How to Establish and Design a Wellness Program

How to Establish and Design a Wellness Program


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by Trevor Sunderland
Director, Human Resources Consulting & Advisory ManpowerGroup Hong Kong

Designing and Implementing a Successful Corporate Workplace Wellness Program
Corporate wellness has been around for decades, generally under the guise of ‘work-life balance.’ Original work-life balance approaches included flexible working hours, family and birthday leave, organised social and sports activities, and the possibility of free fruit on the first Monday of each month to prevent scurvy.

How times have changed.

On both employer- and employee-side, workplace wellness is defined as ‘any health promotion activity or organizational policy designed to support healthy behaviour in the workplace and to improve health outcomes.’ On the employer-side, workplace wellness is often geared to work as a candidate attraction and retention tool, improve productivity and, by extension, business success.

Advanced wellness programs now include components for financial wellness, mental health, healthy diet and exercise, mindfulness, sleep, and stress management, as well as changes to culture and leadership (management) behaviours that such an effort… including the education and/or weeding out of ‘toxic managers’ that cause much of the employee stress found in the workplace.

Of course, discussing workplace wellness programs is easier said than done, and designing and managing an advanced employee wellness program requires a well-thought-out strategy benefitting both employee health and employer bottom-line. The following steps are a good place to start:

Step 1: Conduct a Needs Assessment
Obtain information about the current-state health of the workforce – and the management willingness to make improvements – is a critical step in developing a workforce wellness program. Some questions to ask include:

  • Does the company’s current benefit plan insurer support wellness?
  • If you have had a wellness program before, how did it go?
  • Is senior management ready to commit to such a plan?

This information will enable the employer to design programs and services that are most beneficial to both the employer and the employee.

Step 2: Obtain Management Support
Support from senior management is essential. Executive buy-in is critical for funding purposes, obtaining support throughout the company, and for approving policies and processes that are program-related. Management can provide additional assistance by helping link health promotion objectives to business outcomes. The following questions may help in obtaining the required support:

  • What are the firm’s short- and long-term strategic priorities?
  • What benefits can be expected from the wellness initiative, and what is the potential value of wellness promotion to the organization?

Step 3: Establish a Wellness Committee
After conducting the needs assessment and obtaining management support, employers should then install an internal, employee-driven committee to build and sustain a wellness culture and program. The responsibilities of the wellness committee might be to:

  • Develop a health promotion operating plan, including a vision statement, goals and objectives;
  • Evaluate current programs, services and policies that are available in the workplace. Assess employee needs and preferences;
  • Assist in implementing, monitoring and evaluating wellness activities;
  • Create education programs – newsletter articles, online health education modules, promotional events focused on health-related topics;
  • Customise communications for different worksites, departments, job levels (email, text, video, signs, flyers, mailers), etc.

Employers should solicit committee members by invitation or ask for volunteers, ensuring there is cross-sectional representation.

Step 4: Develop Goals and Objectives
Using information collected and recommendations made by the wellness committee, employers can now establish goals and objectives for the program. For most companies, the key goal is to improve worker health and thereby reduce health care costs. Other goals may include:

  • reducing absenteeism;
  • boosting worker productivity;
  • increasing attraction and retention rates

Wellness program goals and objectives are statements of broad, long-term accomplishments expected from the program. Objectives should be clear, time-limited and stated in such a way that it is easy to determine whether they have been achieved.

Step 5: Develop a Budget
Without funding, any program is generally destined to fail, or at least stall.

When considering the budget, organizations should include costs relating to incentives, marketing and program design. Typical items in the budget should include screening vendor and/or provider fees; participatory incentives; promotional materials; capital equipment costs, uplifts in benefit costs, consultant fees; and committee member time; etc.

Step 6: Design Wellness Program Components
Employers have great latitude in designing wellness programs as there is not one standard program. Based on organizational needs and resources, the wellness program may range from a very simple program to an elaborate multi-faceted set-up. Examples of current trending programs are as follows:

  • Flexible working hours; work from home days, limited office hours, sit-stand desks;
  • Stress reduction, weight loss and smoking cessation programs;
  • Health risk assessments and health screenings, vaccination clinics;
  • Exercise programs and activities – on-site yoga classes; gym discounts, team activities driven by the employees and nutrition education;
  • Usage of productivity boosting devices (wearable devices like Fitbit, Smart Watch), etc. to help employees in monitoring personal well-being);
  • Digital detox (time away from technology);
  • Healthy vending machines, fruit baskets;
  • Financial advice assistance

Step 7: Select Wellness Program Incentives or Rewards
Incentives or rewards are an effective tool to change unhealthy behaviour: People are driven to act by the positive consequences they expect from their actions. Building a rewards system into a wellness program is a great motivator and can take many forms:

  • Goods and/or gifts celebrating accomplishments or monetary awards;
  • Mention in employee newsletter, lunch with the CEO.

Rewards should be in line with the commensurate effort required to achieve the desired behaviour. Incentives attached to stopping smoking or specific weight loss should be greater than simply participating in a lunch-and-learn seminar.

Step 8: Communicate the Wellness Plan
This policy statement should include the company’s intent, level of involvement, and rewards and incentives system with respect to employee wellness. This can be done in many ways:

  • Attention-generating program rollout incorporating wellness program logo and slogan;
  • Visible endorsement and participation by upper management; employee’s personal success stories;
  • E-mail, fliers and presentations;
  • Message repetition and ensuring message remains fresh with new information.

Ongoing communication and marketing are important for maintaining employee engagement.

Step 9: Evaluate the Success of the Program
After having implemented goals, metrics, and desired outcomes, companies can then determine if their wellness program has translated into financial savings on the health plan or value in brand.

As with any investment or initiative, evaluating effectiveness of a wellness program is important in sustaining management and employee support and in tweaking or implementing new programs. In evaluating, employers should have set metrics and baselines ahead of the rollout of the wellness initiative, and which will vary heavily dependent on the program implemented. For example, employers may measure:

  • participation rates;
  • program completion rates;
  • reduction in health care costs and percentage of employees who stopped smoking or lost weight;
  • return on investment (ROI).

Regardless of the tools or measurements used, evaluating the effectiveness of the wellness program is an important step in the ongoing management of the program.


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