Sustainability and How to Get Creative with Your Workplace Wellness Program

I’m working with a cool HR tech startup currently in beta that focuses on workplace wellness and sustainability. If you are interested in learning more, please leave a comment or email me at jessica(at)blogging4jobs(dot)com. 

Having successfully survived and navigated your company’s annual benefits enrollment process, I know you as an HR and business leader, deserve more than a pat on the back. You deserve not just a day off but more than several after hours company paid dinners and cocktail happy hours with friends discussing anything but work. You put in not just work negotiating your health insurance plan and developing the company communication plan that accompanies the open enrollment period but you have endured perhaps thousands of phone calls, questions and emails from employees, their dependents  and partners. I know that that 99% of these questions could have been answered by those same individuals if they had bothered to read those same materials you and your team spent hours and possibly weeks not just creating. Every possible answer for those thousand questions was contained within that annual enrollment packet that no one took 15 minutes to skim, read or even peruse. Why is it so hard to read the bulleted benefit changes on the powerpoint slides you sent to the entire leadership as well as all employees?

What is a Workplace Wellness Program?

Which is why it almost seems to wrong to discuss or even consider re-vamping, updating or launching a new workplace wellness program. You spend a small part of your day focused on employee benefits questions. It’s not the questions that change, just the employee that’s asking them. You know there will be a thousand more questions and a group of employees who are only enrolling in new said workplace wellness program because they want the free pedometer or Shine (Fitbit too) you are offering those same employees. In fact, you often get asked when you’re bringing back your workplace wellness program. Employees don’t talk to you about the pounds they lost or how those 8 weeks changed their life. They talked about the fun (and also free) tracker thingie they used but never figured out how to download the app which was to be used to track on their device.

A workplace wellness program is a corporate and workplace led program focused on not just eating healthy or exercising but healthy activities and choices. And by healthy choices I might mean parking your car the furtherest away in the parking lot so you can make 10,000 daily steps, limiting your alcohol intake to 1 glass of wine instead of 3 per evening or committing to weekly meditation and yoga to help reduce what is the most unhealthy human activity of all, feeling stressed. Most employers think of a wellness program as just exercising and healthy eating choices, but it’s more than that. It’s about an holistic healthy lifestyle. Sure that includes reducing your calorie intake or exercising at least 30 minutes 3 times a week, but it also includes offering employees classes as well as opportunities to learn about financial health and wellness as well as managing but also understanding stress both personally and professionally that tends to bleed over into both parts of all of our lives.

A vast majority of companies address employee wellness in some way. In 2015 the Society for Human Resource Management reported 80% of employers offered preventative wellness services and information. The popularity increases with larger workforces. Some reports suggest up to 92% of employers with over 200 employees offer a wellness program. What SHRM and others don’t report and maybe you don’t measure is the effectiveness of these type of workplace wellness programs. I can only speak for my own wellness programs in the past, however, I can say that developing and launching them is the easier part. The real challenge is maintaining an effective program that produces results, lowers costs and drives employee engagement.

Let me be clear, there is no single and best way execute and grow a wellness program at your workplace. There are so many variables that are unique to your organization including but not limited to your healthcare plan, company culture, location of your employee population, the overall health of your employee population as well as your health insurance numbers including the average age of your employees as well as the number of claims over $10,000 for not just last year but several prior years.

Four Ways to Get Creative With Your Workplace Wellness Programs

  • Ask Your Employees for Feedback. Either through an employee survey or information gathered in focus group meetings, ask your employees for feedback on the types of workplace wellness programs traditional as well as non-traditional. According to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Study, your majority Millennial workforce are more likely to report high levels of satisfaction where there is a creative, inclusive working culture (76 percent) rather than a more authoritarian, rules-based approach (49 percent). This means asking for input, feedback and letting them participate in the decision-making, culture creative process, and programs developed by employees.
  • Consider Wellness as More Than a Way to Reduce Health Insurance. Wellness casts a wider net than just a way to reduce corporate as well as employee health insurance costs. Look at ways to offer programs that help employees in other non-tradtional wellness areas including financial health. Something as simple as balancing a checkbook or managing expenses might be a challenge for the majority of your employee population. Whether it’s financial wellness, stress management, or conflict resolution training, consider resources beyond what we traditionally see as wellness. Those workplace weight loss challenges while important are overdone. Consider trying a new approach to not only drive engagement but help your employees learn new habits beyond workplace smoking cessation and healthy eating programs.
  • Wellness Programs Offer a Way to Improve Your Employees Daily Lives in Other Ways. Believe me when I say I know sometimes the hardest part about being in human resources is being able to see the forrest through the trees. It’s the trees that dominate so much of our time and energy which is why it’s hard to effective strategize, plan and build our organizations in different ways. Your workplace wellness programs offers a way to engage employees and remind them of your value as an organization beyond a paycheck. Great wellness programs arm your employees with new tools, resources and provide support in ways that impact them differently. Maybe it’s a reduction in stress or providing them the opportunity to expand their experience beyond their horizons. I know it might feel like I’m stretching here, however, sustainability is important for not just your Millennial workforce. The majority of our workforce doesn’t just want to work a job for a paycheck. We want to align our futures and purpose with one that is bigger than our own. When we have a purpose and inclusiveness at our offices, our employee turnover is lower as shown as the graphic above.
  • Communicate Differently. As I mentioned people want resource, mentorship and connection. That includes when it comes to any programs, wellness included. We need to look beyond Outlook and workplace email communication and the company newsletter to engage our employees. Maybe it’s video, a podcast, more in person meetings or group activities after hours that foster the most adoption of programs including your wellness ones. I understand that it’s work and it’s completely out of our as well as our leaders comfort zones. However, if we don’t change our strategies especially when it comes to standard and basic communication beyond the company portal, email and intranet, we will successfully engage our employees wellness related or not.

The thing about wellness programs is they offer the opportunity to provide value to our employees. They allow us to grow them in ways they can’t get from a corporate high potential training program or new employee orientation which is why I, am of the mind that they are the future of how to best engage and ultimately retain our most productive and precious workforce. Workplace wellness programs are about the sustainability of our most precious resource outside of the planet which is our people. Are you ready? Most importantly, how are you communicating sustainability to your business leaders and employees?

I’m working with a cool HR tech startup currently in beta that focuses on workplace wellness and sustainability. If you are interested in learning more, please leave a comment or email me at jessica(at)blogging4jobs(dot)com. 

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Krishna Shekhawat says

    The author of this post, Jessica Miller-Merrell has Well described about the workplace wellness program. There are great ways to to get creative with your workplace wellness programs.

  2. Brandon says

    Fantastic point here Jessica: “We want to align our futures and purpose with one that is bigger than our own.” Since many us and our employees spend about 30% of their week at their job, its important to help make it as fulfilling as possible. Skills and ideas they can bring home to their families and friends can help spread positive changes like a ripple effect.

  3. shafiqul alam says

    Informative and one of the emerging issues of HRM.
    Can any one explain me the relationship between employee wellness and organizational sustainability?


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