What makes a best-practice employee health and wellness program? September 7th, 2012, by Ken Buckley

In our previous Post, Four factors for behaviour change: best practice in workplace health and wellness, we answered the all important question of how to create real behaviour change through your employee health program.

In this Post we answer the question – what makes a successful workplace health and wellness program?

Developing or choosing a workplace health program can be a stressful process. If you get it wrong, you’ll burn your chances of engaging your employees for many years to come.

If it’s too basic, you’ll annoy the most engaged and healthy employees – people who can be a catalyst for broader change. If it’s too complicated, you’ll lose the ones who need it most – the least engaged and interested employees.

If it’s seen as too expensive, or too cheap, you’ll lose people. If it takes too much time, you’ll lose people. If it’s not interesting enough, you’ll lose people. If it’s too girly, too blokey, too Gen Y, too baby boomer, too white collar, too blue collar, too orange collar – you’ll lose people.

Yet it’s your reputation as the HR or WHS person on the line. So how do you get it right?

From our 30 years of experience in corporate health, we’ve identified 10 critical factors present in all successful employee health and wellness programs. These factors are:

1. Leadership support & involvement

The most successful programs all have genuine, visible support from senior management. This means more than just a scripted email or letter from the CEO, it’s about management actively taking part in the activities and campaigns, and encouraging their teams to do so too.

2. Strong and dynamic leadership

The person or people who are visibly driving your program have a vital role to play, not just in their day-to-day management of the program, but in how they drive and sell it internally. Successful program leaders spread a contagious enthusiasm among management and staff, listen and respond to feedback, and clearly promote the personal benefits of taking part.

3. Steering Committee

Committees are essential for ensuring all groups and subcultures in your organisation are included, and are absolutely essential for spreading the word about the benefits of the programs. Your steering committee helps you gain buy-in from the most important personalities, and helps you identify the most appropriate activities. We’ll talk more about how to set up a successful committee in a later blog.

4. Accessibility & availability

For your least motivated employees, any excuse is a good one. For those people to take part in any activity at all, it needs to be easy to start. If they’re not online much, you need to have offline options. If they’re on shift work or night shift, you need to have flexibility in the timing.

The best health and wellness programs have a range of activities that are designed to be as accessible as possible. Some will be workplace based, others can be done at home or anywhere.

5. Visibility & variety

Visibility means more than plastering the walls with posters, though of course that helps! It’s keeping the intranet fresh with stories about activities and successes, it’s talking about the programs benefits in team meetings, and it’s about having highly visible and impactful activities such as seminars and expos or large group activities.

Variety is also a key to success: having a wide enough choice of activities to appeal to people of all ages, genders, job types and fitness levels.

6. Promotions & incentives

Never underestimate the motivational power of a prize, even among adults! Successful programs have incentives which are inbuilt into the activities, and which are easy for employees to understand and track. The more an employee participates, the more rewards they get. Find out more about Healthworks’ new Rewards program.

7. Supportive 3rd party  providers

This sounds obvious, but it’s not until you get into the throes of developing and rolling out your program that you realise how important it is to have a supportive provider.

You need a provider who’s flexible, who can help you adapt the program to suit, or customise one for you, or, if you prefer, provide you with a plug-and-play, nothing-to-do, turnkey solution.

Bigger doesn’t always mean better, so be sure to ask about customer service and before you buy.

8. Focus on behavioural change

In the end, you want your employees to be healthier and safer. Unless you really do just want a “tick the box” approach, the reason you’re investing in employee health is to improve health and productivity and reduce your absenteeism and presenteeism costs.

A successful program must be able to target those ingrained habits and lifestyle behaviours that are holding your employees back from good health.

9. Ongoing program evaluation & quarterly reporting

It goes without saying that a successful program has a way of measuring success. It has an inbuilt system for easily gathering and analysing data, both in terms of participation and engagement rates, and in terms of actual health improvement.

The program goals should be based on the assessed needs of employees, through health risk assessments or personal health assessments (PHAs), which show you the health hotspots and problem areas in your organisation.

10. Fun

Let’s not forget this. Fun is not only an outcome, but a strategy in itself. The best programs are fun – fun to do, fun to manage. Health and wellness can all get too serious sometimes, with all the stats on obesity and depression. Keep it fun, and your employees will love it. What’s more, you’ll love it too!


In our next blog we look at how to plan and develop a best-practice health & wellness program.

 Healthworks’ new WellSteps system for workplace health and wellness has all these success factors, and more. WellSteps is proven to create real behaviour change and culture change to improve your employee’s health, wellness and productivity. Call us on 1300 90 10 90, or contact us to find out more.


(*Dr Aldana and Dr. Adams are founders of the WellSteps system, which Healthworks is introducing throughout Australia.)

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