Employers seeking to support their employees with improving their physical and mental health have recognised that wellness programmes are an important part of their HR strategy.

Far from representing a bottom line cost, successful employee wellness programmes can result in up to 800% ROI; reducing the amount associated with health care and health insurance costs, lowering absenteeism and recruitment costs, and having a positive impact on staff retention and motivation.

Building a successful wellness programme is about more than healthy lifestyle and exercise advice. Employees who feel that they are being pressured lose trust and become resistant, so there may need to be a culture change and range of incentives in order to get buy-in. And this will need to be led from the top; employees won’t trust a wellness initiative if they see senior and middle management are not leading by example or buying-in to it.

What is a wellness programme?

Precisely what you incorporate in your employee wellness programme will depend on the health risks affecting your workforce. But broadly speaking, most company wellness programmes include a range of activities including:

  • company-sponsored exercise (which might include discounted gym or sports club memberships, workplace exercise sessions or creation of company sports teams, for example)
  • weight loss programmes
  • health screenings
  • health risk assessments
  • help to stop smoking
  • access to advice and support
  • education (e.g. nutrition and exercise information)
  • healthy eating cafeteria

Depending on your working environment, there may also be some industry-specific elements you need to consider.

Incentives to take part often include financial incentives – like lower health insurance premiums or gym memberships – or competitions.

Employee wellness is not just about individual wellbeing and healthy lifestyles. Many successful programmes also include elements that promote mindfulness of others at work.

This might include education about our impact on each other – awareness of noise levels, how we maintain our workspace and respecting one another’s personal space.

In an open plan office space, for example, employees may need to consider how loudly they talk on the telephone, or whether it (and what) is appropriate to eat at their desk.

10 steps to build an employee wellness programme

I’ve worked with hundreds of companies to help them improve employee wellbeing, and I’ve designed many wellness programmes as part of that. By their nature, they’re all bespoke, and there’s no one-size-fits-all blueprint.

But there are some key steps that I’ve found result in a well-received programme with positive results, which I’d like to share with you:

1. Assess

My biggest piece of advice is not to rush into implementing a wellness programme without having researched your workforce’s needs and planned how you’re going to roll out, communicate, maintain and measure.

So your first task is to assess the needs of your workforce. There are a number of ways that you can do this, which may include:

  • surveys to evaluate employee wellness levels, interests and needs
  • health risk assessments
  • a review of existing group health plans (if you have them) and their take-up
  • an environmental audit, reviewing what culture exists around health

2. Recruit

A wellness committee, made up of wellness champions from across the organisation, will be an invaluable help to you in getting people engaged. It will also lessen the burden on you!

You might be tempted to leave this stage until later, once you’ve got your wellness programme plans in place.

But by engaging and involving these champions much earlier in the process, you can enlist their help in the assessment and planning stages.

Having people from other departments will not only give you valuable insights into people’s needs, but will also help to avoid the perception that this is ‘just another hollow HR initiative’ (Hopefully that’s not a problem in your organisation – but I’ve met plenty of companies where it is!)

3. Plan

Just as you would with a business plan, you need to establish your wellbeing programme’s strategic and measurable goals. Otherwise you could put a lot of effort into simply reacting to daily pressures or responding to today’s buzzwords.

You’ll need to consider how you’re going to measure progress. Whilst it is possible for wellness programmes to deliver up to 800% ROI, anything like that might be a longer-term goal.

Look into how you might be able to collect data on your employees’ health and progress. Obviously this will need to be confidentially handled and stored, and any suggestion that health data could be used to judge or discriminate is definitely to be avoided.

Part of your planning process will also need to include getting buy-in and commitment from the top down, and across all departments. Wellness champions, forming a wellness committee that represents the whole organisation, will make it easier for you to spread the word, get people engaged and drive increased happiness and success for all.

You’ll also need to plan your incentives and rewards. What will entice people to take part, and what perks might they get (in addition to improved health) by following the programme?

4. Budget

Your budget will obviously depend on your needs, and what’s available.

