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Increasing Engagement in Corporate Wellness Programs


Employee wellness is at the forefront of helping to reduce costs and increase employee morale. Below are a few reasons corporate wellness programs are needed at every organization.

Healthcare costs are rising, and companies are struggling to keep up. In fact, companies are spending $12.7 billion annually, according to the National Business Group on Health.

America’s workforce has become sedentary. Medical expenses for overweight employees are estimated to be 42% higher than those of a person with a healthy weight.

Not to mention, research shows that 1 in 4 people in the workplace is affected by mental issues such as anxiety & depression. Studies show that depression/sadness/mental illness account for employees missing 25.6 days/year.

Many employees say they are stressed & burned out. OSHA has recently discussed the need to lower stress in the workplace. In fact, stress has been reported to cost over $300 billion annually, according to the American Psychological Association.

We recently watched an SHRM webinar called “Activating Managers to Become Multipliers of Well-Being” presented by Laura Putnam, CEO of Motion Infusion. Here are a few takeaways from the presentation.

Benefits of Corporate Wellness Programs

According to Putnam, workplace well-being, when done well, has been proven to lead to measurable results for the larger organization, particularly in the area of productivity. Consider that stock prices for employers with a high score on the HERO Scorecard, a measure of well-being program effectiveness, increased 235 percent over six years, compared to 159 percent for the S&P 500.

While most organizations have been focused on the potential for savings on healthcare costs, studies show that these costs only represent the tip of the iceberg. The biggest opportunities for savings lie beneath the surface. Specifically, presenteeism, which means showing up in body but not in mind, has been shown to be the biggest cost related to poor health and well-being in the workplace. Evidence suggests that the productivity losses associated with presenteeism account for 63% of total costs related to poor health and well-being (Hemp, HBR, 2014).

presenteeism laura putnam

Source: Putnam, Workplace Wellness That Works

Another huge benefit of having a successful wellness program is happier employees. Social well-being is an important but often overlooked aspect of workplace well-being.

Gallup shows that social well-being has a significant impact on employee engagement. People who have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their work.

laura putnam quote

In a recent interview with MSNBC, Putnam said, “Wellness is much more than preventing physical risk factors, it’s really about helping people to become their best selves.” She went on to say you need to think about how you can move beyond health. “Think about wellness in a bigger picture. Think about career well-being, financial well-being, community well-being, social well-being, emotional well-being. These are the things that really matter in a wellness program.”

Wellness Program Action Items from Laura Putnam

It is important to remember that effective well-being programs are built on more than dry statistics. They are built on motion, on social interaction, and, maybe most important, on fun. Here are a few key factors to consider when starting or rebooting your program.

  1. First look at the culture of your organization- If you have a negative culture overall, it is unlikely your employees are going to want to engage with your wellness program.
  2. Think about your goals & values- Try to tie your wellness initiatives in with what has already been established at your organization or tie your initiatives into where you want your organization to be.
  3. Start small- Instead of trying to move forward with everything, start by writing down three things you want to improve. Once you have the list of goals that you want to improve, write down a list of ideas on how you might improve them. For example, if you want to set a goal for healthy eating, you may want to replace cookies at team gatherings with a veggie tray.
  4. Don’t just create a program. Create a movement- To have an effective program you’ve got to make your program reach your employee’s
  5. Focus on manager development- Managers need to ask themselves if they’re acting as a multiplier or a gatekeeper. It is the manager’s job to establish with their team what is normal when it comes to a healthy culture. Managers should take a self & company inventory. While doing the inventory, encourage them to be honest with where they are and where they want to go.
  6. Lead by example- After you have a list of initiatives in place, increase the momentum of the program by encouraging all top and mid-level management to do at least one thing from each initiative, and share it with their team. For example, if you want more physical movement in your organization, you could arrange walking meetings. Read Putnam’s book, Workplace Wellness that Works, for more information on how to implement these steps more effectively.
  7. Activate managers – Evidence suggests that the manager may hold the key when it comes to increasing rates of engagement. This is why Putnam advocates activating managers to become “multipliers of well-being.” Her proprietary management training program called “Managers on the Move,” created by Motion Infusion, in partnership with Pro-Change Behavior System, empowers managers to become what Putnam calls “Managers on the Move.” The program educates managers on the business case for wellness, explores the key role he/she plays in his/her team’s well-being, and provides strategies to help them become a “multiplier,” sparking a movement of well-being in 3 steps:

SHRM presentation corporate wellness managers tips

Source: Putnam, Managers on the Move

Corporate Wellness Program Ideas

Here is a list of things that can help spark some ideas for what you can do to help your employees better engage with your wellness program.

  • At MTM we take breaks at set times during the day to walk around our campus to ensure we are not only being physically active, but we are also taking the time to connect with our coworkers. We also use our social recognition platform to reward employees for taking part in the different parts of our wellness program. For example, our CEO teaches a foundation training class and employees can get wellness points for attending. Our employees also take part in a stretch regimen twice a day. Doing this routine helps our employees to release tension throughout their bodies and makes it easier for them to focus. A World at Work survey showed a link between corporate-sponsored wellness programs and their influence on employee behavior as a form of incentive. According to this report, for the first time in a decade, “programs to motivate specific behavior jumped to a top-tier goal, cited by 41% of organizations in 2013 vs. 25% in 2008.”

Putnam shared a few wellness program initiative examples in her presentation as well:

  • If you want to increase physical wellness at your organization, you could have a goal to drink more water. To help implement this goal you could challenge team members to fill their water bottles at the start of the day, with a goal to finish by a certain time of the day.
  • If one of your goals is to promote healthy eating, you could have employees submit healthy recipes and put together a cookbook.
  • If you have a goal to encourage employees to take breaks to recharge you could do what the Huffington Post does & create a nap pod for your employees.
  • If you want to promote emotional well-being, you could have a set time during the week where you sit down with your staff and color which allows your employees to relax and connect.
  • If you have a goal to increase positive thinking, you could do the “three good things” exercise. Putnam said to do this you should write down three good things that happen daily. Research shows that if you do this even personally, for six weeks straight, it can help re-wire your brain to think more optimistically.

The list of what you can do to create a wellness movement throughout your organization is endless. The key to having a successful wellness program is to implement ideas that are in line with your company culture & values. It’s important to remember to ask for feedback as well as always look for ways to improve your wellness program. For help with your wellness program strategy, be sure to contact Laura Putnam, and if you have questions about recognition & wellness, we’d love to help.

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