10 Tips for Starting an Employee Wellness Program

10 Tips for Starting an Employee Wellness Program

To start an engaging employee wellness program, it helps to think both small and wide.

“Just getting started, the key is to make it simple and not try to do too much at one time,” advises Kristen Lippencott, manager of health and wellbeing at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield. She says it’s too easy to overwhelm yourself and your employees by introducing too much change at once.

She also urges employers to reimagine wellness. “When we talk about wellness and wellbeing, we talk about all aspects: physical, emotional/social, financial, career and community,” she says. “Those are the five pillars of wellness. It’s not just getting people to exercise and eat better. It’s all those areas.”

Here are her 10 tips for building a wellness program employees will love:

1. Adopt a whole-person approach: physical, financial, emotional, career and community.

Lippencott says all five are important, and different aspects may be good entry points for different people. Someone may need guidance on saving for retirement, while someone else is most intrigued by mindfulness and meditation or motivated by a hydration challenge.

Adopting a holistic approach has a host of benefits. “Healthcare historically has been focused on ‘fixing’ people after they reach the crisis. But if you can implement these wellness and wellbeing programs that include content on financial management or maternity education or how to sleep better—these small things along the way—sometimes you can prevent that crisis,” she says. “And in the long run, these programs don’t just help save healthcare costs, they also give you healthier, happier employees who want to work for you.”

2. Keep it simple. Start small.

A phased approach makes it easier for employees to follow and buy into, while also making the wellness program much easier for you to launch.

3. Use community resources.

Lippencott says her single best tip is not to produce all the programming yourself, but to use the many excellent community resources available to organizations throughout the state. She says Arkansas Blue Cross works with many entities—including state agencies, nonprofits, hospitals and others—to bring programming to employees. “They already have community education programs developed that they’re trying to get people involved with, so it’s solid content that usually has no cost and is readily available,” Lippencott says.

One such free community fitness resource she highly recommends for any business or organization in Arkansas, the Blue & You Fitness Challenge, came about as a joint project by the Arkansas Department of Health, the Department of Human Services and Arkansas Blue Cross. The rewards-based competition among groups runs from March through May, with registration in January.

4. Embrace webinars.

Pre-pandemic, Arkansas Blue Cross’ wellness programming was largely homegrown and in-person, Lippencott explains. “We used to create everything in-house, and people would come to a conference room, or even drive to a different building to participate. When we switched over to digital, our engagement skyrocketed. It’s just so much easier to access now.” She says busy employees appreciate the flexibility webinars offer, and varied webinar content abounds.

5. Lean into the experts. Expertise matters.

“We had 200 employees register for a recent webinar on migraines,” she says. “We never would have had that kind of participation before if I’d said, ‘I’m going to talk about headaches.’ But when we invited a doctor, people showed up.”

6. Offer programming your employees want.

“Create a survey for employees about their wellness and wellbeing interests, then look for resources that address those things your staff is most interested in,” Lippencott advises. “Let them tell you what kind of programming they want. People like to have choices and be heard.”

7. Look into wellness vendors to incorporate more sophisticated elements like incentives and challenges.

When you reach the point of perks or financial rewards for wellness participation, Lippencott recommends seeking third-party services that already have the digital infrastructure and content you need.

8. Be inclusive of all wellness journeys.

People start at different points and have different needs and interests. Whether they are active or sedentary, introverts or extroverts, savers or spenders, Lippencott recommends giving employees equal validation for their wellness engagement. “If you have points or incentives, weigh them the same for different types of activities,” she suggests. “For instance, employees could earn 400 points by running four miles, or by attending a webinar. You don’t have to be athletic to rack up points. It all counts.”

9. Communicate constantly.

Even after you’ve announced a program, or a new element of your wellness programming, keep reinforcing that with ongoing communications to promote the opportunities available. Lippencott says, “Someone might not be ready in August when you launch, but by October be looking for a gym or be interested in a new topic presented.”

10. Be welcoming about wellness, never judgmental.

Encouragement is essential to keeping employees engaged. Plan for and build in ways to offer them support and kudos for milestones (including for starting a challenge). “Early in our program, people thought we were just telling them, ‘If you don’t exercise, you’re lazy,’” Lippencott says. “Since we’ve rolled out some of these more supportive wellness programs that meet people where they are, that are less directive, it seems to have opened our outlook and increased participation.”


“I’ve changed to thinking of it not as wellness and wellbeing, but as people development,” Lippencott says. “When you look at it that way, it makes it easier. And your people know that you’re looking at it that way, so it helps build and retain better talent, better employees.”

For more information on building a strong wellness program, visit the Wellness Council of America at welcoa.org.