Workplace Wellness: It’s not just for your employees


The last thing kids want to hear about is eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking more water and staying aware of their health risks – especially if their parents are saying it, too.  But to drive down health care costs, worksite wellness programs should also include dependents covered under the health plan. It’s a tough challenge, given that employers typically don’t have direct access to covered dependents.

Wellness experts say companies can get employees’ spouses and other family members who are covered under the health plan on board with their wellness efforts by making sure that programs discuss childhood fitness and nutrition, and by designing incentives that reward dependent participation.

Strategic incentives

The fact that dependents are not often onsite (if ever) is a big hurdle in getting dependents to participate in wellness programs.  Incentives are a great way to encourage dependent participation.  As for incentives for dependent participation, employers should always consider using incentives that are aligned with the company’s culture.  Of course, cash and gift cards are always popular.  Employers also may want to consider knocking additional dollars off an employee’s health insurance premium contribution if his or her dependents sign up for a wellness initiative.

Holding health fairs during the weekends or after work also allows employers to get that one-on-one contact with dependents.  Such events can result in dependents taking health risk assessments and biometrics screenings.

Factoring in childhood obesity

Employers that focus on dependent wellness mainly set their sights on dependent children who are over the age of 18, and spouses and domestic partners.  However, experts agree that getting young kids directly involved in workplace health management programs is tough but necessary. They stress that employers’ wellness initiatives should always include a component on childhood health and fitness.

You’ll want to coach the parent about healthy behaviors kids ought to be engaged in. The message might get across much better if you are coaching the parent to provide that information to their children.

Yet be mindful that kids imitate their parents.  If a parent is coming home from work and only sits on a couch with a remote control watching television and eating dinner, then what do we expect our kids to do?  The workplace can get the parent involved in a wellness program, where he or she can learn about fitness and nutrition, but the program also should consider some information specifically aimed at kids.

The prevalence of childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States and is a major public health issue. Consequently, it’s affecting corporate health care costs and productivity.

Tips for employers

Companies that have a successful track record with their wellness and health programs are probably in a better position to embark on a strategic approach to dependent wellness.  Employers that are just starting out with wellness programs should probably build a strong base of employee participation before asking employees to turn attention to their spouses’ and children’s health.  You can’t ask your employees to change their lifestyles at home if you don’t have a culture of good health at the workplace.

Best practices to engage dependents in wellness programs

Here is some advice for employers in bringing dependents into their wellness program:

  • Offer an appropriate incentive. Make sure the incentive is appropriate for your population and has perceived value for employees and covered dependents. Tie incentives to desired behaviors, such as physical activity, rather than outcomes, like achieving a goal weight. Incorporate the incentive into the health benefit plan and consider the effort-reward equation: Is the effort reasonable for most of your population?
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Don’t forget that the average person receives a message seven times before they remember it. By developing a long-term communications strategy, you can maintain awareness for your program over time, thereby increasing the odds that employees and dependents will take notice and sign up.  It’s a good idea to have regular communication pieces sent directly to the home.
  • Offer multiple program options. People learn in different ways. The same is true for health-related behavior change. By offering multiple options, you will appeal to a broader range of people. For instance, weight management programs can be offered in a group setting, through one-on-one health coaching, via personalized e-mails to participants or through literature that’s mailed to the home. This makes it easier for dependents to participate in program offerings.


For more information on how to incorporate dependents into your worksite wellness program, please contact Sarah Szul, Health Solutions Manager, at or 888-263-4656 x1196.