What Makes a Successful Workplace Wellness Program?

August 5, 2013 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – A study by the RAND Corporation identified the key characteristics of successful workplace wellness programs.

The study report, “Workplace Wellness Programs Study,” suggests that five factors contribute to a successful workplace wellness program, including:

  • Effective communication strategies. The companies studied communicated wellness program information to employees by means ranging from face-to-face interaction to mass dissemination. Employers cited the importance of broad outreach and clear messaging from organizational leaders, especially for those organizations with a large and geographically dispersed work force.
  • Opportunity for employees to engage. Making wellness activities convenient and easily accessible for all employees are strategies that employers used to raise the level of employee engagement.
  • Leadership engaged at all levels. For programs to be successful, senior managers need to consider wellness as an organizational priority. Buy-in from direct supervisors was found to be crucial to generate excitement and connect employees to available resources.
  • Use of existing resources and relationships. The companies studied leveraged existing resources and built relationships, often with health plans, to expand offerings at little to no cost.
  • Continuous evaluation. The companies studied approached wellness with a continuous quality-improvement attitude. Though no employers conducted formal evaluations, all solicited feedback from staff with the goal of improving future wellness programming. Some employers conducted needs assessments to develop an understanding of the wellness needs of their work force.

According the study’s authors, “Unhealthy lifestyles, such as inactivity, poor nutrition, tobacco use and frequent alcohol consumption, are driving up the prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and pulmonary conditions.” Such conditions have increased health care costs, as well as illness-related loss of productivity due to absence from work and reduced on-the-job performance. To address these conditions and their impact on the workplace, “employers are adopting health promotion and disease prevention strategies, commonly referred to as workplace wellness programs.”

The report also examined other aspects of workplace wellness programs including the characteristics and prevalence of current programs, evidence for program impact and the role of incentives under these programs.

The report was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps to improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis.

A copy of the full report, as well as a report summary and a related infographic, can be found here.