What Not to Do When Developing an Employee Wellness Program

There are a few standard pitfalls to avoid when designing your first employee wellness program.

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how to design your employee wellness program

When developing an employee wellness program, it’s hard to know where to begin. With so many competing ideas and resources, it can be challenging to narrow down the critical components.

Essentially, there are a lot of ways to create a successful wellness program. However, there are a few standard pitfalls to avoid at all costs when designing your first program. Here’s our list of employee wellness don’ts.

Excluding Management and Executives

According to The Washington Post, “Workplace wellness programs work best when bosses buy into them.” Several large organizations, including Reebok, are taking a top-down approach to wellness. Dan Sarro, Senior Corporate Communications Manager for Reebok, leads by example by reserving mornings for exercise. He starts a few of his days with a pickup hockey game and company meetings are scheduled later in the day to allow employees time for exercise. Co-workers have adapted well to the schedule change and now, “it’s just part of who we are,” says Sarro.

Workplace wellness programs work best when bosses buy into them.

A Rand study showed evidence that employee wellness programs need buy-in from senior managers to be successful. If leaders aren’t setting examples for their teams, it’s unrealistic to expect high participation from staff.

Ignoring Health Data

Wellness programs should be evidence-based. Don’t force the whole office to practice yoga because you like yoga. Collect health and wellness data from your employees to design a program specific to their needs. Organizations can do this by sending out a health survey or questionnaire to better understand their employee’s goals. Can’t decide whether to offer stress management, nutrition education, or smoking cessation? Ask your team.

Some companies go the extra mile by offering biometric screenings and health risk assessments. Collecting individual health data is the most precise way to find out what your organization needs. If a majority of your workforce has high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and back pain, exercise and nutrition should be the basis for your program. Similarly, if your team reports signs of stress, anxiety, and depression, yoga and meditation might be worth including into the program.

Disregarding Employee Feedback

For an employee wellness program to be successful long-term, program managers must continuously evaluate it. You can’t set it and forget it– solicit periodic feedback from staff to make improvements to the program. Feedback will help leaders assess the individual needs of their workforce and implement customized wellness solutions.

For an employee wellness program to be successful long-term, program managers must continuously evaluate it.

If employees feel like their needs aren’t being met, they’ll likely stop participating in the program. Wellness is a continuous journey that evolves as goals change. Stay on top of your organization’s health priorities by welcoming feedback.

Leaving Out Mental Health

When companies approach wellness, they think about hard data such as body fat percentage, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Focusing on the numbers makes it easy to forget about emotional well-being. Effective wellness programs address physical health, but also include a mental health component. Don’t forget about stress management, sleep hygiene, and mindfulness when designing your employee wellness program.

Offering Unexciting Incentives

The best way to reach the desired outcomes of wellness programs is to ensure your employees are motivated. Ideally, this motivation will be supplied organically, but good incentives don’t hurt. Incentives should tie into the employee’s wellness journey. Offering an extra vacation day for achieving a new milestone is a great incentive. Consider this example:

Last quarter Bill was able to lower his blood pressure to a healthy 120/80 with exercise and proper nutrition. His company rewarded his progress with an extra vacation day. Feeling inspired, Bill used the extra vacation day to go hiking with his kids. Not only was he rewarded for achieving his goal, but he reinforced healthy habits by exercising on his extra day off.

Vacation days, health expense reimbursements, and discounts on health insurance premiums are a few great ways to reward employees for healthy behavior. Stress balls, koozies, and boring office swag, however, are not impactful incentives.

The key to a successful employee wellness program is effort. If you don’t put effort into designing an effective program, why should your employees make an effort to participate?

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