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What makes a wellness program great? Is it the healthy snacks in the break room? An annual walking challenge? Maybe it’s the incentives, like getting a discount on your health insurance for participating? Sure, these are features of a good wellness program, but a GREAT one? A great wellness program needs a lot more than good features.

Corporate wellness programs are becoming part of the status quo for employees in larger companies across the country. In 2015, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 50% of employers who offered paid health benefits also offered some version of a wellness program. But, as is the case for health benefits themselves, all corporate wellness programs are not created equal. Some companies offer an annual HRA, measure compliance, and call it a day. Others offer smoking cessation, gym membership discounts, and nutrition coaching. There are so many permutations of what “counts” as a wellness program, but what’s most important is the impact. All the programming in the world doesn’t count if your employees don’t see the value in it or use it.

How do you make the leap from tactical measurements like an HRA and biometric screening to a strategic, holistic approach that actually makes an impact? One that changes the way people live their lives?

Is that the million dollar question or what?

There are three key factors that elevate a wellness program from good to great. We’ll go over the first one today and get the rest out to you in the coming weeks.

Great Wellness Programs Start with the Positives

Traditional management strategies have typically taken the approach of identifying how the employee can improve upon her weaknesses. These days, that philosophy has been turned on its ear. Now we coach to an employee’s strengths. If an employee hates spreadsheets but is an amazing writer, we work on shaping her job to optimize her strengths and give the spreadsheets to the math whiz down the hall.

great wellness program

We’ve decided to stop trying to fit square pegs in round holes, and studies are showing that it works! In 1999, Gallup began researching the effects of managing to employees’ strengths, and they found that this strategy dramatically improved engagement and sense of wellbeing as compared to those who were managed differently.

“The more hours each day that Americans can use their strengths to do what they do best, the less likely they are to report experiencing worry, stress, anger, sadness, or physical pain during the previous day. More than half (52%) of Americans who use their strengths for three hours a day or less are stressed, but this falls to 36% for those who use their strengths 10 hours per day or more.” (source)

This change in approach can have measurable benefit to individuals and organizations alike, because employees become more engaged in their work and more effective for the organizations themselves.

Positive Wellness Programming

It’s a win-win to recognize and bolster people’s strengths. The same is true of bolstering what’s working in a company’s existing culture when it comes to building wellness. Corporate wellness programs should strive to improve upon what’s already going well rather than focusing on what’s broken or not working.

When considering how to communicate wellness to employees, ask yourself, “What are people already doing that is beneficial for their health and wellbeing? How can we build from these positive starting points?” Perhaps a small group of employees has started a weekly 20-minute meditation group. Awesome! Give those folks some positive recognition and make sure the rest of the workforce knows they’re welcome to join in! If you have a wellness newsletter, write an article that highlights the benefits of meditation and plant the seed for growth in participation. You’ve just built on something good and made it great!

When strategizing how to shift cultural practices to support wellness, consider these questions:

  • What positive structures are already in place that we can make more visible for employees to use?
  • What are managers already doing to support their staff?
  • How can we tweak those existing practices to take them to the next level?

By leveraging what’s already going well, you’re setting yourself up for success. You’re not reinventing the wheel – you’re working smarter and reaping the benefits.

great wellness program


What’s Next?

Positive Wellness Programming is only one avenue for taking your program from good to great. Next week, we’ll cover two more key elements that all great wellness programs have. But before we do that, let us know what’s working for you in the comments below. Let’s get this conversation going so that we can all learn from each other!


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