Workplace Wellness

Corporate Health and Wellness Programs: Benefits, Challenges, and How to Optimize Them

Written by Kate

Successful corporate health and wellness programs go beyond ensuring healthier employees. They reduce healthcare costs, educate employees about improving their well being, and provide financial incentives enabling them to live healthy lifestyles. 

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, more companies in the United States are adopting workplace wellness programs that support employees’ physical and mental health issues. And statistics from Harvard Business School show an exceptional return on investment for each dollar American companies spend on a comprehensive wellness program, with employee medical costs falling by $3.27 and absenteeism costs reducing by $2.73. 

According to Sabine Sonnentag, a German psychologist, the impact of successful corporate health and wellness programs extends beyond a company’s bottom line, with typical attributes being increased productivity and employee retention. Implementing effective wellness solution programs involves integrating fringe benefits promoting active and healthier lifestyles, like corporate gym memberships with prevention and treatment programs for at-risk individuals or people with chronic diseases like diabetes.

Read on to learn how your company can create a successful program resulting in a healthy workplace culture where employees thrive while reducing healthcare costs.

What is Corporate Health and Wellness?

Corporate health and wellness focus on employee well being instead of concentrating on health benefits. It consists of programs that foster a wellness culture by promoting healthy behaviors and improving workplace health. Successful corporate health and wellness programs create a healthy work environment by supporting all aspects of employees health, including physical health care, mental health counseling, reducing employee health risks, managing chronic diseases, and stress management training. 

Ronald J. Burke and Astrid M. Richardsen’s book, Corporate Wellness Program: Linking Employee and Organizational Health, defines corporate wellness programs as “organized employer sponsored programs supporting employees (and their families) as they embrace and maintain healthy behaviors That to improve productivity and reduce the overall company costs on healthcare. 

healthcare consultation cost


Workplace wellness programs are a phenomenon that has been around for a while. In 1810, Robert Owen, a Welsh social reformer, floated the eight-hour workday concept during an era of a 70-hour workweek to improve employee health and productivity. Ford Motor Company became the first large corporation to implement an employee wellness program when Henry Ford introduced the 40-hour workweek in 1926. 

Although early corporate employee wellbeing programs focused on employees’ physical health and safety, they created a foundation for corporations like Xerox and Texas Instruments, which developed fitness programs, including building fitness centers for their employees in the fifties and sixties. Also, the introduction of Employee Assistance Programs in the 1950s encouraged companies to offer alcoholism and mental health intervention programs. 

Today’s wellness programs

In their present form, corporate wellness programs took shape during the early to mid-1970s with the emergence of the Occupational Safety and Health movement (OSH) in April 1971, the Worksite Health Promotion model, and the establishment of Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) in 1974. These activities increased the national concern for employee workplace health, encouraging the following.

  • A shift to a workplace culture promoting fitness and healthy behaviors.
  • Detailed scientific research reveals the financial cost of at-risk employees’ unhealthy lifestyles. 
  • Creation of advocacy groups championing workplace wellness programs and the benefits of a healthy workplace. 

Experts consider Johnson and Johnson’s 1979 groundbreaking Life for Life program the first modern corporate wellness program. It has become the standard template for corporate employee wellness programs for U.S. employers with over fifty employees. The program incorporated health risk assessment and behavior modification tools commonly used in modern corporate wellness programs to determine employee health risks, control risk behaviors, and educate employees on healthy diet options and stress management. These include questionnaires, health screenings, and a physical assessment.While we understand the impact of corporate well-being solutions in improving employee health outcomes and providing a healthy workplace culture while encouraging healthy habits.

Other equally important purposes of corporate health and wellness programs include maximizing a company’s human resource investments, ensuring employee efficiency, and amplifying the employee experience. Corporate wellness programs and employee satisfaction are connected. According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, approximately 49% of the 4.15 employees who quit in August 2022 left due to unhealthy work-life balance.

