaging employees in focus groups or informal interviews to gather information on their wants and needs.  This can be done either before or after the survey, or if you don’t have the resources to survey employees, you could use this method to gather information in place of the survey.  

Whatever method you use to gather information, make it as easy as possible for employees to complete and submit the information so you get a high return rate.  Look at offering an incentive or prize for workers who complete the survey.

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Workplace Wellness Program: Maintaining Motivation and Interest

Once you start a program you will have a range of staff member members.  Some will already be very engaged in being active and eating well and your program will only reinforce and enhance their health.  On the other end of the spectrum will be workers who may not engage no matter what you do.  The remaining group is probably the largest group in most organizations: workers who are at various stages of readiness to improve their health given the right type of programming and motivation.   Summarized below are some tips you may want to employ once your program is up and running. 

Key Factors in Workplace Wellness Program 

In today’s society there are many primary factors that influence people’s health behaviors.  Look at the following list in maintaining participation in your program: 

1.    TIME.  Employees are busy, so the more you can work activity and healthy eating into their existing schedules, the better your chances for success.  Example: A walk at lunch doesn’t take away from existing time, it just uses it differently.  Also look at the time of the day and length of any activity you might be promoting, since both time components may be factors.

2.    ACCESS.   How accessible is your Workplace Wellness Program.  Is it onsite or at a nearby site?  Do you offer access at breaks or outside of normal work hours?

3.    KNOWLEDGE.  Employees need to know “Why” they are participating (the benefits) and also will need information about the “How to” in areas that are not commonly known. 

4.    COST.  Ensure that you can provide no cost or reduced cost Workplace Wellness Programs will help participation rates.  Coupled with incentives for participation, rates of participation will likely increase dramatically. 

5.    INCENTIVES.  Some workers need incentives to get started in a Workplace Wellness Program.  A full list of Workplace Wellness Program incentive options can be on the website. 

Key Time Periods in Workplace Wellness Program 

Good habits are frequently difficult to develop.  There tends to be some critical times when workers drop out or fall off of a physical activity or diet program.   The first key time zone seems to be around 6 weeks.   If workers can start and stay consistent with a program through the first 6 weeks, they have made a fairly serious commitment to incorporate the habits into their lifestyle.  The second key time is at about 6 months.  Those who made it past 6 weeks may get bored and/or distracted from their program after several months.  If workers can get past 6 months and sustain behavior through a full set of weather seasons, they have a very good chance of making the changes permanent.  

Look at these time periods and think about how you can “boost” your employees to get them past these critical time markers.  Promoting individual or group “challenges”, using incentives, or increased publicity/marketing are a few of the things you can do to help get your employees through these key time periods 

Goal Setting for Workplace Wellness Program 

Setting goals has been shown to lead to better participation and more workers making a strong commitment.  Whether it be a team goal of walking the equivalent of once around your state or an individual goal of so many miles or minutes of activity, the fact that there is something concrete to shoot for increases the likelihood workers will stick with the program. 

Buddy Systems or Team Goals for Workplace Wellness Program 

The social aspects of improving one’s health cannot be underestimated.  Many studies point to tight social groups being the backbone for a successful campaign because each individual has a commitment to something bigger than themselves and besides, it’s just more fun for most workers. Build your program around some type of teams or partners and see what happens. 

Team “Campaigns” for Workplace Wellness Program 

Some workers like competition and others don’t.  Nevertheless, a worksite wide campaign has the advantage of keeping the message more visible and alive.  Encourage campaign participation, but make it voluntary so that those who prefer that type of motivation can join while others can participate in their own way and at their own pace.  If the idea of a campaign seems like too much work, consider tapping into existing campaigns where someone else provides resources for you.  

Incentives for Workplace Wellness Program 

Incentives are frequently helpful in maintaining or raising interest.  Significant incentives such as cash or medical insurance rebates have proven to be very strong motivators for staff member participation.  However, even smaller incentives can be beneficial.  Listed below are some sample incentives:

• Achievement awards. Verbal praise and a pat on the back are motivational to some, but a token of recognition of achievement may offer more. A colorful certificate to congratulate an staff member for achieving a health-related goal is one example.

• Public recognition.  Announced recognition at campaign mid-point or wrap-up festivities.

• Food.  Include some healthy foods to kick-off, revitalize or wrap up a wellness campaign.

• Entertainment.  Events serve a purpose in jump-starting, reenergizing or wrapping up a campaign.  Having entertainment of any kind can boost morale.

• Merchandise.  There is a long list of merchandise incentives, including sports equipment and small gift certificates to use at local merchants. 

• Monetary rewards.  Nothing says incentive better than cash.  Worksites that have used cash or rebates as an incentive have shown much higher participation rates.

• Time off.  Maybe the next best incentive to cash, or for some workers even better.  This type of incentive makes good business sense if the number of absences drops significantly and attendance is used as one of the criteria.

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