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Workplace Wellness Program Mistakes to Avoid

Posted 7/24/2017 by UHBlog

Helping employees become healthier is a smart business strategy. Talk to us about how to build a successful wellness program at work.

Workplace Wellness Program Mistakes to Avoid

With health care costs rising annually, many employers offer workplace wellness programs to their employees. They’re so widespread, in fact, that an estimated 80 percent of employers offer wellness resources and information to their employees, while 70 percent of these organizations offer wellness programs.

According to a StayWell Health Management and Towers Watson study of employer group wellness programs, employers derive clear benefits from the programs. Chief among them is the return on investment (ROI) most companies experience. The four-year study found that health care costs rose at a 15 percent slower rate among wellness program participants when employers consistently offered a wellness program to their employees.

”Many companies are looking at mechanisms and ways to help their employees get healthier,” says internal medicine specialist Roy Buchinsky, MD, who is the Director of Wellness at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. “Besides ROI, wellness programs can increase employee engagement and productivity, resulting in less absenteeism. They can also enhance the value and meaning of their employees’ workday and help with team morale and bonding across the corporation.”

Unfortunately, workplace wellness programs can fall flat if they aren’t communicated appropriately or implemented effectively. To help your workplace wellness program succeed, Dr. Buchinsky recommends avoiding these four common mistakes in your program:

  1. Disregard senior management’s involvement – “All members of the company, from the CEO on down, need to participate and lead by example,” he says. “You have to create a culture of wellness where there is buy-in from senior management. It’s absolutely critical.”
  2. Operate without a clear-cut budget – According to Dr. Buchinsky, determine what components of wellness your program will address and fund them. Often, this involves two separate expenses: setting up the program components and creating employee incentives.
    For instance, if you’re encouraging good nutrition, more physical activity, stress management and/or smoking cessation, determine how much each component will cost and allocate for it.
    “The second part is that people need a carrot – some sort of external motivation,” Dr. Buchinsky says. “These can include things like gift cards, money off their health insurance, gym memberships or cash bonuses.”
  3. Offer few programs and activities – It’s important to provide an array of wellness activities and lead by example so that you reach employees who are already healthy and those whose behaviors you’re trying to change.
    That may mean you’re offering programs to quit smoking, pedometers to track steps walked and/or stress management training, such as the Stress Management and Resilience Training (S.M.A.R.T.) program – recognized as a 2016 Crain’s Health Care Hero for improving the lives and health of those in Northeast Ohio. Or maybe it involves adding healthier snack options to the vending machines.
    “It’s important to lead by example,” he says. “At meetings, offer fruits, almonds, walnuts, hummus and vegetables instead of donuts and pastries. In the cafeteria, serve healthy options and consider adding a surcharge to ‘bad’ foods, like pop and French fries, or don’t offer them at all.”
  4. Refrain from asking for feedback – “The biggest mistake is do some sort of program and not get feedback on it,” Dr. Buchinsky says. “If you implement something, make sure to monitor and measure outcomes. If it’s not working, don’t be afraid to tweak or change something.”
    After all, most people working full time spend more than one-third of their day, five days per week, at the workplace. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, effective workplace programs and policies can reduce health risks and improve the quality of life for American workers.
    “If you need help, consider hiring outside experts,” he says. “It may cost a little more money, but it’s worth it. We can help you engage with your employees, and help make programs stick.”

If you’re interested in UH’s wellness programs, connect with University Hospitals Employer Solutions for more information.

Roy Buchinsky, MD, is an internal medicine specialist and the Director of Wellness at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Buchinsky or any other doctor online.

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