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Employee Wellness Program Ideas: 10 Ways to Build a Healthier Workplace

By Roy Rasmussen Reviewed By Mike Lucas
By Roy Rasmussen
By Roy Rasmussen Reviewed By Mike Lucas

Implementing employee wellness program ideas can increase productivity and lower insurance costs. Here are 10 top ways to do it. 

First, we’ll consider what company wellness programs are and why they’re important. Then we’ll look at 10 easy ways you can implement wellness programs at work.

What Are Employee Wellness Programs?

On its Healthcare.gov website, the Department of Health and Human Services defines wellness programs as plans intended to improve and promote health and fitness. Such initiatives usually are offered directly by employers, although they may be offered by insurance providers to employees enrolled in employer health-care programs.

Employee wellness programs examples include workplace fitness centers, nutrition programs and smoking cessation programs. Employers may offer incentives for participating in wellness programs, such as sponsored gym memberships, premium discounts and cash rewards.

Why Are Workplace Wellness Programs Important?

As summarized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a review of 56 studies of workplace wellness programs found that employers who promote them enjoy 25% cost savings in:

  • Health-care costs
  • Employee absenteeism
  • Worker compensation
  • Disability management claims costs

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, other benefits of wellness programs include increased productivity and better workplace morale.

The upshot of these benefits is that healthier employees are more productive workers who are less likely to call in sick, benefiting their employers. Furthermore, health-care providers recognize healthy employees represent a lower risk, often making them willing to extend lower rates to employers who offer wellness programs.

A woman does squats with weights in an exercise room.

10 Wellness Program Ideas

There are many health and wellness ideas in the workplace you can put into practice. Here are 10 top wellness program examples that are easy to implement and practical for promoting employee well-being.

Use these ideas as a springboard to help you develop your own customized program. Surveying your employees about their wellness needs and interests can help you design a program tailored for your workforce. Consider inviting your employees to take a wellness assessment survey so you can better meet their needs. The CDC provides guidelines on how to conduct a workplace health assessment, including guidelines on how to stay in compliance with privacy laws and other applicable regulations.

1. On-Site Fitness Centers

An on-site fitness center can be a great way to encourage employee exercise. If you’re a smaller company, you don’t need a large amount of space or extensive equipment. A room with stationary bikes, treadmills or weights can get your fitness center started. Other inexpensive options include gym mats, exercise balls and Pilates bands.

Alternately, you can set up a recreational area with something as simple as a ping-pong table or a basketball hoop in a parking area. Consider bringing in outside instructors to lead employees in workout routines such as aerobics or cardio-kickboxing.

Make sure to follow good safety procedures in your on-site fitness centers. Encourage employees to consult their physicians before engaging in any exercise programs.

You may be able to claim the cost of an on-site fitness center as a tax deduction. However, if you claim it as a tax deduction, the center must be available to all employees, not just highly-paid executives, advises the accounting firm of Maloney + Novotny. Talk to your accountant or legal consultant about claiming any wellness benefits as tax deductions.

2. Gym Memberships

If you don’t have room for an on-site fitness center, an alternative is sponsoring employee gym memberships. You may be able to arrange a discount with a local gym in return for a promotional partnership or other considerations.

If you offer employees gym membership, you may need to include the cost as part of employees’ taxable income and pay corresponding taxes, advises human resources information provider Axcet HR Solutions. Talk to your accountant and tax adviser about how to handle bookkeeping and taxes for gym memberships and other wellness benefits.

3. Weight-Loss Programs

Employer-sponsored weight-loss programs can help employees motivate each other to stick to their diet and exercise goals. Programs can range anywhere from employees setting dieting goals together to following specific diet and exercise systems.

Workplace weight-loss programs should follow anti-discrimination and privacy laws, advises staffing firm West Sound Workforce. For example, programs should be voluntary and any incentives should be available equally to all participants, not just those who are obese.