Many activities could carry very little cost – like setting up groups for lunchtime walks, or organising healthy eating competitions. But if you need to give your workforce access to specific support services, there is likely to be investment involved, and don’t forget to factor in possible training spend for staff, which is the right thing to pay for if it will benefit staff and the company long term.

Remember that you don’t necessarily need to offer everything free of charge to your employees. Many people may be prepared to pay for things like exercise classes or lunchtime yoga sessions – but a subsidised rate is often attractive.

Lots of organisations will have a corporate partner programme, so it’s worth doing your research into what’s available in your area (or asking your Wellness Champions to do some).

There may even be an opportunity for your company to participate in a clinical study run by a university or hospital, studying the impact of employee wellness programmes in general or certain activities in particular (these studies are often quite specific though; looking for data from a strictly defined risk group – male, smokers, over 40, for example)

5. Position

Your wellness programme will be much more successful if you communicate to your employees that it is about valuing them. Showing them that you’re helping them to make changes that will benefit every aspect of their lives is likely to be more successful than talking about productivity; or giving the impression that it’s all about risk assessments.

Although it’s likely to be led by HR, my advice is to position your wellness programme as something more than just an HR initiative. You’ll need to think about how it impacts your company culture and leadership.

6. Keep it simple

Your wellness programme needs to be easy to find, and simple to join and follow. Anything too complex will put people off.

Depending on the business, you may also need to think about how to make it inclusive. Do you have night shift workers who might not be around for daytime events? Or remote workers who can’t get involved in group activities? You’ll need to consider how to roll this out to everyone; another good reason to keep it simple!

7. Privacy

In the same way that some employees can become highly resistant if they believe that something is being imposed on them, some may question the need to gather and analyse their health data. As I mentioned earlier, having the right, secure and confidential mechanisms in place is essential.

People may worry that their promotion prospects or even their job security is at risk if they are in poor health.

Your communications need to stress the confidentiality of personal health information at all times.

8. Communicate

How you roll out your wellness programme will have a big impact on its success. You’ll need to generate interest and attention, and keep that going.

An internal comms campaign, with eye-catching materials and simple but powerful slogans will help. You could get your wellness champions to co-ordinate this with me as their independent adviser/mental fitness & productivity coach .

Visible endorsement and participation by senior management is crucial for credibility.

Using a variety of communications channels is essential, too, especially if you are operating across different sites and working patterns. Email, group voicemail messages, videos, posters and flyers all have a part to play. Events – from specific presentations to slots in departmental meetings – also help to bring people’s attention to what’s going on.

Repetition, repetition, repetition is the order of the day here. Keep rolling out the communications, and refresh the message regularly with new information.

9. Evaluate and persevere

As with any culture change, your wellness programme will need time to take root and deliver benefits.

If you’ve been realistic when planning and setting your goals, you should be able to track progress, but don’t expect major impact on the bottom line immediately. It could take 18 months or more before you start to see ROI.

Part of the planning and running of your wellness programme will be regular reporting, assessing and updating. Remember that the primary purpose should be to improve employee health and reduce stress. Therefore, your programme will need to grow and evolve as you learn more about what works for people, and what doesn’t.

Monitoring the programme regularly will show you if your priorities are right, or whether there are gaps that you need to fill.

10. Reward

Incentives and perks are well known and effective tools to encourage people to exchange unhealthy behaviours for a healthy lifestyle. (Otherwise known as the carrot vs the stick approach).

Your rewards system could include points that can be exchanged for goods, gifts or awards to celebrate achievements or even monetary awards. There are a number of companies who specialise in employee reward schemes, so again, it’s worth doing you research to find one that fits your needs.

These incentives tend to be a priority to start with, but over time, motivation usually shifts to become about reinforcing the positive results people have experienced.

The form that your workplace wellness programme takes will obviously depend on your workforce’s needs, your resources and your budget. But if you follow these 10 steps you should get off to a good start.

If you’d like my help to get started and drive the best possible outcomes, then I’ll be very happy to take your call.