3 Ways to Ensure Your Wellness Initiatives Unlock Better Employee Engagement and Company Culture

Wellness has become a buzzword in corporate America. From weight loss challenges to walk-a-thons, companies across the country—and across the world—are foisting numerous, well-intentioned “wellness” programs on their employees in hopes of bending the cost curve on rising healthcare costs.

But are these programs actually making their employees healthier? Or are they just workaholism disguised in track shoes and Fitbits?

Recent studies have shown that carrot-and-stick approaches to corporate wellness programs aren’t actually as effective as executives would like. Wellbeing isn’t something that companies can track using numbers alone—in fact, slapping a fitness tracker on someone’s wrist and counting their steps might foster more resentment than wellbeing.[1]

When done well, wellness initiatives can absolutely improve the bottom line numbers—but their real value may be in how they boost employee engagement and help create a more resilient workplace culture.[11] But the devil is in the details, so let’s look at the three elements that are required to unlock the benefits of a truly great wellness.

1) Go beyond diet, exercise, and sleep.

According to a study by the RAND corporation, comprehensive, prevention-focused programs are far more successful than intervention-focused ones.[5] At Wisdom Labs, we’ve found that forward-thinking clients are defining “health” beyond diet and exercise—they are looking at emotional health, financial well-being, and building resilience into the organization’s onboarding and new manager training curricula.

A 2017 Survey of Workplace Health Priorities found that 77% of organization surveyed are expanding beyond physical health to include other programs, including financial and mental health initiatives.[12]

With this expanded focus, wellness goes beyond the health risk assessment (HRA) to help create a culture of taking care of oneself and others.

2) Integrate your leaders’ interests and hobbies into the design of initiatives.

Time and again, we’ve seen that executives must model wellbeing by participating in the program themselves, in order to set the right example for workers down the management chain and to the front line.[9]

Employees will look to their managers and the top of the organization to understand how much buy-in there truly is. For example, if a senior leaders makes time for exercise, employees will feel less self-conscious about taking a fitness break. In our work at Salesforce, we’ve seen how the CEO’s commitment to daily mindfulness practice has paved the way for others in the organization to develop this habit for themselves. By including leadership’s natural interests and passions, wellness initiatives improve connection between employees and leaders at scale.

Jason Lang, team lead for workplace health program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention underscores the importance of this design principle when he says, “Your wellness program should be embedded in everything your organization does.”[10]

3) Demonstrate that the employee’s experience is a major outcome.

When wellness programs fail or fizzle, many times it’s because they didn’t ask employees what they wanted. Your program manager might think Millennial employees want yoga classes, but maybe they want rock climbing and boot camp workouts instead, as Honest Tea discovered. You won’t know unless you ask and get buy-in in the design phase.[6]Programs that give employees the option of participating do far better than ones that are forced, or worse, ones that penalize non-participants with higher insurance premiums. Optional programs help workers feel empowered to take charge of their own health.

Adding these three considerations to clear goals, regular communications, and industry appropriate wellness initiatives helps reduce healthcare costs AND build engagement and a more positive company culture.

Companies that truly take care of their employees’ minds, bodies, and spirits will be far more successful than ones who implement wellness programs just to boost productivity. When your company takes a holistic approach to workplace wellness, rather than only focusing on numbers and clinical results, your employees will be more resilient, less prone to burn out, and just feel happier at work.

To learn more about how Wisdom Labs can help with your wellness and engagement initiatives, please contact Meghna Majmudar.


[1] De La Torre, Hector, and Ron Goetzel. “How to Design a Corporate Wellness Plan that Actually Works.” Harvard Business Review (2016). https://hbr.org/2016/03/how-to-design-a-corporate-wellness-plan-that-actually-works

[2] Miller, Stephen. “Communication Is Key to Wellness Success.” Society for Human Resource Management (August 23, 2012). https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/benefits/Pages/Communication-Wellness-Success.aspx.

[3] Thorpe, Abigail. “The 44 Healthiest Companies to Work for in America.” Greatist (October 27, 2016). https://greatist.com/health/healthiest-companies.

[4] Kroeger, Joseph A. and Matt P. Milner. “The Keys to a Healthy Corporate Wellness Program.” American Bar Association (June 10, 2013). http://apps.americanbar.org/litigation/committees/employment/articles/spring2013-0613-keys-healthy-corporate-wellness-program.html.

[5] Huang, Haijing, Soeren Mattke, Benajmin Batorsky, Jeremy Miles, Hangsheng Liu, and Erin Taylor. “Incentives, program configuration, and employee uptake of workplace wellness programs.” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 58:1 (2016): 30-34. http://journals.lww.com/joem/Abstract/2016/01000/Incentives,_Program_Configuration,_and_Employee.6.aspx.

[6] “From Evidence to Practice: Workplace Wellness that Works.” Prepared by the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (2015) https://www.transamericacenterforhealthstudies.org/docs/default-source/wellness-page/from-evidence-to-practice---workplace-wellness-that-works.pdf?sfvrsn=2.

[7] Loeppke, Ronald R., Todd Hohn, Catherine Baase, William B. Bunn, Wayne N. Burton, Barry S. Eisenberg, Trish Ennis et al. “Integrating health and safety in the workplace: how closely aligning health and safety strategies can yield measurable benefits.” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 57:5 (2015): 585-597. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Catherine_Baase/publication/276068426_Integrating_Health_and_Safety_in_the_Workplace_How_Closely_Aligning_Health_and_Safety_Strategies_Can_Yield_Measurable_Benefits/links/555395f108ae6fd2d81f209b.pdf.

[8] Goh, Joel, Jeffrey Pfeffer, Stefanos A. Zenios, and Sachin Rajpal. “Workplace stressors & health outcomes: Health policy for the workplace.” Behavioral Science & Policy 1:1 (2015): 43-52. http://jeffreypfeffer.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/BSP-Article.pdf.

[9] O’Boyle, Ed, and Jim Harter. "Why your workplace wellness program isn’t working." Gallup Business Journal (2014). http://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/168995/why-workplace-wellness-program-isn-working.aspx.

[10] Rossi, Holly Lebowitz. “5 hallmarks of successful corporate wellness programs.” Fortune (April 13, 2015). http://www.fortune.com/2015/04/13/corporate-wellness/.[11] Berry, Mirabito, and Baun. “What’s the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs?” Harvard Business Review (December 2010).[12] The Business of HEALTHY EMPLOYEES: A 2017 Survey of Workplace Health Priorities. Conducted by Workforce and VirginPulse.

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Meghna Majmudar

Meghna is an experienced marketing and business development leader and executive coach. She is committed to working with organizations and leaders that are improving themselves and the world. You can connect with her on Twitter @meghnaspeaks or on Linkedin.

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