5 myths about corporate wellness programs

March 25, 2019 Allie Seligman

Nine in 10 organizations offer at least one wellness initiative, according to The International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans. And while this shows that most companies are “checking the box” when it comes to corporate wellness, many are looking to take their offerings to the next level.

“Today, companies are recognizing that employees need to be engaged and really need to address their overall health and fitness — not only for performance for their employers but for themselves and their families,” says Mike Parent, senior director of new business and sales at EXOS.

But there are many myths about what it takes to implement a successful corporate wellness program. We debunk them here.

Worrying about the benefits of corporate wellness? Healthier employees actually perform better and are more productive.

Myth: It’s too expensive.

Growing a corporate wellness program often starts with reallocating dollars already being spent, Parent says. “Most companies will provide some level of health insurance, and they don’t think twice about that cost,” he says, noting most spend at least $10,000 per employee per year. But health care is often sick care: taking care of employees once they’ve already become unhealthy. Reshape that budget to focus on prevention and solution-focused programs, he says.

Start with ditching superficial financial incentives. An annual health screen — and the check that comes with it — doesn’t matter if employees don’t do anything about those results. “All they’re doing is participating, reluctantly, in that biometric scan because they know they have to do it to get the payment,” he says. Instead, put that money toward health professionals who can help employees develop lasting behaviors that will change their health. Consider contracting a dietitian or health coach to help employees build personalized plans.

Growing a corporate wellness program often starts with reallocating dollars already being spent.

Myth: People won’t participate.

A lack of participation is often the result of a lack of education. Most corporate wellness programs offer resources employees don’t use or don’t even know about. “It’s just too confusing,” Parent says.

Start by simplifying and promoting available options. If your company offers free sessions with a dietitian or discounts on gym memberships, get the word out. Engage employees with simple, focused, meaningful, and relevant information, he says.

Participation is also driven by conversation. “Your messaging has to be supportive. It has to be ‘What’s in it for me?’” And once you get through to employees, Parent says, you “have to have a program that backs it up.”

Myth: The basics are good enough.

Despite the prevalence of corporate wellness programs, the majority aren’t successful, Parent says. Services and programs may be in place yet not truly reaching employees.

Employers are recognizing that. The Society for Human Resource Management reports nearly a quarter of organizations had increased wellness offerings from 2016 to 2017, and more than 55 percent of companies surveyed by Virgin Pulse indicated plans to increase investment.

The minimums — providing health care, putting generic information on the company website, and incentivizing employees to participate in regular health risk assessments — aren’t enough. To take it to the next level, Parent encourages companies to match offerings to what their employees need.

Many companies have identified at-risk employees — perhaps based on test results — but are unable to effect change. Test results mean nothing if there aren’t services in place to serve employees’ specific needs, he says.

Employees won't change behavior just because you tell them to, but you can help them discover personal reasons for improving their health.

Connecting personal goals and priorities to health can increase the likelihood of employees adopting and sticking with positive changes.

Positive messaging to promote your program offerings can help employees take the time to participate.

Myth: There are no tangible benefits.

Healthier employees perform better, plain and simple, Parent says. Tangible, measurable benefits — improved body composition, fewer aches and pains, and better biomarkers — lead to more creativity, productivity, and efficiency.

Healthy employees take fewer sick days, spend less on medical care, and can focus at work. “They’re going to show up, be present, and perform at a better level,” Parent says.

A robust corporate wellness program also fosters a workplace in which employees feel supported and valued, and that means less turnover. Replacing an overworked, unhealthy workforce is time-consuming, expensive, and bad for morale.

Myth: It’s not a company’s place to change someone’s health.

Employees won’t change ingrained habits and improve their health simply because an employer is pushing it, Parent says. What companies can do, though, is show employees how becoming healthier will change their lives overall. “If a company can send out the right message — we want you to upgrade your health for you and your family — it changes the culture,” he says.

Start by helping employees find their own personal reasons for improving their health, Parent says. Connecting personal goals and priorities to health can increase the likelihood of their adopting and sticking with positive changes. “They’re doing it because they’re helping themselves,” he says.

About the Author

Allie Seligman

Allie Seligman is a freelance writer based in New York with extensive experience in the health and fitness industry. The Phoenix native manages a gym in Manhattan.

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