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Design for Wellness: 5 steps to creating an employee wellness program

By Tricia Mirchandani

Imagine breakroom shelves stocked healthy snacks like fruits, vegetables, and nuts instead of sugar-laden candy and salt-loaded chips.

Imagine getting your annual flu shot in the conference room down the hall rather than trying to squeeze a doctor visit in during the busy winter season.

Imagine walking meetings, friendly office step-counting competitions, and group exercise classes during your lunch hour.

This is the world an employee wellness program can create.

Need numbers to really feel convinced? A 2011 study in American Journal of Health Promotion showed health care costs rose at a slower rate (15% slower) when employers consistently offered wellness program to employees.

Now that we’ve covered why you should start your own employee wellness program today, let’s talk how.

1. Assess 

The most successful wellness programs respond to the needs of your employees. So start by observing what sorts of wellness activities are popular in the office now—do groups of colleagues get together to walk after work? Has someone taken it on themselves to sanitize conference rooms during flu season? Take the lead from employees to hone in on what they seek most.

Need a bit more data? Distribute a survey to gather wellness needs and tailor programs and activities to your employees.

2. Recruit

Even the most perfectly tailored program will not run itself. Identify the health advocates among you and ask them to help organize the program, lead a campaign, plan an event or mentor other members of the team. The more people on the team, the better!

Need help convincing staff to join the effort? Look for ways to build responsibilities into their job and discuss any concerns about time commitments up front.

3. Budget 

While many wellness activities are free or very low cost, setting aside a budget for your wellness program will help keep up momentum and allow you to offset employee costs in favor of overall wellness. Consider:

  • Subsidizing Pilates or yoga classes or weight management programs
  • Assisting employees with gym membership costs
  • Adjusting insurance plans to align with employee needs and goals
  • Contacting health insurance companies for free resources – online and in person – on a variety of wellness topics

And don’t forget to pursue inexpensive options such as:

  • Contacting local health care providers, health clinics, hospitals, and universities for experts to speak on health and wellness-related topics
  • Utilize employee expertise to lead programs or classes
  • Set up a walking program or exercise group


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4. Advertise

Once you have the details of your program in place, spread the word! Post notes or messages in typical informational locations like your company intranet or break room bulletin board. And then think outside the box. Advertise events with flyers or table tents near the lunch room or break room. Start a wellness newsletter. If budget allows, order some small tchotchkes, like pencils or notepads for each staff member.

Focus communication on specific program features or upcoming events to create a sense of action.

5. Evaluate

You’ll probably know whether your program is working by the way employees engage. But gathering as many specifics as possible will help you further tune the program for success. Distribute short evaluations at specific intervals and after larger events. Three questions will do: What worked? What didn’t? What would you do differently?

Have you started an employee wellness program at your office? How is it working?

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