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Creating a Culture of Wellness in the Workplace

Ann Marie O'Brien, UnitedHealthcare
R.N., National Director of Health Strategies


In conversations with employers, I’m often told that creating a successful employee wellness strategy is a top priority. But while employers see the advantages of a healthier, happier and more productive workforce, some struggle with how to start, maintain and measure their wellness programs.

The first thing to remember is that wellness programs aren’t a new idea, but they are an important business decision that involves a company’s most important assets – its employees.

The purpose of workplace wellness programs is to help employees maintain or improve their health. Benefits may include increased employee satisfaction, increased productivity, reduced attrition, lower absenteeism and lower medical costs.

Nearly 60 percent of employees with access to wellness programs said the initiatives have had a positive impact on their health, according to a recent UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey. What’s more, nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of all employees said they are interested in wellness programs.

Infographic: Statistics of employee wellness programs

June is National Employee Wellbeing Month – a great opportunity for employers to create a culture of wellness.

Here are five tips for employers who want to start a wellness program or refine their existing program.

Customize a Strategy for Your Workforce

Review historical insurance claims data to identify the most common health challenges, prevalent health needs and high-risk populations. Use this insight to help develop a custom strategy integrating a variety of solutions to target top priorities.

Offer Incentives to get Employees to Participate

Align incentives with your wellness program’s goals so employees are rewarded for participating and achieving positive results. Choose incentives that are meaningful to your employees. Do they prefer financial incentives such as gift cards, reductions in plan premiums or Health Savings Account contributions? Or would vacation days or a charitable donation be better motivators? Provide incentives on an ongoing basis if possible, so employees are rewarded throughout the year to help keep them motivated.

Influence the Work Place

Employees spend a significant part of their day at work and are presented with wellness-related decisions throughout the day. It’s important to create an environment where the healthy choice is the easy choice. For example, when employees are craving a snack, is there a vending machine that offers healthy alternatives to candy bars and soda? When employees take breaks, can they use a walking path or an on-site fitness area with a treadmill? Is it possible to schedule on-site biometric screenings, flu shots, educational seminars or even team-building cooking classes?

Communicate Your Program and Support

Our survey data show that employees tend to underestimate—and underuse—wellness incentives. The value of corporate wellness incentives has increased to $742 per employee per year, up from $521 in 2013, according to a study by the National Business Group on Health. The same study found that fewer than half of eligible employees earned the full incentive, leaving millions of dollars of unclaimed rewards on the table. The UnitedHealthcare survey found that 41 percent of full-time workers estimated that the average financial incentive available each year through an employer-sponsored program was between $0 to $300 per employee, while only 11 percent selected the correct range of $601 to $900.

It pays to promote your wellness program using traditional channels (lunchroom (CQ) bulletin boards and flyers), digital channels (email and the intranet), and with “wellness ambassadors.” It’s important to inform and motivate executives and supervisors about the positive role they can play to support and communicate wellness initiatives. Remember to promote your wellness program when you launch it and also multiple times throughout the year so employees are aware of the wellness opportunities.

Evaluate Results & Solicit Input

Evaluate your wellness program annually to assess strengths, weaknesses and progress. Work with your health plan to measure the impact on employee engagement and medical costs. And remember to be flexible and listen to your employees on how to improve wellness offerings for the future.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a culture of wellness, but a strategy using these tips can help employers give their employees the opportunity to live a healthier lifestyle.