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11 Steps to Design an Employee Wellness Program

5th Sep 2022
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What's one step in designing a successful employee wellness program?

To help you design a successful employee wellness program, we asked HR managers, wellness coaches, and business leaders this question for their best insights. From approaching employee well-being holistically to creating and training cohesive teams to champion the cause, there are several steps employers need to take to design and implement effective wellness programs that readily meet employees at the point of their needs.

Here are 11 steps these leaders follow in designing successful employee wellness programs:

  • Approach Employee Well-Being Holistically
  • Encourage Employees to Utilize Paid Time Offs and Vacation Balances
  • Ensure Your Work Structure Respond to Employees’ Needs and Capabilities
  • Build Community into Everything Wellness-Related
  • Understand the Needs First
  • Design a Program that Positions Employees for Long-Term Wellness Benefits
  • Define and Demonstrate Wellness
  • Utilizing the Employee Assistance Program
  • Recognize and Approach Wellness Programs as a Business Strategy
  • Empower Employees to Prioritize and Personalize Their Health and Well-Being
  • Create and Train Cohesive Teams to Champion the Cause

Approach Employee Well-Being Holistically

Often, when businesses offer wellness programs, they are focused on the physical and mental aspects of wellbeing only. Those elements are important, and I encourage HR leaders to also identify opportunities to support emotional, social and financial wellness. Some examples include providing training and development to support long-term career success, hosting team building events to help colleagues build strong relationships and empowering employees to set boundaries to enhance emotional wellbeing.

Marie Unger, CEO of Emergenetics International

Encourage Employees to Utilize Paid Time Offs and Vacation Balances

Oftentimes workers don't fully utilize their sick days or vacation time because they believe it will negatively affect management's perceptions of their performance. Employees may be discouraged from taking Paid Time Off (PTO) if they are not aware of the company's vacation policy.

The truth is, not taking time to relax and recharge can have serious negative effects on your workforce. You should monitor your team's PTO balances and advise team members who haven't taken a vacation in a long time to schedule time off. You can also send a detailed description of the company's vacation policy with a new employee's onboarding package to let employees know that using their PTO is both acceptable and expected.

Nir Leibovich, CEO and Founder of GoCo

Ensure Your Work Structure Respond to Employees’ Needs and Capabilities

Recognizing what employees require is the most important step toward employee wellness. Designing a work structure to ensure wellness based on the employer's and management's perceptions is pointless if the employees do not reap the benefits. Understanding employees' needs is thus the most important step in optimizing employee wellness. To accomplish this, a line should be drawn between employers' understanding of workers' duties and their actual capacity. This will assist management in determining how much work is excessive and how daily working hours and responsibilities should be organized.

Michael Woods, Office Manager at Uniwide Formations

Build Community into Everything Wellness-Related

The number one way to build a successful employee wellness program is to build community into everything wellness related within the program. People need people and when there is community; there is strength; there is accountability; there is an increased sense of purpose promoting greater results. WorkWell, a program by our company, focuses on the community aspect and our results speak for themselves!

Brani Cohen, Founder of Pineapple Life

Understand the Needs First

To create successful employee wellness programs, organizations need to understand why they are creating wellness benefits in the first place. If a wellness program is created for a team that doesn't experience continued stress and burnout, then great, you have an opportunity to do something nice and give back to your team. Get their feedback as to what they would like to see included. If on the other hand, a company is trying to provide wellness benefits so that they can reduce burnout among their employees- it's not going to work. Wellness in the workplace is an $8 billion industry in the United States, and forward-thinking workplaces may think they are doing a great service by offering yoga, meditation classes, and other wellness services. But the research reveals that those efforts are not working. 

Shauna Moran, Founder of Operate Remote

Design a Program that Positions Employees for Long-Term Wellness Benefits

Employee wellness is not a trend. Many companies started wellness programs during the pandemic that were designed to help employees cope with the immediate stresses.  The programs were not designed to strategically position employees for long-term wellness. That's where the opportunity is right now.

If you taught your employees basic yoga and meditation to manage anxiety over the last few years, how can you help them deepen the practice? How can you teach them to use these skills and apply what they've learned to their work? For example, meditation and mindfulness can build sensory clarity, concentration and equanimity. Employees who deepen these skills can learn how to manage difficult situations and conversations without reacting as they once might have. This can improve communication and productivity.

Nola Simon, Hybrid/Remote Work Futurist at Nola Simon Advisory

Define and Demonstrate Wellness

Many people have heard the term wellness, but they only have a vague idea of the concept. They don't want to appear out of step with the times, so they don't dare say anything. Once you define what wellness means in terms of the results and have them see and hear an engaging speaker who benefits from their personal wellness habits, they will consider a corporate program an exciting perk.

Terise Lang, Health and Wellness Coach, Speaker, and Writer at Terise Lang Writes

Utilizing the Employee Assistance Program

Mental health issues are common and can affect anyone. However, most issues can be resolved with help. In order to maintain a positive mental health, it is important to seek help right away when you think something might be wrong.

The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides free, confidential counseling to help identify stressors and offer coping techniques to employees and their families. A licensed, professional EAP counselor can work with you by phone or online to help you cope with a number of issues, including stress, depression, family issues, relationships, financial issues, and others. If needed, the counselors can also refer you to an experienced professional for long-term counseling. An Employee Assistance Program can also provide educational workshops for your staff and wellness challenges. EAP has had a great impact on our organization!

Collisa Mahin, Wellness Coordinator at Duval County Public Schools

Recognize and Approach Wellness Programs as a Business Strategy

Amidst the excitement of choosing activities, incentives, and designing facilities it is easy to lose sight of the fact that a Wellness Program is a business strategy. As a business strategy, the program aligns company core values, employee values, and business needs first. Then and only then do you get to work designing, choosing committees, activities and the like.

For example, one of ProMotion's client companies has core values of collaboration, innovation, inclusion, and community. The employees' value connection and collaboration at work, time with family, and for well-being for themselves. The business needed savings in Talent Attraction and Retention. The program elements of incentive, coaching, group fitness, on-site fitness center, group outings and group coaching platforms around nutrition and mindset cover all of those bases and have brought our client a 50% improvement in talent attraction and retention since the instatement of the goal.

Wendy Chamberlain-Cooper, Founder and CEO of ProMotion Training Systems, Inc.

Empower Employees to Prioritize and Personalize Their Health and Well-Being

The one step in designing a successful employee wellness program is personal empowerment. Ensure you’re offering the support and learning that employees really want to prioritize their health and well-being (in and outside of work). An example of this would be holistic wellness programs where teams collectively learn about ergonomics, fitness, nutrition, and self-care. These types of workshops can engage employees, strengthen team building, and provide employees with resources they can apply outside of the workplace as well. The mission is to empower team members so they don’t just show up for work looking and feeling their best, but for life!

Winnie Li, Corporate Wellness Advisor at allqueenbee

Create and Train Cohesive Teams to Champion the Cause

In my opinion, the most important component of creating a successful employee wellness program is training people within the organization to become wellness and well-being champions. Every organization is different and each one has specific needs for employee wellness. Creating a cohesive team within the organization and training that team to become the thought leaders for that company’s wellness program is a game-changer.

When the wellness champions are made up of people from all departments, with different levels of health and fitness, you have the most successful programs. The wellness teams help shape the program and in turn, the employees have the wellness programs that work for them. It’s a win-win!

Marcy Morrison, Wellness Consultant at Healthy Fit Family

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