CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If you work at a company that provides health insurance, then it's a good bet there is someone who is paying attention to employee health. Larger companies may have a full-time wellness director.Those companies that can't fund this position will sometimes rely on human resources and gather the appropriate person(s) around this duty. This works quite well, particularly when those assuming this task have a health and wellness background.However, there are many who feel overwhelmed and underqualified when charged with improving employee health.This leads me to look into and answer some of the common questions I receive regarding effective worksite wellness programs.What is an employee wellness program?It's a program that promotes and supports the health, safety and wellbeing of its employees and is based in education, activity and evaluation.Why should companies be concerned with worksite wellness?A healthier work force usually means increased productivity and morale and decreased health-care costs. The return on investment in engaging and effective programs is worth mentioning with an estimated return of $6 to the company for every $1 spent on wellness.What are the key components of a successful wellness initiative?
Leadership buy-in -- it must start from the top. A board or advisory committee is vital to success (and must represent the interests of both management and employees) to conduct a needs assessment and develop an evaluation plan. Great communication among all levels. The wellness message must be sensitive as well as creative. Passionate, persistent and persuasive leadership. A great cheerleader can ignite interest and excitement and just as easily become the glue that holds it all together. Regular health screenings. Excellent programming with measurable outcomes. Programs must appeal to employees for consistent participation. A variety of accessible programs with low or no costs. Programs need to fit within a company's budget. Incentives for participation and success. Some companies are able to lower the amount employees pay for health premiums; however, regardless how small the incentive, they engage and motivate employees. Include partnerships and collaborative efforts to offset costs and to add an element of support. Partnering with health-related nonprofit organizations will broaden program offerings. Track for outcomes. This is essential for monitoring program success and for potential funding and support going forward.What are the downsides to an employee wellness initiative?Start-up costs, administrative time to get it up and running and tracking, and potential liability. Consult with a lawyer to determine the type and scope of your wellness program and have all participants sign a waiver of liability.How do companies keep momentum going in the right direction? A great worksite wellness program is always encouraging and recruiting new employee participation. Model employees who have found success in the program become part of the support staff and multiply the message. One size doesn't fit all, so offer a variety of challenges that change after eight to 12 weeks. Not everyone is going to enjoy the same type or intensity of physical activity, so offer exercise that appeals to athletes as well as those who appreciate a quiet walk in the woods. Education is the foundation of a great wellness initiative. Holding "lunch and learn" on topics such as healthy cooking, stress management, smoking cessation, fueling your workouts, strength training basics and back health will attract health seekers.When is the best time to start an employee wellness program?Once organized with a motivating leader, there is no time like the present. Polling the work force to gauge their interest will always encourage employee buy-in and help to jumpstart efforts.While larger companies may have more immediate resources in terms of funding and personnel, size doesn't always predict success or failure of a worksite wellness program. One person can change the climate of a worksite and attract others with like intentions and goals. Persistence and passion can go a long way toward a happier, healthier work force.Cindy Boggs, wellness presenter and author, is an ACE-certified instructor/trainer. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to email@example.com. Look for her award-winning fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World" on her website, www.cindysays.com.