Fostering a Corporate Culture of Wellness

November 15, 2012

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Are workplace wellness programs worth the work? A piece in the Harvard Business Review says yes. At Johnson & Johnson, for example, the organization saw an estimated $250 million knocked off their health care costs over a six-year period thanks to formal wellness initiatives.

Because of numbers like these, more and more companies see value in investing in wellness programs, positioning these programs as more of a mainstream element of benefits offerings rather than an option or afterthought.

But it takes a lot more than offering flu shots and fitness discounts to implement a successful company wellness program. In fact, a recent study from Optum found that the top barriers to corporate wellness initiatives relate to employees' lack of time, energy and interest. All are areas where communications can make an impact.

Based on our experience driving wellness program engagement on behalf of our clients, here's what we prescribe:

Engage Leadership. Visible support from top leaders is critical to successful wellness program communication. Wellness efforts with obvious leadership backing will distinguish themselves from a myriad of other “initiatives” pushed into employee inboxes.

Dedicate personnel. Research shows that companies with wellness personnel achieve higher rates of employee wellness program participation (54 percent of the eligible workforce on average) than those without (45 percent on average). Having dedicated staff to execute your wellness strategy will help you create focus and sustain momentum.

Make it a culture shift. Fostering a health-conscious employee base starts at the core of the company's identity. Incorporate wellness as a pillar of your company's brand, and align your business objectives to support this shift.

Enlist external partners. In order to give your wellness program more comprehensive offerings, take advantage of the depth of resources available from health and wellness vendors. From webcasts to on-site seminars to posters and more, reap the benefits of off-the-shelf materials, customizing as needed to reach your unique audiences.

Develop fresh content. The quality and variety of communications content to educate employees on and drive participation in the wellness program can mean the difference between employees diving into a dialogue or clicking “delete.” Deliver content that engages employees and incites them to take an active role in managing their health and wellness. Check out this post for tips on honing an effective editorial tone.

Provide prizes with purpose. Optum's study states that at least two-thirds of the companies that offer health screenings, risk assessments and fitness challenges also use incentives to drive employee participation. Rewards are useful tools to increase participation, but companies must also remember to emphasize the inherent benefits of the wellness program – such as vital health improvements and enhanced personal well-being – in order to develop long-term retention rates for participation.

How healthy is your corporate wellness program? And what makes it work?