Written by Intern Jordan

Work site wellness programs used to consist of having a gym in or near an office. These days, corporate wellness programs are incentivized, complex policies that often include consequences for workers who do not participate in them. The focus of the new wellness programs is often beyond physical health. They also evaluate the emotional and mental wellness of workers and implement measures to improve these areas. Over 90% of companies have corporate wellness programs in place and offer more incentives to employees who actively comply with the program. Ideally, the office should be a place that not only offers security and well-being of employees, but also provides them better opportunities for long-term health.

Before creating and implementing any plan, it is important to determine and define the scope of services offered by corporate wellness programs (i.e., clinical, counseling, on-site, use of incentives, reach into the community IT would be beneficial to research how other companies have successfully built and implemented different types of policies, without losing profits. Conducting research in the form of a literature review and an examination of available data can improve the type of policies created and how effective their implementation becomes.

Furthermore, successful work site wellness strategies have shown that a comprehensive corporate wellness program can return $3 – 6 for every dollar invested. In general, these successful work site wellness programs support these 7 major components which include but are not limited to:

1. Health Education: focuses on skill development and lifestyle behavior change along with information dissemination and awareness building, preferably tailored to employees’ interests and needs.

2. Supportive Social and Physical Environments: include an organization’s expectations regarding healthy behaviors and implementation of policies that promote health and reduce risk of disease.

3. Integration of the Work site Program into an organizational structure.

4. Linkage to Related Programs: such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and programs to help employees balance work and family.

5. Work site Screening Programs: ideally linked to medical care to ensure follow-up and appropriate treatment as necessary.

6. Support for Individual Behavior Change (with follow-up interventions).

7. Evaluation and Improvement Processes: to help enhance the program’s effectiveness and efficiency.

Best Practices

When beginning wellness programs, it is important to plan for every possible issue that may arise. Ideally, a committee should to be formed in order to get many different views of a particular problem. This will also lend more hands when it comes to coming up with activities, finding places for those activities to take place, and promoting the program.

Before beginning any program, it may also be necessary to take an anonymous survey of employees to determine what health issues need to be addressed. All participants should have a health risk appraisal by a certified doctor, in order to ensure that they are physically fit enough to participate.

As the program begins, one or two staff members should be selected based on their ability to work with and motivate others, as well as their familiarity with health topics to ensure that the program runs smoothly. Some businesses find that they must hire a new individual in order to fulfill this task.

Publicity and incentivized programs are the key to maximizing employee acceptance and participation. In general, most corporations find that any money invested is returned and compounded. In these kinds of programs, as productivity and happiness increase, health-related expenses decrease.

For example, executives at MicroHealth have created a competition to see who has the largest percentage change in their BMI toward a healthy weight in a 12 week span. The Body Mass Index (BMI) of all employees will be recorded on February 2nd. Then, participants periodically record their weight. On May 4, final weights will be taken in order for calculation of their BMIs. The three employees with the largest percentage change will be rewarded with iPads, gift cards, etc. Our company refers to this as the “Hunger Games” challenge.

How to Do Research on Existing Data

The purpose of this research is to identify successful work site wellness programs currently in operation in the US. While it is not the intent to conduct our own study, we will evaluate literature reviews, case studies and other published materials to create the best program for the company’s needs. This includes:

1. Seeking Out and Gathering Relevant Articles and Studies: Journals of health and wellness are a great place to start when looking for existing data. There also have been quite a few articles in the mainstream media about which features of which programs appear to work the best and how these programs actually make businesses more money. Be sure to deal only with trusted sources—peer reviewed journals and articles from major news outlets.

2. Outlining the Research Goals and Needs of the Company: Whether we are starting from the bottom, looking for the best practices to implement, or simply need marketing data, hard numbers that will show a corporation why a wellness plan in necessary, it is best to write these down, leaving space to fill in relevant information as you come across it. These needs may include weight loss, mental health counseling, emotional support, or something more like a public relations or productivity boost.

3. Reviewing Literature Reviews, Case Studies and Published Industry Practices, etc.: Take note of anything that is of special relevance to the situation and particular company. While some information about other wellness programs may come from corporations completely dissimilar to your own, the results and general idea may be malleable enough to shape to your own needs. Throughout the review, keep in mind the needs and goals identified in step two. Every piece of data you come across, think about how it relates back to the corporation you are crafting a corporate wellness program for. Be sure to document everything properly.

