Workplace Wellness

by Liggy Webb

Creating a workplace wellness strategy

Organisations differ widely, but the following guidelines describe the basics of creating, implementing and evaluating a workplace wellness strategy.


  • To create a culture of wellness, where employees focus on wellness as the outcome and work towards optimal health, not just away from disease
  • To align the wellness strategy to the business’ overall goals and mission
  • To promote health and wellbeing and reduce absenteeism and related costs
  • To create effective communication channels that ensure employees are consulted, involved and continually informed of wellness initiatives
  • To create a programme people are positive about, proud of and actively participate in and champion, both inside and outside the organisation


A comprehensive programme design should be based on a formal needs assessment. This may comprise an analysis of the company’s health-related data, such as health-care insurance claims, causes of absenteeism and disability retirement, to determine the health status of the workforce and identify areas that need attention.

Health-related data can then help to identify optimal targets and contents for the programme. This can help managers select and prioritise the programme activities. The data will also provide a benchmark for measuring the effectiveness of the programme. Overview:

  • Conduct a needs analysis that investigates employees’ health needs, motivations and readiness for change
  • Understand the wellness services currently offered in house (if any) and where they are meeting (or not meeting) employee needs
  • Understand specific organisational risks and priorities in relation to workplace wellness
  • Consider the range of wellness initiatives and providers available and assess which options would best fulfil the organisation’s needs
  • Plan how you will promote and maintain the programme
  • Plan how you will get buy-in at all levels.

Plan programme promotion

There are many methods that can be used to promote the programme, both internally and to prospective employees. These include emails, posters, brochures, articles in company magazines and notices on the intranet, all which will call attention to the availability of the programme and the desirability of participating in it. Stories of the accomplishments of individual employees and any awards for achieving health promotion goals they may have earned may be highlighted to all employees to help motivate people.

It is important to have buy-in for the programme on all levels to ensure success.

Plan assessments

If possible, each employee’s health status should be assessed on entering the programme to provide a basis for personal objectives to be achieved and to highlight specific activities that are indicated. This also enables the company to assess the progress and changes in individual health status. The health assessment should be as comprehensive as circumstances permit.

Decide on the activities you will employ

Many activities may be used to prevent illness and disability and promote health. Some are targeted at individuals or particular groups in the organisation, while others apply to the whole workforce. These activities may be divided into the several categories.

Clinical services

These require health professionals and include medical examinations, screening programmes and diagnostic procedures, such as mammography, tests for cholesterol level and immunisations. They also include counselling and behaviour modification in relation to weight control, fitness, smoking cessation and other lifestyle factors.

Health education

Education to promote awareness of the importance of controlling risk factors and the value of maintaining healthy lifestyles, for example through weight control, fitness training and smoking cessation.

Guidance in managing medical care

Advice should be given with regard to dealing with the health-care system and obtaining prompt medical care, how to manage chronic or recurrent health problems, rehabilitation and return to work, treatment for alcohol and drug abuse, prenatal care and so on.

Coping with personal problems

Coping skills could include stress management, pre-retirement planning and outplacement. Help can also be provided for workers who need to deal with work and family problems, such as family planning, prenatal care, parenting and so forth.

Workplace amenities and policies

Workplace features and policies supplementary to those addressing occupational health and safety activities would include changing room/locker facilities, laundry service, where needed, catering facilities offering nutrition advice and helpful food choices, and the establishment of a smoke-free and drug-free workplace, among other things.


