What Makes Corporate Wellness Programs Succeed

Earlier this month, Harvard Business Review posted an article, “What Great Corporate Wellness Programs Do,” where as researchers and designers, Cortney Rowan and Karuna Harishanker offered their unwavering support for the vital role corporate wellness programs will play in the ever-expanding health crisis.

After recently completing a project in partnership with the United State’s Department of Defense where they researched over 20 award-winning and widely recognized wellness programs, Rowan and Harishanker advocate that the workplace is the place to effectively implement a mind shift toward wellness.

Not only are wellness programs valuable for the organizations and their employees… they are our biggest hope for fixing a national health crisis
— Rowan and Harishanker

How have all these companies managed to be successful with their wellness programs? The success lies in the company’s ability to, “shift people’s relationship with health from one where health is something thought about and “practiced” annually at the doctor’s office, to one where health is practiced daily through small lifestyle habits.”

From our experience of partnering with companies to create wellness programs, here are three approaches we believe are key to making corporate wellness programs succeed. 

Creating a grassroots culture

Employee engagement can be a company’s most crippling fear to overcome before implementing a wellness program. It’s the biggest risk and the biggest variable. HR directors often understand that wellness programs need to be done with employees, not to employees. The research continues to show a successful corporate wellness program must be designed for a grassroots culture in order for it to grow and last. When even just a few employees get excited about health and wellness, they naturally become health advocates among their fellow employees. When people are accountable to the people they see and interact with on a daily basis, this creates opportunity to give and receive encouragement and support on the days someone might want to waver.

Tapping into employees personal motives for wellness

Very few people are motivated to engage in a wellness program simply because it’s the “right thing” to do. Yet, most people do have personal motives for wanting to live a healthier, more balanced lifestyle. Whether it’s to have more energy, get off a certain medication, play more with their kids, or perform better on the job, if your company focuses on tapping into what personally motivates each employee, your opportunity to communicate the overall value of health can go much further and achieve a greater lasting effect. 

Staying creative with employee incentives

According to a recent survey from Fidelity Investment and the National Business Group on Health, nearly 90 percent of employers are offering wellness incentives, financial rewards, or prizes to their employees for actively working toward getting healthier. Action-based, progress-based, or outcome-based incentives—what works most effectively? Do employees respond better to short-term incentives like gift cards and physical prizes or long-term incentives like a credit on their paycheck or an additional bonus each month? Employers across the board are experimenting with which incentive programs work best for their employees. As your company explores incentives for your wellness program, remember the incentives themselves are not the golden ticket. Instead the most important thing is to change up what incentives you offer employees to keep them excited and actively engaged in their own wellness journey.