Running Toward Workplace Wellness Programs in the New Year? Here’s Everything You Need

Have a workplace wellness program? This guide pulls recent data from Kaiser Family Foundation and for a full story. Download our free eBook!

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At Zenefits, we believe that managing health insurance for employees should be simple. But when it comes to the more ambiguous aspects of employee benefits, such as workplace wellness, employers typically need a less-automated answer.

What is Workplace Wellness?

“A program intended to improve and promote health and fitness that’s usually offered through the work place, although insurance plans can offer them directly to their enrollees. The program allows your employer or plan to offer you premium discounts, cash rewards, gym memberships, and other incentives to participate. Some examples of wellness programs include programs to help you stop smoking, diabetes management programs, weight loss programs, and preventative health screenings.” (

Simply put, workplace wellness is an employer-sponsored program for promoting long-term employee health and reducing total insurance spend.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2016 Employer Health Benefits Survey, 83% of large firms (200+ employees) offer a wellness program in smoking cessation, weight management, or behavioral/lifestyle coaching. Of these large firms, 42% offer financial incentives including lower premium contributions and cash for employee participation.

Worth it?

Proponents of workplace wellness programs argue that an emphasis on employee health will save companies money in the long run. Aside from the financial benefits, participating companies often find that other aspects of the organization improve, including culture, mental health, collaboration, and event productivity.

Do incentives work?

Shifting this cost of care to employees isn’t just about saving companies money. According to a 2016 survey by Rand Corporation, penalizing employees for failing to participate or meet benchmarks is a more effective motivator than high-value incentives.

Opponents of wellness programs, however, expect higher total spends due to an increase in health screenings and the general promotion of “unnecessary care.” Also, employees who don’t participate in their companies’ wellness programs can end up paying more than they would in companies without such programs. The question that both groups eventually come to is whether or not the emphasis on wellness actually improves employee health long-term. 

Creating a Wellness Program That Works

For a number of companies, implementing a wellness program just makes sense. If you find yourself in this group, don’t run for the hills; we’ve got you covered. Here are some tips to ensure your program is a success:

  • Customize your approach. From the location of your office(s) to the number of people on your payroll, there are countless factors that go into the type of wellness program that will work best for you and your employees. Take all of these factors into consideration to ensure your employees can and want to participate.
  • Combine classic steps with new moves. Even if you’re not a fan of the green smoothie, some of your employees probably are. Test your worksite health aptitude for the basics of a wellness program, and then add some trend-worthy wellness moves to get your employees excited about participating.
Pro Tip: Check out the CDC Workplace Health Resource Center (WHRC) website to find tutorials, webinars, videos, and much more on creating custom wellness programs.
  • Embrace and incorporate tech. From digital step trackers to online tutorials, there are countless wellness program ideas and innovations that will get your team moving. Before investing in a tool, check in with employees. Not everyone will want to have their steps or some other aspect of their lives tracked, so consider making components of the program optional.
  • Get social; stay social. Wellness can be contagious, and there’s no better way to spread those endorphins than through social media. Encourage wellness program participants to engage on social media, and highlight milestones on the company’s social properties to connect people in your organization.

A Wellness Resolution You Can Keep

The efficacy of wellness programs at work is a widely debated topic, and there isn’t one solution for all businesses. While certain initiatives can help employees improve quality of life with objectives such as smoking cessation and weight loss, others may take you further away from your business goals.

Before you hire a specialized firm to create your workplace wellness program, check in with employees to gauge the general level of interest. Creating a custom (and possibly optional) wellness program will show your employees that you’re their partner, setting your team up for success.

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