4. Wellness Challenge Programs

Wellness challenges can add an element of fun and friendly competition to company health initiatives. For example, employees can be challenged to walk a certain number of steps per day. Employees can track their steps by using an app, using a pedometer or by counting how many minutes they spend walking per day.

Other wellness challenges can involve other types of exercise, nutritional goals or getting preventive health-care screenings. As with weight-loss programs, wellness challenges should be voluntary and follow anti-discrimination and privacy laws. For challenges that involve physical exertion, encourage employees to consult a physician for safety clearance.

5. Nutrition Education Programs

Nutrition education programs teach employees about strategies for improving diet such as hydration, increasing vegetable and fruit intake and eating healthier snacks. 

To add appeal to the program, educational content can be delivered over a healthy lunch. A tip: Integrate this plan with other employee wellness initiatives such as weight-loss and fitness programs.

6. Healthy Lunch and Snack Programs

Nutrition educational programs can be supported by offering healthier lunches and snacks in the workplace. Examples of popular health foods include nuts, fruit, oatmeal bars and jerky. Include healthy beverage options such as smoothies.

Encourage employee participation in your healthy snack program by inviting workers to submit recipes for a “remake the recipe” contest where they redo conventional recipes in a healthier way. Offer the winning recipe as a snack to employees at lunch.

7. Smoking Cessation Programs

Helping employees quit smoking can address a range of health-care problems which hurt workers’ health and push up health-care insurance costs. 

Workplace smoking cessation programs can involve hosting seminars that provide expert advice on how to quit smoking, along with support resources. Another option is making nicotine replacement therapy tools such as nicotine patches and gum available to employees. The Department of Health and Human Services provides tools and tips for smoking cessation on its Smokefree.gov website.

Two hands snap a cigarette in two.

8. Health Risk Assessment Programs

A health risk assessment uses a questionnaire to evaluate employee health risk by collecting information about employee lifestyle factors that can impact health. 

Questionnaires typically cover topics such as:

  • Nutrition
  • Fitness
  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol
  • Sleep habits

Answers are used to assess risks such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Results are conveyed through a risk score. The assessment concludes with feedback and suggestions on areas for improvement.

Health risk assessment information provided by employees is subject to applicable privacy laws and should be treated confidentially.

9. Preventive Care Services

Preventive care aims to prevent serious health conditions and to detect them in early stages when they’re easier to treat. It targets common health problems such as:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer

Preventive care screenings often are offered at no charge when employees visit health-care providers in their employer’s health plan network. In some cases, screenings can be arranged on-site.

10. Employee Assistance Programs

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are voluntary programs offered by employers to help workers with personal issues which may be affecting job performance, such as mental health issues and family issues. 

EAPs may help employees with issues such as:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Substance abuse
  • Depression
  • Stress management
  • Anger management
  • Child care
  • Elder care
  • Relationship counseling
  • Grief counseling
  • Financial management
  • Legal issues

EAP programs may include free assessments, short-term counseling, referrals and follow-up services.

Information gathered from employees through EAP programs is subject to privacy protections and should be handled confidentially. EAPs which directly offer medical benefits such as counseling, rather than simply referrals for counseling, are subject to regulation under Continuation of Health Coverage (COBRA) and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)

Promote Employee Health and Wellness for a More Productive Workplace

Wellness programs sponsored by employers and insurance providers promote healthy practices in the workplace. This benefits employers by encouraging employee health, morale and productivity and by giving health-care providers incentives to offer lower insurance rates.

Workplace wellness ideas can encompass a broad range of programs, from on-site fitness centers and employee nutrition programs to preventive medical screenings and mental health assistance. Use the examples of wellness ideas for employees suggested here to help you develop a program suitable for your workplace needs. For best results, survey your employees about their wellness interests and conduct assessments to determine the specific needs of your workforce.

Roy Rasmussen Contributing Writer for Fast Capital 360
Roy is a respected, published author on topics including business coaching, small business management and business automation as well as an expert business plan writer and strategist.
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