7 secrets to successful workplace wellness programs

Workplace wellness programs - also known as corporate wellness or health and wellbeing programs - can be an advantage to a company's competitive edge. Research has shown that workplace wellness programs can improve employee loyalty and retention, reduce healthcare costs and even boost productivity. So how can you successfully implement these workplace wellness programs?

1. CUSTOMISE YOUR WORKPLACE WELLNESS PROGRAM

It's important not to look at your wellness program with a broad one-size-fits-all approach in hopes of getting 100 percent engagement. Rather, tailor it to the specific needs of your staff. There is no magic equation that says you'll have 100 percent engagement in your workplace wellness program.

Encourage participating employers to perform an employee wellness program needs and interests survey. Find out what employees are interested in, what they need, what they like and don't like. By giving employees a voice in how wellness programs are shaped, can make them feel more valued and engaged in the process - which, in turn, can lead to greater participation.

2. USE DATA TO IMPROVE WORKPLACE WELLNESS EFFORTS

Technology plays a pivotal role in many workplace wellness programs. The data generated is typically used to track team members' activities during fitness challenges, in which employees are encouraged to wear devices, such as Fitbits, or to determine the ROI of wellness program costs.

Data can also be used to assess teams across: wellness culture; risk assessment and outreach; nutrition and food environment; physical activity; tobacco-free; emotional and mental well-being; financial well-being; incentives and communication; and evaluation. Staff can receive a score for each area, ranging from bronze to platinum.

3. FOSTER A CULTURE OF ACTIVITY AND EXERCISE

Fitness challenges at work can be fun and motivational. But one mistake some employers make is to send the message of "exercise on your own time."

It's not feasible to let staff spend entire workday afternoons at the gym, of course. But in workplace cultures where sitting at desks is the norm, consider giving workers paid exercise breaks, Mileski said. At MTM, for example, employees are encouraged to take three 30-minute exercise breaks per work week.

4. COMMUNICATE USING THE TOOLS EMPLOYEES USE

At MTM, 659 employees (25.8%) are medical transport vehicle drivers who don't have a company email address, Mileski said. Consequently, information about wellness program benefits weren't reaching them. So, the company is adding a text messaging system to communicate health and benefit program updates to drivers, each of whom uses a cellphone.

Similarly, Nearpod, a classroom educational and assessment platform, is using the collaboration platform Slack to drive engagement with its wellness initiatives, said the company's director of people and culture, Mike Teichberg. Because Slack is such a popular communications tool for work projects, employees started using it to organise healthy activities, such as visiting nearby gyms for classes, sharing favourite workout tunes and inviting colleagues to health and fitness events in their area.

5. OFFER HELP WITH ACTIVITY TRACKERS

Activity trackers are often the tools of choice in workplace fitness challenges. But the more advanced an activity tracker is, the greater the odds are that some employees will need help setting up and using them, noted Wright of SCHA, which partners with Fitbit Health Solutions. Wright recommends setting aside time to help employees with their devices.

6. INCLUDE THE EMOTIONAL COMPONENT OF WELLNESS

A holistic view of employee health should include an emphasis on emotional well-being, said Emily Anhalt, a doctor of clinical psychology and psychological consultant for businesses such as GitHub and Indiegogo.

"There's a societal stigma about needing emotional support," Anhalt explained. And yet, she pointed out that issues at work "trigger all kinds of feelings" that can be difficult to handle on our own.

There are multiple components to enabling employees' emotional well-being, Anhalt said, including providing referrals for therapists and coaches; "emotional fitness" training for managers to give them language and tools to support team members; communications training; and workshops that emphasise building teams, relationships and communities.

7. GET SUPPORT FROM TOP MANAGEMENT

One of the biggest mistakes corporate wellness program managers make is not getting the full support of top executives - especially the CEO. Support doesn't just mean approval. In an ideal world, it means actual holistic participation. In other words, C-level executives and managers should model emotionally healthy behaviours, too, according to Anhalt.

Find out more on workplace wellness programs for your team.

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