Best Practices for Developing a Worksite Wellness Program

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Developing a wellness program at your workplace can be as daunting as it is rewarding. It is a multi-level, multi-faceted task that requires the buy in from the top of upper management, to each employee that will participate in the programming. A substantial key to having a successful program is understanding that each stakeholder should feel ownership and reward for their enthusiastic participation. However, each stakeholder from top to bottom has something different to gain from participating. The C-level executives will be interested in seeing a tangible return on the investment, while each employee will want to feel that their individual voice is being heard in the programming. Recognizing this all important fact will aid in gaining the buy in of the program from each of them. Finally, there are some standard “best practices” that will ensure the sustainable success of your wellness program.

C-level management will be more concerned with how and why having a healthier staff will improve production, lower claims, premiums, absenteeism as well as workers compensation claims. Do not assume that the C-level management will not be concerned with the well being of their employees, because in most cases they are. However, what will make their lives easier is finding away to reduce one of their heftiest employee expenses; which is always employee benefits. A tangible reduction in the cost of medical benefits will be this stakeholder’s reward for participating.

Understanding what your employee population is interested in while developing a wellness program is also very highly important. If your staff is interested in tai chi, and you initiate a jazzercise program, well just plan on jazzercising by yourself. A great way to determine what health management programming is best suited for your particular population is to distribute a needs and interest survey. On this survey you can determine which areas of wellness are most attractive to your employees. You can also determine in which way they would like to experience the program. Do they want a lecture style lunch and learn, or would they rather get up and get moving to the oldies? Is high cholesterol a concern, or is stress management, or both? The survey allows you to hear the voice of the people that you are interested in helping to live healthier lives. You’re certain to be surprised by the response. Your participation is certain to be higher if you use the input of the employees.

The Wellness Council of America (WELCOA), an organization dedicated to the promotion of worksite wellness, has identified seven best practices (“The Seven Benchmarks”) for employers to follow when building a comprehensive, effective worksite wellness program within their organization.

  • Capture senior-level support. A commitment from the top is critical to the success of any wellness initiative. Management must understand the benefits of the program for both the employees and the organization, and be willing to commit sufficient funding. Link health promotion to business goals, values and strategic priorities, and emphasize improved employee productivity and health care cost savings.
  • Create a wellness team. Wellness teams should include a cross-section of people from all levels of your company to ensure broad ownership of the program, help garner buy-in from the rest of the company and make sure the program is responsive to the needs of all participants. These individuals will drive program development, implementation and evaluation.
  • Collect data that will drive your health initiatives. Once your team is in place and management is on board, it is time to gather baseline data to help assess employee health interests and risks, which will guide you in crafting your program. This process may involve a survey of employee interest in various health initiatives, health risk assessments (HRAs) and claims analysis to determine current employee disease risk.
  • Craft an annual operating plan. An annual operating plan is important for your program’s success and should include a mission statement along with specific, measurable short- and long-term goals and objectives. Your program is also more likely to succeed if it is linked to one or more of the company’s strategic initiatives, as it will have a better chance of maintaining management support. A written plan also provides continuity when members of the wellness committee change and is instrumental in holding the team accountable to the goals, objectives and timeline agreed upon.
  • Choose appropriate health initiatives. The health initiatives that you choose should flow naturally from your data (survey, HRA aggregate report, claims) and be cohesive with your goals and objectives. They should address prevailing risk factors in your employee population and be in line with what both management and employees want from the wellness program.
  • Create a supportive environment. A supportive environment provides employees with encouragement, opportunity and rewards. A culture of health might have such features as healthy food choices in the vending machines, a no-smoking policy and flexible work schedules that allow workers to exercise. Also, your workplace should celebrate and reward health achievements and have a management team that models healthy behavior. Most importantly, be sure to involve employees in every aspect of the wellness program from its design and promotion to its implementation and evaluation.
  • Consistently evaluate your outcomes. Evaluation involves taking a close look at your goals and objectives to determine whether you achieved your desired result. Evaluation allows you to celebrate goals that have been achieved and to discontinue or change ineffective initiatives.


Listening to and understanding what the stakeholders at your company want from a wellness program is as important as the program itself. Without that carrot, the mule doesn’t move. Implementing these best practices will push you towards building a wellness program that your employees will want to participate in. It will create an atmosphere of people who want to be involved with their own wellness, and a synergy of success in your corporate health management program.