Many tools are available to someone planning health promotion activities. The ones chosen are often determined by the size or location of the organisation, work schedules, available resources in terms of money, technology and skills; the characteristics of the workforce and the knowledge of the programme planner. They can include:

  • Information gathering: employee surveys, focus groups, records
  • Promo materials: books; flyers, articles in publications, posters
  • Audiovisual materials: audio recordings, films and videos, for both individual and group viewing; some organisations develop wellness libraries containing materials which employees may borrow
  • Professional health services: medical examinations, diagnostic procedures, immunisations, counselling or therapy
  • Training: first aid, healthy shopping and cooking, lectures, courses, workshops
  • Special events: health fairs, internal competitions, charity work
  • Self-help groups: alcohol and drug abuse, breast cancer, parenting, elderly care
  • Committees: it is often useful to have a task force to coordinate health-related programmes among different departments for overall programme guidance; there may also be special committees centred on particular activities
  • Sports programmes: the sponsoring of individual participation in community programmes, company teams, onsite gym, subsidised gym memberships
  • Computer software: available for individual personal computers or accessed through the organisation’s network, health-promotion-oriented computer or video games, webinars, applications for smart phones
  • Screening programmes: general (such as health risk appraisals) or disease specific (such as hypertension, vision and hearing, cancer, diabetes, cholesterol)
  • Information and referral: employee assistance programmes, telephone resource for personal questioning and advice
  • Ongoing activities: physical fitness, healthy food selection in worksite catering facilities and vending machines
  • Special benefits: released time for health promotion activities, tuition reimbursement, modified work schedules, leaves of absence for particular personal or family needs
  • Incentives: awards for participation or goals achievement, recognition in company publications and on bulletin boards, contests and prizes.

Execute and manage

In many organisations, particularly smaller ones, health promotion activities are often pursued on an ad hoc basis, frequently in response to actual health ‘crises’. After a while, in larger organisations, activities are often brought together into a sort of programme and made the responsibility of an individual.

The selection of activities for the programme may be dictated by the responses to employee interest surveys, secular events, the calendar or the suitability of the available resources.

Implementing a programme should not be undertaken without consideration and planning. The total costs to the organisation may be considerable when you include such items as staff time for planning, implementation and follow-up, employee time for completing the questionnaires, and programmes activities. Careful planning will make the programme easier to run and more cost effective, whatever the size of the organisation and its wellness initiative.

The most comprehensive programme is tailored to the specific needs of a workforce or to demographics of the workforce as a whole. To manage the programme effectively it is important that

  • It is a well researched and planned initiative, meeting holistically the needs of the workforce and the organisation
  • Specialist experts – medical, nutritional, fitness and so on – are employed to aid design and delivery of the programme
  • Feedback about the programme from employees is welcomed
  • Working conditions should also be improved at the same time – employees should be listened to; there is no point piling on work then sending staff to a stress management seminar, so concern for wellbeing has to be universal, not contradictory
  • Activities should be implemented in stages
  • There should be room for growth and expansion and development of the programme
  • It should be confidential
  • There should be themes and these should be changed to keep the programme interesting and promote awareness of different issues, such as heart-related problems, arthritis, asthma or back pain
  • The programme should be integrated with existing policies and programmes, such as occupational health and health and safety, so a consist message and experience is had by employees
  • Monitoring systems should be clear and simple
  • Cost and benefit data should be collected to undertake financial analysis on an ongoing basis
  • Employees should be engaged
  • Special needs should be catered for; older members of the workforce are as important as younger, more active employees
  • There is an ongoing budget allocation – without funding, it won’t work
  • Health promotion should be a priority.

Evaluating the programme

It is always good to evaluate the programme, both to justify using the resources allocated to it and to identify any need for improvement and then support recommendations for development.

Evaluation may range from simple records of participation, coupled with expressions of employee satisfaction, to more formal surveys. The data obtained should demonstrate the degree of use and the popularity of the programme as a whole and of its individual components.

The numbers of participants and their drop-out rates will demonstrate the how well particular activities are liked and utilised by the workforce. Measurable changes, such as smoking cessation, weight changes, changes in blood pressure or cholesterol levels and other indices of physical fitness, can be used to appraise programme effectiveness.

Periodical employee surveys can be used to assess attitudes toward the programme and elicit suggestions for improvement. A review of data on absenteeism, staff turnover, appraisal of changes in quantity and quality of production, and utilisation of health-care benefits may demonstrate the value of the programme to the organisation.

It’s beneficial to have regular audits of programme effectiveness to identify any problems that need addressing and areas where the programme can be strengthened, combined with action plans to ensure appropriate follow-up activities.