In many companies, wellness programs are penciled into the year as an obligation. Wellness programs are somewhat controversial for varying reasons: there’s the question of how effective they really are, if companies truly care about the health of their employees, and of course, their expensive reputation. In fact, workplace wellness programs have grown to become an $8 billion industry in the United States according to NPR. And if you thought that statistic was harrowing, the general effectiveness is believed to be quite low; while they may boost healthy habits in the short term, there isn’t much evidence to suggest that long-term health supporting behaviors actually stick. There are so many reasons care about the health of your employees, too – to reduce the premium you pay for health care services, to retain talent, and most importantly, to recognize that your employees are not just machines. They are people first, and when we support their success, health, and personal life, we support their ability to do great work.

At Actualize Consulting, we do offer paid wellness benefits, like a $500 yearly wellness budget for each of our employees, but we also recognize that overall effectiveness of a wellness program does not lie solely in its cost. In fact, for our annual wellness month, we usually build a program based on collaboration and a common goal – raising money for childhood cancer research. We use Alex’s Lemonade Stand’s Million Mile to track walking, running, and biking mileage and our fundraising goal of $2000. We allow our employees to choose their individual goal, which is how much walking, biking, swimming, or any other type of mileage-based movement they’d like to do, as well as how much money they’d like to attempt to raise. With the movement aspect of wellness in place, we then do 4 different themed discussions – one for each week of the month. This is where our employee participation comes in; we ask members of our team to lead the topics. This year, our topics were easy healthy recipes, tips for better sleep habits, deskercise, and building your health IQ.

When choosing topics to incorporate in the week, employees had free reign. They got to choose things they loved, things they were inspired by, or changes they were incorporating into their own routine. Theresa Santoro, Director of Human Resources and Operations, said she was inspired to lead a recipe week because of her heritage: “Growing up in a large Italian family, I was always taught that food is how you show love.” The great thing about opening the floor for leadership direction was also the accountability factor it created. Jean Ballard, Manager, said that leading the Health IQ discussion re-energized her to focus on her health goals. Additionally, when she mentioned in one of her discussions that she was doing a 3-week vegan program, a participant in the program remarked of the benefits of veganism for the environment. “While I expect to resume consuming meat again following the trial 3-week period, I also expect that I’ll learn ways to permanently reduce the amount of meat I consume and prepare for my family – replacing it with vegetables and other foods.” Additionally, Rena Zhou, who led the deskercise week, said it was the leadership aspect that made the week more successful for her: “Leading a week helped me to prioritize this challenge more than others. I know in some previous challenges, I would stop working on my health goals as I was just participating. Because I was helping to lead a topic, I felt more obligated to meet my personal goals for the month.” Almost unanimously though, the favorite part about this wellness week was teaming up to help kids in their fight against cancer.

Wellness programs may be controversial to some, but the bottom line is this: the more you unite your team to work towards a common goal, and the more you encourage employee participation, the more successful your wellness programs will be. How do you ensure your wellness program will be a success?

To find out how you can reduce your turnover rates and create a thriving culture, contact me at [email protected]