Corporate health and wellness programs support employee health by offering the following programs.

  • Behavior change interventions.
  • Medical screenings.
  • Fitness programs.
  • Social support.
  • Incentives and competitions.
  • Financial wellness.

Data across the country highlights the importance of corporate health and wellness programs in retaining existing employees and attracting new workers. 

What are the Benefits of Corporate Health and Wellness Programs?

Scientific evidence shows that successful corporate health and wellness programs result in healthy employees, and companies reap significant benefits when investing in employee wellness programs. Company management and HR managers must avoid using workplace wellness programs as incentives to work longer hours or increase workload. They should view employee wellness programs as tools to improve employee health. Organizations enjoy significant benefits from corporate health and wellness programs. 

Increased employee engagement

According to a report by Thomas Watson and the Business Group on Health, organizations with an effective employee wellness program have lower voluntary attrition rates than companies without (9% vs. 15%). Workplace wellness programs, like walking groups and wellness challenges, improve employee engagement and reduces workplace bullying allowing workers to share a common connection with their employer and each other. 

Increased productivity

Employees benefiting from corporate wellness programs enjoy a healthy lifestyle resulting in fewer doctor visits and higher productivity levels than employees who do not. Corporate wellness programs that support employees mental health problems reduce their chances of anxiety and burnout and lead to increased productivity. 

Improved employee morale 

Corporate wellness and health programs supporting employees’ physical health and personal growth promote a culture of trust and commitment to the company’s goals. Mental health wellness programs help employees with mental health issues embrace opportunities within the organization, allowing them to collaborate effectively with team members to deliver fantastic results resulting in improved employee morale. 

improved employee morale

Lower healthcare costs

Annual company costs from lost productivity from preventable chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity are around $36.4 billion. Workplace wellness programs that improve employee health can reduce employers’ healthcare costs through changes in employees health behaviors. A CDC report shows that Investing in a health and wellness program for high risk employees does an excellent job of lowering healthcare costs leading to up to 25% savings on medical costs, insurance premiums, and disability management claims. 

Reduced employee health risks

Any successful wellness program seeks to improve participating employees health behavior by advocating healthier lifestyles by adopting healthy habits to improve physical health and mental wellness. Data from small and large-scale businesses show improvements in employees suffering from preventable non-chronic and chronic health conditions when participating in a health and wellness program. A wellness platform promoting a healthy diet or disease prevention programs reduces health risks for the employee leading to overall health and wellness. 

Increased employee retention

Retaining employees is crucial, particularly in industries severely impacted by America’s current labor shortages. By leveraging their corporate wellness programs to attract workers, employers don’t just retain their existing workforce but eliminate company costs when recruiting new employees. A Gallup poll reveals 61% of employees desire more flexibility and work-life balance, while 42% seek an inclusive and equitable workplace. 

Improved employee health behavior

One of the primary objectives of corporate health and wellness programs is to promote healthy behaviors and healthy habits to reduce employee health risks. Research reveals that employees in both large and small organizations with training programs educating employees on healthy eating habits and fitness enjoy healthier lifestyles and a healthy body than companies that do not. 

What are Some Challenges Faced by Corporate Health and Wellness Programs?

Corporate wellness programs face serious challenges impacting their purpose and performance in the workplace. What makes a corporate wellness program successful is its capacity to change employee behavior while reducing healthcare costs. An employee wellness program can only succeed when its implementation challenges are resolved before, during, and after its launch.  

Employees may reject a health and wellness program if it isn’t designed to meet their needs and interests, or their initial enthusiasm may decline after the program becomes stale. Redefining and reassessing your corporate health and wellness program helps ensure its relevance and effectiveness. 

Below are some primary challenges bedeviling the success of corporate health and wellness programs.

Lack of defined objectives

Corporate health and wellness programs require clearly defined objectives to achieve the desired impact. An effective wellness and health program must have the following attributes to sustain its momentum and remain relevant. 

