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5 Tips for Starting an Employee Wellness Program

3 min read

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 wellbeing and health solution strategies 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 to support the whole person. “When we talk about wellness and wellbeing, we talk about all aspects: physical, emotional/social, financial, career and community,” she says. “Well-being has evolved to be more than encouraging people to exercise and eat better. It encompasses all areas of life.”

Here are her five tips for building a wellness program that 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. 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.”
  3. Be inclusive. People start at different points and have different needs and interests. Whether 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 activities,” she suggests. “For instance, employees could earn 400 points by running four miles or attending a webinar. You don’t have to be athletic to rack up points. It all counts.”
  4. 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.”
  5. 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 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.
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