Implementing an Employee Wellness Program

Last month we looked at the importance of employee wellness programs. And we found that small employers have the same overwhelming need for a program as large employers. Probably more, when you consider the potential savings on small business health insurance, increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, and lower turnover rates. Yet, small business owners lack the know-how and the resources to design, implement and promote a successful program.

To help the small employer out a bit, we’ve put together some ideas. In fact, if you follow these steps, your employees will develop their own plan. And if they develop it themselves, they will be more likely to participate.

First Things First: Employee Wellness Programs Aren’t Just About Physical Health

It pays when employees lead a physically healthy lifestyle, but let’s face facts. A mentally stressed out, unhappy employee, is an unhealthy employee. According to WebMD, 75% to 90% of all doctor's office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints. 

What are we saying? Simply adding a healthy diet plan or a free membership to the gym, to an already stressed out employee’s plate, just may cause them to drop the plate altogether.

You cannot control the stressors in an employee’s personal life. But you can possibly reduce the stressors on the job. And you can help the stressed-out employee find solutions to help them cope and eventually, feel better.

Step One – Determine and Document Your Goals and Mission

There are the obvious goals, mentioned above, of savings and increased productivity. And there are not-so-obvious goals, just as important, such as simply taking good care of your employees. Take just a few minutes and jot down your actual goals. All other steps should lead to meeting those goals.

Step Two – Communicate

Most people do not like it when their employer simply shows up and starts telling them what to do. Especially if it involves their personal lives. If you want them to participate in a wellness program, this is the time to let your employees know up front that you care about their wellbeing and you are looking for ways to help.

Give them the chance to share their ideas and opinions. Some will grumble, but most will respect that, especially if you listen and take action.

Consider conducting an employee survey regarding wellness. Ask them what stresses them out the most at work, how they feel their job impacts their health and what can be done about it. (Don’t take their answers personally. But do plan to make some changes.)

THEN, you can ask them if they have personal, unhealthy habits to change or problems where they could use some help. Keep it anonymous and give them simple checkboxes like: quit smoking, get a checkup, eat a balanced diet, lose weight, manage my money, drink less alcohol. Also, you could ask if they have certain stressors at home such as: legal problems, in-home caregiver, parent with small children, problems with teenagers, etc.

Ask them what their roadblocks are: what keeps you from getting enough exercise, what stops you from seeing a doctor, what stops you from getting healthy food, etc.

Step Three – Keep it Organized

Make a list of your employees’ concerns, problems, and roadblocks. Again, keep it strictly anonymous. Make it easy-to-read and plan to share it with at least a core group of your employees.

Step Four – Foster Teamwork

Involve that core group, or all employees if you choose, but find a way to get your employees’ suggestions for addressing the concerns, tackling the problems, and overcoming the roadblocks you just documented. (Do you see where we are going with this? You are letting them write the plan.)

Step Five – Develop and Document THEIR Wellness Plan

Determine and document what, if any, of their suggestions you can implement. For example, if they express concerns about job performance, you may need to review performance standards and/or offer additional training to help reduce their stress. If an overwhelming number of employees cannot warm up to your management style, consider getting training for yourself. If you are an Otis Wood client, you have free membership to ThinkHR, where there are online training courses that just may help.

Also, document valid reasons why you cannot implement all their suggestions. For example, if they suggest a 25% increase in pay to alleviate financial stress, explain the budget and be real. But consider offering a simple pamphlet or other resources to help them manage their money. And offer suggestions for personal growth and training.

Education is Critical

Determine and document benefits you already provide or will provide in the future, such as group health insurance, and explain how each benefit addresses each concern.

For example, if a good number of your employees cannot afford to see a doctor, let them know if they already have free wellness visits and screenings. Also, consider providing a membership to freshbenies, so your employees can get medical attention for many illnesses over the phone at no charge. This will also help them save money on prescriptions, dental work, vision, diabetic supplies and medical equipment. You can even add to their subscription help with legal matters, identity theft protection and more.

If you are an Otis Woods client, call our office for information on wellness incentive programs you may already have through your insurance provider. For example, Humana Go365 is an excellent tool many of you have, that helps employees understand and improve their health. If your employees aren’t aware of these tools, you could be missing out on big savings.

Utilize Community Resources

If there are any concerns, suggestions or roadblocks left unresolved, look for community resources. For example, if your employees do not have access to fresh, healthy food due to transportation issues, there’s probably a community resource for that. If not, a co-worker may help.

Local businesses may also contribute with discounts. For example, a local gym may offer discounted memberships for your employees. If so, list their number. You might even talk to a local auto repair shop and ask for employee discounts (reducing financial stress). If they agree, share their number.

You can add our Employee Portal as well, where we list phone numbers for Telemedicine, health tips and more.

Step Six – Participation

Your plan may include incentives for getting wellness checkups, exercising, eating healthy, etc. And if you just hand your employees a copy of your plan and expect them to participate, you’ll most likely be disappointed. You’ll need to find a way to communicate, track participation and reward success.

If you DO offer a reward, and/or if participation is mandatory, check with ThinkHR first and make sure you are compliant with EEOC regulations. This is important!!

For a kickoff, do something different. Perhaps it’s time for a picnic or at least bring in a boxed lunch. Discuss the plan and share your document. Make posters and signs and graphs – have fun with it.

Schedule follow-up meetings or outings and be prepared to make changes as you go.

Find a way to foster engagement through teamwork, community, and accountability.

Implementing On-Site Changes

The changes you make on-site should be communicated in advance and implemented gradually. For example, if you decide to replace the chips and cookies in the breakroom with healthy snacks, break it to them gently.

Take Employee Wellness Seriously

If you take wellness seriously, your employees will take it more seriously. Participate and share your own personal successes.

If you cook a healthy meal your kids actually loved, share the recipe. If you reduced your cholesterol, write it on a hot pink sticky note and hang it above the water cooler!

Wear your sneakers to work. And if you reach your goal of walking a mile a day around the plant, or taking the stairs for a month instead of the elevator, share your success.