Workplace Wellness: Success Factors

The pressure to contain costs of employer-paid health insurance isn’t letting up. But a great deal of work is taking place among providers, insurers and brokers to help business owners develop strategies for reining those costs in. Recognizing that no two companies’ needs—or work forces— are entirely alike, some of the region’s thought leaders in the field offer this guidance on framing successful strategies for moving the healthcare needle.


An ounce of prevention: I believe in a benefit design that encourages preventive care, with low (or no) employee cost-sharing for annual screenings, immunizations, smoking cessation and generic prescriptions.

Data is king: Know what is driving costs for your group. Whether it’s back injury and pain, diabetes or hypertension, know your employees’ needs and provide programs and resources for them to improve their health and the company’s bottom line.

You are what you eat: Invest in low-cost, on-site healthy food options for employees. Everyone wins when staff chooses apples, bananas and almonds instead of cake and cookies.

Move it, 8-to-5: Get employees out of their chairs, as moving people from sedentary to active provides the biggest boost to productivity and health.  We have walking trails, distribute FitBits, promote the use of stairs, and encourage frequent, intermittent activity breaks.

Make it fun: As a health plan, we’re building a culture of well-being. We support employee participation in group events including Corporate Challenge, March of Dimes and Kansas City Bike MS.  We sponsor stair climbing challenges, with teams and prizes. 


Follow the leaders: Companies with on-site fitness centers can learn much from commercial fitness centers about how to create a culture that encourages employees to work out consistently.

Accountability matters: Create a community of people who hold each other accountable, show up at the gym and push each other to meet or exceed their goals. It’s easy to skip a workout when there’s no one to hold you accountable. 

The feedback factor: Instantaneous feedback helps. Wearable devices and exercise equipment that tabulates, saves and broadcasts data, lets employees use competition to help motivate their behaviors. 

Assess your incentives: Incentives tend to work for people who are already interested in achieving the goal. They are a good push for those who want to do things like working out, stopping smoking, or eating healthier. For others, you need something that pushes a little bit harder. Carrots, yes, but sticks, too.

Leaders must lead: You have to ban sugary treats first from executive meetings and set an example of what is expected. Then it’s much easier to implement the changes at all levels.  True story: I once had the M&Ms removed from the trail mix set out for an executive meeting. Think of ways you can remove the temptation!


Money talks: Reward healthy behavior through a formalized wellness program with structured incentives for  participating and meeting health outcomes, including discounts on medical premiums and/or points that can be redeemed for merchandise or gift cards. 

Keep it fun: Company-organized fitness events, at a variety of times (including during the workday) encourage people to participate. Step challenges using wearable devices can also foster a healthy sense of competition between company departments.

Chill out: Offer ways for people to de-stress during the day: on-site fitness centers, yoga classes, meditation spaces or a massage therapist visits. Services can be paid for by employees—you just need to find a space for it.

Stand up: Provide ways for people to get out of their chairs throughout the day, and encourage use of stairs or walks around the block. Workstation desks that adjust also let people periodically stand.

Make it easy: On-site fitness facilities make getting or staying in shape easy and accessible for most everyone. If you don’t have the space, consider subsidizing membership fees at local gyms.


Culture change: A focus on health and well-being starts at the most senior level.  Wellness directors need clear support from the leadership team and the C-suite needs to engage in the programs and help lead by example.

The balance sheet: Employee health is your greatest asset; a work force that is happy and healthy is priceless. It reduces absenteeism, improves performance during business hours and can ultimately translate into improvements in your bottom line. 

More than fitness: As your wellness program matures, focus on employee well-being—programs to address health, positive social relationships and the availability and access to basic resources (food, shelter, income).  

Metrics matter: You can’t monitor what you don’t measure. Do you have clear goals for your health and well-being programs? Do you encourage your employees to “Know Your Numbers”?  We are data-rich but information-poor.  Measure the impact of programs to effectively communicate both the successes and the challenges. 

Prevention works: While it is prudent to use existing data (HRA, surveys, etc.) to develop programs that help employees manage current conditions, a resource that is under-leveraged is developing programs that focus on preventing or reducing the risk of disease.


Carrots vs. sticks: Within the parameters of the ACA, you can charge higher premiums for employees who do not participate in a wellness program. Premiums are the key to enticing employees to join the wellness program. If there is higher participation and higher engagement, there is a higher potential on return on investment.

Know your limits: Healthy snacks can help employees cut down on cravings for things that hurt them. Employees would certainly grab the healthy snack provided at the office, but it is hard to control them if they want to go eat a cheeseburger after work.

Movement helps: We have clients who promote the Garmin fitness bands that can help create a mindset around movement and activity. Stand-up desks can help, too. It is a complementary tool to keep activity top of mind for employees, but does not bend the trend on healthcare spending.

Live the message: Leadership endorsement and talking the talk does not make a significant difference. If it’s done the right way and leadership really believes it, it can work.

EAP, or not? I do not know that the prevalence of Employee Assistance Programs will reduce costs. They might address a wide range of issues by providing direction, but not fix the issue. Again, EAPs are a complementary tool, but will not lower your utilization.