Six pillars of the functional corporate health and wellness plan

Offering health services as a part of the employees benefit package is a great step towards creating a healthy workplace environment. However, to go beyond a budget line and fully benefit from the investment you need a strategically developed health and wellness program.

Do health benefits really save money? Scientific research proves that it does. Milani, R.V. and Lavie C.J 2009 studied the cost-benefit of the investment in to employees’ health. They concluded that for each dollar invested companies saved six dollars in health care savings. Study involved over 300 participants and focused on decreasing cardiac risk factors.

Creating a mentally and physically healthy workplace goes beyond a sports benefit line in the budget.

Next we will look at six principal ideas to consider when developing an efficient workplace health program (based on Harvard Business Reviews by Berry, Mirabito ja Baun (2010)).

1. Results through the management

Healthy workplace environment is more than just telling everybody to go to a gym. Creating a meaningful change in lifestyle and value judgment takes time and patience.

Despite clear financial benefits of corporate health and wellness your employees aren’t going to get involved if you only emphasize financial benefits. Some think that their physical well-being is not a concern to the employer, others claim lack of time, money, habit or obstructing health condition. A way to overcome it is being patient and consistent.

It’s important for a company to express that workplace health is a part of the company’s culture, not an obligation but an opportunity. Some companies have even gone as far as asking managers to include wellness intentions as a part of their business goals.

When people in all levels of management take time to get involved, participate in discussions about the workplace health and setting examples by exercising themselves, others will follow.


2. Make the health a program part of your company’s identity

Health and wellness programs should become a natural part of your company’s  identity. It’s not rare that eagerly started health programs are forgotten on busier times or when priorities deviate. Creating a meaningful change takes planning, time and patience.

At Healthwise one topic at monthly meetings is a report consisting of information about sports events and available wellness activities. In addition to regular health benefits the company also sponsors an annual Health Day where employees are encouraged to question themselves: “How can I become healthier?”.

A cautionary tale comes from Nelnet, a company that kick-started their corporate wellness program with medical examinations and questionnaire hoping to inform their employees about potential health risks.

People however, were not ready to speak openly on such a personal topic and doubted management’s motives. A hasty, well-meant start caused a setback instead.

To fix the damage done they ended up hiring professionals to work out a long-term health strategy with an emphasis on early information and explanatory work. This gave employees time to prepare for a change and ask relevant questions beforehand. Today their programme is a highly successful one, with 90% of the employees participating in health risk estimations and 75% actively working towards overcoming them by sport, active lifestyle and other means.

3. Scope, relevance and quality

Efficient workplace health programme needs to target relevant health issues, be inclusive and well planned. A mistake that many companies repeat is focusing on a  too narrow field. All you need is to get them to a gym, right? Not quite, individual health issues can vary a lot.

Corporate health, wellness and employees’ well-being is about more than just physical fitness. Far larger loss to your company’s revenue can come from depression and stress, thus an efficient wellness plan looks beyond diet and body fat.

For example, Biltmore offers 24-hour counselling service to help employees deal with problems from grief, daily stress or even problems from raising children or breakup. Service is confidential, free and based on volunteer help. Mentally and physically healthy work environment goes beyond offering a free gym pass.

It’s important to properly plan and think through how to approach potentially delicate issue. One way to guarantee privacy is to have bio-metric tests on the internet to allow employees to get a better overview of their individual need. By data protection laws the individual results, of course, are confidential but combined return data can help to evaluate general trends and make sure that all important areas are covered. It can be a great help on deciding where to direct the resources. It’s important to focus on quality and offer compound solutions. Everybody likes to use quality service, but nobody wants to use bad service even for free.

4. Accessibility

Make it a priority to offer low cost or free services that people can easily access both time and location wise. SAS Manager Jack Poll explained the success of their main campus recreation facility. When they opened the centre, they thought of all the reasons people would not use the facilities and worked to overcome each one of them. For now, 70% of SAS employees use the recreation facility twice a week. The centre is open before and after work hours as well as through weekends with a competent staff constantly developing variety of new and engaging programs.

Occasionally on-site fitness centres are criticized as being beneficial only for people who are already physically active. However, employees at companies who have the fitness centres love them, and the ones who don’t want them.

Example and accessibility are powerful motivators, when you see a colleague working out it can become a true inspiration, an ideal example of a positive herd mentality.

5. Partnerships

Though in-house wellness centres have become increasingly popular for a good reason, it’s not the only way. Collaboration within the organization as well as external partners will help to create a corporate health program that gives the best return on investment, cover all the important areas and would help your company and employees to follow through with the planned change.

Collaborations inside the company create confidence in the system. For example, engaging collaboration from financial department helps create cost effective solutions, avoiding the idea of cost to support luxury benefits. Involving employees by asking for their wishes and incorporating them in the plan makes employees feel included and considered.

External collaborations increase the available competence and gives a change to include superior infrastructure and expand possibilities.

Large corporations may have resources to afford  approaching each recreation centres and other possible partners directly. However, for medium and smaller companies it’s more time and cost effective to use mediate companies, like SportID. With a single contract the company employees get an access to a wide range of different sport and health services with minimal paperwork and maximum choice of benefit to the employee.

6. Communication

Health is not just a goal, it’s a message and the way it’s communicated makes a difference. Communication must overcome prejudice, reach through apathy, personal health issues, demographic and cultural habits of the employees. Even the range and complexity of the available wellness services can pose an occasional challenge.

It’s important to always consider who the target group is. For example, the sales team are more likely to draw motivation from competitive opportunities and displaying the best results publicly while other departments might prefer more subtle approach.

There are many ways to increase the awareness by incorporating different aspects in the office environment. A few possibilities to consider: providing healthy snacks (increasingly popular is to have an office fruit day, when a basket of fruit is provided in a common area on a specific day each week), emails of different wellness related opportunities or providing standing workstations. Installing a bike rack into a secure and comfortable location, specially when it’s visible from the car park can be a daily reminder to consider healthier transportation alternatives.

These kind of small considerations signal to your employees that their company values their health and well-being.

A well planned and concise company’s health and wellness plan transfers a short-term positive initiative into a lasting change.

  1. Get people on all levels involved.
  2. Make employees’ physical well-being a part of the companies identity.
  3. Think beyond physical fitness.
  4. Make sure that what you offer is easily accessible.
  5. Use internal and external partners.
  6. Communicate the idea of a well-rounded healthy lifestyle through a small details and a versatile approach.

Remember to be patient, as good changes take time!


Impact of Worksite Wellness Intervention on Cardiac Risk Factors and One-Year Health Care Costs. Milani, Richard V. et al. American Journal of Cardiology , Volume 104 , Issue 10 , 1389 – 1392

Harvard Business Reviews

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