4. Organizing the Ideas: Once we have reviewed several different articles that present several different ideas, start organizing your ideas into different categories, based on how easy it will be to apply, how relevant it is to your company, what things to avoid, and what ideas sound promising by need work in order to fit your specific situation.

5. Determining the Scope of Services Offered: includes but is not limited to clinical, counseling, on-site, use of incentives, reach into the community. We will also capture approaches with documented evidence of effectiveness as well as those approaches that currently appear to be promising and lay them out in order of outcomes. Finally we will also describe the health and economic impacts on employees as well as other individuals associated.

What Kinds of Literature and Research Exist

Research conducted about corporate wellness programs mainly endeavors to explain why these programs work and how they benefit companies. These studies may take many different forms, from cohort studies to quantitative research, undergone to determine how participants feel about the programs themselves.

Most studies will attempt to identify approaches with documented evidence of effectiveness, as well as, those approaches that currently appear to be promising, but lack strong evidence.

For example, research shows that the wellness program implemented by Johnson & Johnson brought great results. According to the study, for every dollar used to fund the wellness program, almost three dollars were returned to the company in the form of profits or saved healthcare costs. These kinds of studies pinpoint the best methods for implementation and enable you to discover which types of programs might be best for certain business types.

Some companies may see significant benefits by simply switching out the kinds of snacks that are available in the break room or providing monetary incentives for people who bike or walk to work. Other corporations with more capital may take more in-depth approaches by looking for ways to improve both the mental and physical health of their employees. They can do this by building a gym right into the office, but also providing plenty of time for those who wish to use it. It is important to find literature that discusses the economic investment of each company, while looking at the budget that it has to fund the efforts.

A close review of relevant literature and reported data will provide the best ways to construct and implement a plan that follows the best practices listed above.

How to Evaluate Health and Economic Impact and Benefits for Businesses

Before making any decisions about which plans to implement, it is important to see how each approach may affect both the financial standing of the business and the overall health of the employees of the company. For each evidence-based approach, describe the health and economic impacts on employees as well as other individuals associated (e.g., families, community members). Also include the different economic benefits or costs to small, medium, and large companies. This will help determine if the plans are worth being implemented or not.

While the research shows that corporate wellness programs profit well, there must first be money allocated to make the program feasible. Compare the opportunity cost of using this program against what kind of health benefits it will provide. If the benefits do not outweigh the cost, it is best to choose a different plan. The plan that adheres to both profit and better health is the one to choose.

Many program plans may not evaluate the same way for all companies. Plans that work for small businesses may not work for larger ones. The dynamics of the people involved (revealed by taking a survey and making the audit of the corporate environment, before beginning any research), are very different depending on the sizes of businesses.

For example, before MicroHealth chose the “Biggest Loser” challenge as our corporate wellness program, we had to rule out many others. Because ours is a small business, we discovered that a massive health program would not be ideal. The challenge we chose is beneficial for our company because it fits our needs and those of the employees, as well as the fact that financial benefits outweigh the costs.

Barriers Businesses Face

Implementing a corporate wellness program seems like an obvious solution to the growing health problem in the United States and around the world. However, many companies face significant barriers when attempting to implement a plan based on the best practices outlined above and in the conducted research. Many employers see little desire from their employees to participate, and it is common for employees who could most benefit from the program to decline to participate. Additionally, employers may believe they do not have appropriate funds to implement one of these programs, or they find little support from staff that must approve and promote the plan.

Incentives such as offering real monetary bonuses for the completion of wellness program tasks has shown to be one of the best ways to improve participation. In order to encourage reluctant participants and even more reluctant managers to show support, it is important to approach the program from a place of positivity, so that all employees feel like the wellness program is a safe place to address their health issues and find solutions.

If a company lacks funds, swapping out snacks and offering non-monetary incentives can be an easy way to encourage participation while funds are being raised. Instead of offering incentives to everyone, creating a competition-based plan- like the one we created. As other barriers arise, continue to reference back to the literature and determine what successful companies have done to hurdle these barriers.