How a wellness program can benefit both an employer and its employees Featured

7:01pm EDT February 29, 2012
How a wellness program can benefit both an employer and its employees

Worksite health promotion is an investment in a company’s most important asset — its employees. Studies have shown that employees are more likely to perform well and less likely to exhibit presenteeism — showing up to work when sick and, as a result, underperforming — when they are in optimal health.

And the New Year provides a perfect opportunity to introduce or re-energize workplace wellness, says Renay Gontis, communications coordinator with JRG Advisors, the management company of ChamberChoice.

“While the idea of workplace wellness is not a new one, the implementation process may be,” says Gontis. “As the workplace dynamic continues to change due to an increased number of employees who are working remotely and/or with flexible schedules, employers are faced with new challenges. The absence of employees from the physical workplace makes it difficult to implement a one-size-fits-all wellness program, making it more important than ever to consider the individual’s needs, resources and environment when developing a wellness program. While one employee may be located in the city with easy access to local markets and fitness facilities, a more rural employee may not be.”

Smart Business spoke with Gontis about how to keep employees healthy and how to design a wellness program that meets the needs of everyone.

What are the challenges of creating a wellness program?

Employers are faced with the challenge of keeping employees engaged and participatory in the wellness program. With increased access to the Internet through smart phones, laptops and tablets, employers can look to online programs and/or utilize social media to encourage and motivate employees through online groups.

A social media site can provide a meeting place for co-workers with common interests such as running, walking and spinning to discuss upcoming wellness events, past successes and future goals. It may also add a competitive edge that will increase motivation and participation among employees.

How can an employer start to implement a wellness program?

When starting any new program in the workplace, getting buy-in from senior management is critical if the initiative is going to succeed. And because it is not always easy to get senior executives to attend lunch-and-learns, participate in office walks or other activities due to their schedules, it is important that they display their commitment in other ways. For example, management can illustrate their dedication to the program by allocating company resources to include a budget for wellness initiatives.

Incentives will engage and encourage participation from the work force. The incentives do not necessarily need to be large; however, they should be relevant to each individual company’s employee population. A great way to determine what kinds of incentives would be effective at a particular company is to survey employees about their hobbies, extracurricular activities and family interests. Having this information will help the employer select incentives that will not only motivate active employees to remain healthy but also encourage the less active employees to get involved and take a more active role in their health.

The incentives should be enticing and stick within the wellness theme. The last thing an employer wants to do is to offer counterproductive incentives such as membership in a cake of the month club or a gift certificate for an all-you-can-eat dinner. A few positive incentive examples include fitness club memberships, new walking/running shoes, massages and paid time off.

How can an employer get employees to buy in to a wellness program?

Employees may be suspicious of the motives surrounding the employer’s decision to promote workplace wellness, and the employer needs to be cognizant of this issue. Employees’ suspicions are aroused with just about every new program introduced into a workplace.

It can probably be attributed to human nature, the relationship between management and nonmanagement employees and perhaps the economic environment. For example, if downsizing is part of the work landscape and a new wellness program is launched, rumors might spread that selection of who goes and who stays is based on health status.

Before introducing a wellness program, check the current pulse of the organization. Honest and open communication will help curtail any suspicions that could potentially arise. Communicate to employees not only what you are planning with the program but also why it is being done. Discuss the benefits to the both company and the employee. Addressing suspicion simply and directly will work to the employer’s advantage.

Are there other options if an employer isn’t able to develop a full-blown wellness program?

Some employers may be reluctant or lack the resources to dive into a full-blown wellness program, and this is a common concern. But it is important to remember that even a small activity can plant the seeds of success for a company’s wellness program to grow.

Engage employees by offering some of the easier and less costly things, such as providing a health and wellness bulletin board or a newsletter. The employer can also coordinate walking groups during lunch hours, or introduce a salad bar lunch day.

Keep in mind that employers may want to avoid activities that may be perceived by employees as invasive, such as health screenings, until they are able to offer the employees the education and support for modifying lifestyle habits.

Renay Gontis is communications coordinator of JRG Advisors, the management company of ChamberChoice. Reach her at                 (412) 456-7011 or renaygontis@jrgadvisors.net.