Necessary Ingredients for Making a Wellness Program Integral to Your Company’s Culture



Healthcare has become an unsustainable burden for many American companies. In an effort to enhance employee health and reduce the costs of healthcare benefits, many companies have initiated wellness programs. But studies have shown that such programs often fail to deliver the anticipated benefits.

However, wellness programs that are properly structured and effectively managed can work to better employee health, while simultaneously reducing the burdensome costs of healthcare. The key to assuring that a wellness program will deliver these universally hoped-for benefits? Making wellness an integral component of a company’s culture.

The cost of providing healthcare benefits for employees is quickly growing into an unsustainable burden for United States companies. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, annual health insurance premiums paid per employee by American corporations increased more than 60% in the period from 2005 to 2015. And in 2015, employers paid an average of $8,669 in healthcare costs per employee according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

Many dynamics have contributed to the soaring costs of healthcare. But healthcare expenses directly resulting from lifestyle choices has become one of the most significant causes of increased costs. Accordingly, many corporations have implemented wellness programs in the hope of mitigating the lifestyle choices that contribute to increased healthcare costs. Most have not met with great success.

According to a 2013 survey that was sponsored by the U.S. government and conducted by the RAND corporation, 85% of U.S. companies with at least 1,000 employees offer wellness programs. But a Gallup survey conducted in 2014 found that only 60% of employees within the U.S. are even aware that their company offers a wellness program. And only 24% of employees participate in employer-provided wellness programs.

Certainly, there have been success stories. Some companies have been quite successful in utilizing wellness programs for influencing employee behavior toward healthier lifestyle choices. But as the statistics indicate, many wellness programs, quite bluntly, have failed to substantially influence behaviors and reduce costs.


The answer can be found in the numbers reported in the Gallup survey referenced above: Only 60% of employees are aware of their company’s wellness program, and only 24% participate. These wellness programs, quite obviously, have not been made an integral component of their companies’ cultures.

Cultivating a Culture of Wellness

Department Dynamics: The IT and business units of your company must agree upon the common goals of the wellness program, and must work to coordinate and synchronize strategies for achieving those goals. When these departments work in unison toward a shared vision, a synergy typically develops between the departments that results in a smoother wellness platform implementation.

Critical Communications: Clear and consistent communications to wellness program members is crucial. Members that achieve wellness goals that have been deemed important to your company should obviously be awarded. But it’s also important to communicate with those members that achieved a certain goal, and also with members that failed to achieve the goal. Negative communications — those that discuss a member’s failure to achieve a certain goal — can trigger a positive response.

Clear and open communication about failures to achieve goals can also inspire both members and managers to learn more about a given goal. Clear and frequent communications can reduce the occurrence of client clerical errors as related to goal data.

Acknowledge Achievements: Frequently acknowledge and reward the achievements of wellness program members. Establish bonuses that are to be rewarded for the attainment of designated goals; the completion of all activities, for example, or an improvement in the number of activities completed within a year’s time. Establishing achievement level bonuses (e.g. silver, gold, platinum) can be particularly impactful for both recognizing and rewarding achievements.

Are You on the Path to Cultural Wellness or Dashed Hopes?

Many companies establish wellness programs with high hopes and expectations, only to meet with mediocre (or worse) results. The common thread that winds through virtually all wellness program failures? A company culture that ignored rather than embraced the concept of wellness.

But cultural change is difficult to achieve. And it certainly doesn’t happen by happy accident. Choosing the right wellness program platform, and actively working at the above recommendations, are essential for achieving the cultural evolution that will result in wellness becoming integral to your company’s culture.

Josh Smithey