Dear Workforce How Do We Get Employees to Take Advantage if We Offer Wellness Programs

We are looking at starting a wellness program for employees and need input on the pros/cons. How could we ensure that our people take advantage of it? Are there marketing techniques or other gimmicks we can use to build enthusiasm?

September 7, 2011

Dear Health-Conscious:


Offering a wellness program to employees is no different from any other business initiative: You need to have a stated goal or objective. You have to consider:

• Is this an important initiative upon which to expend resources?

• What will the company gain?

• What will employees gain?

Wellness programs can be very effective at reducing health care costs, creating good will among employees, improving productivity and reducing health risk factors in an employee population. There are five key rules for implementing a successful program:

Rule 1: Wellness programs are most effective when designed to target known health risk factors in an employee population, such as weight problems, smoking, poor eating habits and lack of exercise. With knowledge about the characteristics of your employees, a program can be designed to fit their needs.

Rule 2: Understand that if no one participates or makes needed lifestyle changes, the initiative has failed. The employer offering the program must be committed to helping employees make needed lifestyle changes. Success factors include an effective, persistent communication program, providing rewards to motivate employees to succeed, and starting small and building on success.

Rule 3: Remove any barriers in the health benefit program that would impede the success of the program (i.e., preventive care, smoking-cessation drugs or obesity treatments that are not covered by health insurance).

Rule 4: Never offer a wellness program on a casual basis. Use a combination of rewards and penalties to maximize participation in the program. An example would be lower premiums for smokers participating in a smoking-cessation program than for smokers who do not participate; or cash rewards for employees who achieve a significant reduction in their body mass index. That means committing the financial resources needed to produce results. Offer clear choices to employees that focus their attention on the importance of improving their own individual health. Make sure that nondiscrimination rules are reviewed—this may mean offering alternative tracks for employees who cannot meet certain standards. In some cases, rewards could be taxable if not part of the health plan.

Rule 5: If the leaders of your organization are not behind the program 100 percent, it will fail. This requires them to passionately commit to making changes and supporting others to change through their example.

SOURCE: Kathryn Bakich and Christopher Mathews, The Segal Co., New York

LEARN MORE: You can check the effectiveness of your wellness initiative by using this checklist.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

Ask a Question

Dear Workforce Newsletter