Even before the global pandemic hit, you would have been hard-pressed to find a company that didn’t offer some kind of wellness program. Long the domain of larger employers with 500+ employees, wellness programs can now be found at companies of all sizes. A study released last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 40% of companies with 10-24 employees, 60% of companies with 50-99 employees and 92% of larger companies had “workplace health promotion” (i.e. wellness) programs.

But the execution—and quality—of these programs can differ greatly. While companies no doubt have good intentions, the pitfalls inherent in maintaining such programs are numerous. And, surprisingly, they have nothing to do with money. (Unlike traditional benefits, a wellness program typically costs less than $10 per employee per month to run.) Instead, the key to starting and maintaining a successful wellness program is about taking the right steps—and avoiding others. Learn what moves to make and mistakes to avoid with these do’s and don’ts.

Don’t stop at physical health

Increasingly, employers are understanding that wellness goes beyond just good physical health. And yet, the same CDC study cited above found that only 17% of employers with wellness programs had a comprehensive offering, which expands the definition beyond physical health.

Do offer a balanced approach to overall wellness

At XMI, we can vouch for the value a comprehensive wellness program provides. Dubbed XMI Ideal Life, our employee wellness program, which launched last January, addresses not just physical wellness, but mental, financial and career health as well. Each month, we focus a variety of programming and activities around one of these four areas to help employees meet all of their wellness goals, not just ones that relate to their physical health.

Don’t build a program and then sit back and watch what happens

“If you build it, they will come” doesn’t apply. Likewise, don’t offer a few recommendations on living a healthy lifestyle and call it a wellness program. One-off, ad-hoc events impersonating a holistic wellness program will be a disappointment for all. Instead, create a thoughtful program, tailored to the needs of your employees.  This Sharecare Well-Being Index report, which outlines various wellness strengths and weaknesses of each state, is a good place to start. Then, you need to dedicate resources like time and talent to ensure its success. Two other key components are leadership buy-in and regular communication.

Do prioritize goal setting

You can’t expect employees to be successful without first giving them the tools and space to develop and revisit their goals. Encourage them to brainstorm, reflect and write down goals and refer back to these written records regularly. Plan sessions throughout the year and provide materials that help take employees through the process of arriving at a list of goals, breaking down goals into manageable steps and finally, committing to the first step.
Assist employees in realizing their goals by charting a course for reaching that goal within a specific period of time and encourage them to find a non-work accountability partner with whom they can check in periodically to review their progress.

Don’t force employees to voice their wellness goals in front of coworkers

Prioritizing accountability is not the same as requiring employees to share personal information about their progress toward reaching wellness goals.

Don’t be afraid to offer career development as part of your wellness program

Yes, employees could land their dream job somewhere else because of your company’s career-oriented wellness programming. But, that’s not a bad thing. You will have created a fan of your company and will have validation on how to best train-up their replacement.

Do celebrate growth

If it happens that an employee leaves for a better opportunity because of your wellness program, that’s cause for celebration. Speaking of celebration, encourage bragging (anonymous is often preferred by employees) and regularly acknowledge and applaud employees for putting in the work toward wellness.

Don’t mandate wellness

Don’t dock pay, threaten financial penalties or require your employees to attend a specific class or download a specific app. Wellness should always be opt-in.

Do provide incentives for participation

Provide incentives for participation or reaching specific goals, such as gift cards, discounts on healthcare premiums, branded swag or wellness products and services.  

The bottom line: Be deliberate and emotionally intelligent when designing and executing your employee wellness program. Every employee will have different areas of strength and struggle. Wellness is a personal concept and a sensitive topic for many. The goal with any employee wellness program should be to lift up, never to push down.

Want more tips on setting up an employee wellness program? Download our free eBook, The XMI Guide to Creating a Successful Employee Wellness Program.

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