10 tips for building a successful employee health and wellness program

by Matt Warnock
Successful employee health and wellness program

Employees are kind of important. They do the work. They deliver your services or products. They meet the customer on your company’s behalf. Depending on your sector, they also account for 20-50% of your operating budget*¹, likely making them your single biggest overhead.

It’s fair to say then that making sure your employees are happy, healthy, motivated and both physically and mentally ready to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities is in your company’s interest. Your workforce is your highest cost but can also be your biggest asset and differentiator. More and more organizations are understanding this and are turning to employee health and wellness programs to protect their investment in people.

Employee Wellness Programs: The Basics

Employee health and wellness programs, as we know them today at least, are a relatively recent workplace trend*², but one that’s grown significantly in popularity. Around 75% of employers*³ today provide employees with some type of wellness program or resources.

Employee wellness programs content

There’s no one-size-fits-all definition of corporate health and wellness, and many programs are a combination of several of the above. What unites these programs are the goals and objectives that companies have behind them, and the potential benefits that employees experience because of them.

The key benefits of employee wellness programs

  1. Higher engagement
  2. Improved productivity
  3. Higher job satisfaction
  4. Reduced absenteeism
  5. Better company culture
  6. Higher retention
  7. Easier recruiting
  8. Reduced health costs

We’ll dive into the specifics behind each of these in future posts, but for now let’s just consider*⁴ the following:

Importance Implications wellness programs

Those figures and benefits carry even more weight within small and medium-sized businesses, which employees are often attracted to more for benefits and culture than salaries and job titles. Plus, younger employees value health and wellness even more than older colleagues – worth bearing in mind as millennials and Gen Zers now dominate the workforce. If you don’t offer a compelling employee health and wellness program, chances are you’re competing against other companies who do.

So, you’re convinced. You’re ready to open a nap room, order all-you-can-eat salads and are already searching Google for local yogis. But, unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. How do you decide which health and wellness benefits are right for your workforce, and how do you then make sure they stick?  

5 tips for building the right employee health and wellness program 

1. Remember there’s not one right answer

Perfect, they say, is the enemy of done. Wellness programs come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s never one correct answer. They probably even differ within the same company. While Friday shoulder massages might be just the ticket in head office, it’d cause mayhem if massages were introduced on the production line or while sales assistants were on the shop floor. But all attempts to improve the health and wellbeing of employees are right: so don’t let the lack of a perfect plan prevent you from doing anything at all.

2. Build the health dream team 

No, not you’re all-conquering company football team — tho that’s a good choice too — but create a good team capable of handling the health and wellness program within your company. It’s going to take a lot of ideas and work to get implemented and that work shouldn’t all fall on HRs shoulders – no matter how muscular and well-defined they are from all the heavy organizational lifting! By nominating members from all around the business, you can also make sure you build an employee health program that suits all functions, ages, and activity levels.

3. Ask your employees

Not rocket science, is it? If you want to help your employees become healthier, fitter, and set for success, ask them what they need. This can be done via a mass survey, team meetings, or at face-to-face reviews. Listen and learn.

4. Set the objectives

There are two parties to consider when designing any employee health and wellness program: the workforce and the company. Both should benefit, and those benefits should be somewhat quantifiable – particularly for the company so that, if managers or strategies change in the future, the continuation of the program isn’t questioned. Yes, company health and wellness has eight significant benefits, as we discussed earlier, but which are the priorities for your business? If you want to transform morale and culture, then team sports and group workouts could be the way to go; if the focus is more on satisfaction and productivity, maybe you’d be better looking into mindfulness training, nap rooms or even childcare.  

5. Make a plan, make it simple

You’ve collected feedback from the workforce, you’re clear on the company’s objectives, you have a team in place to oversee the implementation. Time to make a concrete plan. The temptation at this point is to try to run a marathon before you’ve done your first 5k – to bite off more than you can chew. Make sure any employee health programs you introduce match your budget and available resources. Don’t overthink it or make it too complicated.

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5 tips on how to get your employees excited about your health and wellness offer

1. Add some extra motivation

Ultimately, creating long-term health and fitness habits comes down to the individual employee but, in the short-term, studies show that incentives can increase participation*⁵. These can be simple incentives, such as a points system resulting in monthly or quarterly prizes being handed out. At the other end of the spectrum, some companies offer reduced insurance rates or increased pension contributions for employees who are active in their health and wellness program. 

Technology provides extra motivation too. Some wellness programs have online portals that provide current health information to participating employees, while others can sync with wearables so that employees can measure their progress and maybe even compete against their colleagues. However, merely recognizing participants on the company intranet, employee app, or bulletin boards can also do the trick. 

2. Provide options

Any workforce comprises a multitude of personality types and preferences. All employees have different clothes, different haircuts, different bikes or cars; they get home and eat different types of food and watch various shows on TV. Yet the majority of workforce benefits try to force employees to behave, act, and feel the same. Increasingly, employers are turning to highly personalizable wellness programs to address this need. Urban Sports Club, for example, has the dual benefit of being easy for the company to manage (provide all employees with a complimentary or partly-subsidized Urban Sports Club membership) and allowing the employee to decide whether they want to swim laps before work, pop to a kickboxing class at lunchtime, join the weekly volleyball team tournament, or try the occasional rock climbing or parkour session.

3. Senior buy-in

If personalization is the biggest driver of health and wellbeing program participation, executive leadership buy-in runs it a close second. You can run all the internal communications campaigns you like, nothing will have the same impact as a few people spotting your CEO at the local Crossfit Box or your new superstar Head of Digital joining the football team. Senior managers have to show that they take employee fitness seriously, not just say it.

4. Communicate

That said, constant communication is important too. Do you have new healthy snacks in all offices? Make sure everyone knows that you do and why. Has the company volunteered to run an aid station at the local half marathon? Post pictures afterward. Are you looking to enter teams into city football competitions, the upcoming obstacle course race or a corporate tug-of-war challenge? Share, share, and share some more…  

5. What are the next steps

Employee health and wellness is never “done.” Like an Olympic hopeful, it needs nurturing, protecting, challenging, and more exercising. If you have provided your fortunate employees with Urban Sports Club memberships they all regularly use, for example, the next step might be to create company football and volleyball teams for the Urban Sports League. Or to raise money for a charity your organization supports by running a marathon or climbing three local mountains in just 24 hours. The role of a great wellness and fitness program is as much to inspire as it is to make real-life changes. 

The finish line

Employee wellness programs are successful, they’re here to stay, and they deliver a range of benefits to both employee and employer. Given that the benefits to the company are so overwhelming, with some studies suggesting a 3:1 ROI, programs should be designed and implemented with the employee in mind. Make them personalizable, provide variety, and make them accessible. Then communicate, communicate, communicate.

The upshot will be an organization that people love working for; one that attracts new employees and keeps hold of existing ones. More importantly, you’ll create the kind of workforce that kicks your competitors’ asses, both in the office and on the pitch.

Also, feel free to have a look at our tips about how to strengthen your employer brand when employees need it the most and how to show appreciation to your employees.


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*¹ https://smallbusiness.chron.com/percent-business-budget-salary-14254.html
*² https://www.talentlyft.com/en/blog/article/161/7-key-workplace-trends-in-2018
*³ https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/Pages/2014-shrm-strategic-use-of-benefits-wellness-initiatives.aspx
*⁴ https://www.robertwalters.com/content/dam/robert-walters/corporate/news-and-pr/files/whitepapers/health-and-wellbeing-whitepaper-aus.pdf
*⁵ https://time.com/4226640/exercise-workout-fitness-incentives/

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