Tips to keep your wellness ROI fit (Guest Commentary)

Deliver targeted programs, think beyond lunch-and-learns
By Veronica Marsden
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/06/2012

Almost one-half (47 per cent) of the employers that participated in the Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey 2012 offer wellness programs for employees. While most indicated the main reason they do so is to keep employees healthy and productive, 48 per cent said it makes financial sense and affects the bottom line.

With employees spending more than 50 per cent of their waking hours on the job, employers have a huge opportunity to impact their well-being. Seventy to 75 per cent of health-care costs are due to modifiable risk factors including smoking, obesity and physical inactivity, according to both Statistics Canada and the World Health Organization.

Here are 10 ways to ensure you maximize the return on investment of your wellness program.

Management walks the talk

When employees see managers setting healthy living goals and actively participating in programs, they are more likely to follow suit. It sends a message the wellness program is for everyone and participation is encouraged. For an employer to realize an ROI, employee participation must be high.

Management can demonstrate their endorsement by:

• understanding the value of the wellness program and serving as ambassadors

• participating and modelling desired behaviours

• acknowledging individual and group progress

• including wellness goals and objectives in business plans

• recognizing wellness achievements in annual business reports.

Secure employee buy-in

Help employees become aware of how they can enhance personal and family health. Ask them what they are interested in and how they would like to participate in a workplace wellness program. This will not only provide valuable information but foster a sense of employee ownership.

Assess health-cost pressures

Collect as much baseline information as possible. Examine short- and long-term disability claims, accident and incident reports, drug-utilization data, workers’ compensation claims, employee assistance program (EAP) utilization and productivity data.

Assess employee health risks

Many Canadians either don’t have a family physician or don’t go for regular check-ups. On-site biometric screening is a valuable tool for taking a pulse on the health of employees, which can assist in setting program strategy. Screening will also give employees immediate feedback on their health including blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels.

Deliver targeted programs

The collection of data will help ensure the wellness strategy is focused and targeted to managing key cost pressures. For example, if one of your key drugs is for cholesterol control, the program should focus on healthy eating, weight management and fitness.

Consider professional support

On-site health promotion specialists will ensure employees are supported as they work towards achieving health goals and ensure wellness is fully integrated into how the organization does business. They also ensure the wellness program stays on track and help ensure confidentiality.

Think beyond lunch-and-learns

Most employees don’t have the time to participate in hour-long workshops, particularly if they are expected to attend on their own time. With conflicting break time demands, providing alternative ways to educate and engage employees is important.

Consider “walk-by” clinics where you focus on one health habit, such as healthy snack options. Clinics should be brief and include interactive activities to spark employee interest and awareness. Have employees participate in an activity such as a quiz or healthy food sampling, and pick up a handout to go.

These encounters offer a unique opportunity for informal and fun education. Schedule them in high-traffic areas such as the lunchroom, coffee station, plant floor or building foyer.

Short, on-demand webinars where employees can access health information, any time and any place, are also valuable and help decentralized office employees feel included.

Take a wellness-for-all approach

When designing a program, consider that employees are at different stages of readiness to adopt change and have various learning styles. While some employees might prefer to download information from the web, others like a hands-on, face-to-face approach.

Recognize, reward participation and success

The goal of an incentive-based approach is to increase awareness about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, promote the programs and encourage participation.

People enjoy being recognized for their individual and collective achievements. Sharing success stories provides inspiration to all.

Participation in wellness programs always spikes when a challenge, such as walking, is going on. Draw prizes, a team trophy and bragging rights are all you need to keep employees engaged.

Create a culture of wellness

Creating a healthy workplace culture is more than a menu of programs and services — it’s about creating norms and traditions that revolve around health and well-being. Adults are most likely to change a health behaviour when supported by people they spend time with, backed by policies and programs.

Examples of initiatives that foster a healthy workplace culture include:

• company-wide stretch breaks

• healthy snacks at meetings

• subsidized healthy food choices in the cafeteria

• fresh fruit Fridays

• walking meetings

• incentives for achieving healthy lifestyle goals.

Veronica Marsden is president of Tri Fit, an Oakville, Ont.-based company that manages wellness programs in the workplace. She can be reached at, (905) 845-0006 or visit for more information.

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