Company Wellness Programs: Get Started

by Leesa Raab

There is a trend that has been popping up in companies across the country: wellness programs. It seems that many companies are drawing the correlation between healthy employees and productivity–which, of course makes sense. These types of programs not only contribute to efficiency, but can also lead to other benefits, such as perks from insurance companies and even tax breaks. In fact, there has been a growth in the market for Wellness Director positions, as well as an increase in third party wellness companies, as more and more companies implement these programs.

Wellness programs are most prevalent in large companies. For example, companies such as the Wall Street Journal and Motorola offer an on-site gym for employees to use on their lunch breaks or at various points in the day. Another company taking company wellness to the next level is audio visual manufacturer, Draper Inc., a company of 500+ employees in Indiana. Thanks to the creativity of their Safety & Wellness Director, they have a variety of programs to assist employee health–from smoking cessation programs to team challenges, such as a six week activity challenge where all members log their activity and the team with the most minutes wins and gets a paid day off.

As great as a company wellness program sounds, it leaves many small businesses feeling like their hands are tied on how to encourage their employees without the same resources that larger companies may have. However, there are ways to get creative and implement a program that will benefit a small team.

“Start small, simple and low cost. You can implement small changes that will promote healthy lifestyle changes, such as having healthier choices put into the vending machines or posting healthy information to raise awareness. And don’t hesitate to network with other companies–you’ll find that most will be happy to help you get started on the road to a healthy company,” commented Draper, Inc. Safety &Wellness Director, Linda Brinson, “After the company sees the improved morale, absenteeism, productivity and quality, they will be looking for more ways to bring wellness to the forefront.”

Here are a few creative tips Brinson suggests to get started:

1. Form your own “Biggest Loser” competition — Encourage employees to lose weight by hosting a 6-month competition, where employees are tracked by the percentage of weight they lose. Put together a small incentive, such as the winner receives an extra day of vacation, to keep them motivated.

2. Put together a walk-off — It’s possible to buy cheap pedometers to give all involved employees to wear. Each week track how many steps were taken by each employee, and at the end of the month tally it up, offering the winner a small prize, such as movie tickets.

3. Designate a “Wellness Host” — Just because you may be at a small company, it doesn’t mean that there can’t be one person put in charge of helping seek out company wellness opportunities. This person will keep everyone informed with new health and wellness articles, as well as look for something new for the team to participate in each month to stay active– whether free yoga class in the park, or putting together a training plan for everyone to participate in a local 5K. It might help to switch up the designated person every three months or so, in order to get new ideas flowing and keep everyone involved.

4. Form a company league — Most communities have local leagues, whether it be softball or soccer, that companies can form a team to join. This is a great activity to keep employees moving and even use as a team building exercise.

5. Offer a “health risk assessment” — You may find that your insurance company has a third party they can send to your office, or provide an online questionnaire, to do a health assessment on all employees. This will help employees know what areas of their health they should focus on most. If your insurance company isn’t helpful in this area, you may find your local chamber of commerce can assist with providing someone.

6.Talk to your insurance company — While most see insurance companies as a big, untouchable business with hard-to-understand paper work, the reality is they offer many health related benefits–if you ask. Don’t be afraid to talk to your insurance company to see how they can assist, whether it be by offering gym membership reimbursement for those who can prove they spend a certain amount of time in the gym, to special health fairs that your company may be able to attend or get involved with.

7. Look for a wellness partner — This could be a local hospital that offers community health fairs or a local university that would provide a resource or even trainers that can come in to help you get started. Also try contacting your local chamber of commerce–you will probably learn there are government funded opportunities available that you weren’t aware of.
Even if your company doesn’t take interest in putting together any sort of formal wellness plan, most of the above listed tips could be implemented by a small group of employees looking to be healthier and encourage each other. And whether company sponsored or just something a group of people are doing together, you can up the ante by having each employee drop $5-10 in a pool to go to the winner or various challenges. Let us know how your company promotes wellness to employees.

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