  • Have set goals.
  • Data gathering capabilities.
  • An effective wellness committee. 

Activity-based wellness programs without the attributes listed above may fail to deliver on improving employee health. However, a well-organized wellness program should generate data enabling wellness committees to track employee participation and evaluate the program’s impact on producing positive health outcomes among employees.

Employee wellness incentives using sticks and not carrots

Forced employee participation is a hallmark of a poorly designed corporate wellness and health program. Developing effective wellness programs require some form of reward or incentive; otherwise, employees may need more motivation to make the necessary health changes. Wellness and health programs penalizing employees for not meeting their health goals are examples of a stick-based (negative incentives) wellness approach, which reduces long-term employee morale and participation. However, a carrot-based wellness approach rewards employees for achieving their health milestones and enjoys higher participation rates with positive health outcomes. 

Examples of common mistakes employers make when designing wellness programs with negative incentives include.

  • Failure to communicate the program’s details to employees before launching.
  • Using punishments and fines to change employees’ failure to adopt healthy lifestyles. 
  • Forcing employees to accept wellness programs without considering their input.
corporate health and wellness program challenges

Inadequate funding.

Effective corporate wellness and health programs require adequate funding to achieve their objectives. HR teams and wellness committees can develop great wellness initiatives that employees love, but these programs often become stale without proper budget and funding. Employers that view corporate health and wellness programs as expenditures and not investments in their employees are more likely to approve poorly designed wellness incentives and fail to provide proper funding giving the program little chance of success. 

Not engaging high-risk employees.

Although corporate health and wellness programs are designed to improve high-risk employees’ health and lifestyle habits, a study shows that high-risk employees are more unlikely to participate in wellness programs designed for them. Credible research debunks claims that wellness programs reduce an organization’s medical costs because employees participating in corporate programs tend to be healthier and more productive. Getting high-risk employees to participate in corporate wellness programs can be challenging unless wellness committees perform surveys to understand the most appropriate wellness activities. Also, seminars explaining the need for high-risk employees to embrace healthy lifestyle choices and financial incentives can convince them to make healthier lifestyles, allowing companies to reap significant returns through lower healthcare costs. 

Failure to elicit upper management support

Strong management support for corporate health and wellness programs is crucial for their success and long-term sustainability. Although wellness committees play a key role in planning and guiding wellness programs, visible management participation in wellness classes, campaigns, and team challenges encourages more employee involvement.  

Ineffective wellness committees

An effective wellness committee is critical to any successful corporate wellness program. Wellness committees consist of a sample of employees tasked with communicating details of the wellness program to employees. Effective wellness committees also motivate and support employee participation to create a healthier and more inclusive wellness workplace culture. Well-organized wellness committees drive employee participation, giving them control over running wellness programs.

Poor communication

Employees are often reluctant to participate in a corporate health and wellness programs with poor communication on its aims and objectives. The trick to effectively getting the message across to employees is utilizing multiple communication channels. 

Recommended communication channels include:

  • The company’s (or wellness program’s) website — make sure it’s easily searchable on the intranet.
  • Company emails and newsletters
  • Staff announcements and meetings
  • Printed materials like posters, leaflets, and banners
  • Employee texting and social media platforms

Communicating the objectives of corporate wellness programs through employees’ spouses or significant others is an excellent option in circumstances where high-risk employee participation is in doubt. 

Failure to create a healthy workplace environment 

Getting employees to adopt healthy behaviors can be challenging in a toxic and non-supportive work environment. Employees may adopt healthy behaviors but only need to maintain them if they work in an environment supporting healthy living choices. Organizations can help employees benefit more from corporate health and wellness programs by improving their workplace wellness culture through consistent wellness checks and evaluations for higher positive health outcomes. 

Failure to engage employee partners and spouses 

Many adults share their health behaviors with family and friends who may influence or try to control them. Most people who have successfully quit bad health habits like smoking or adopted active lifestyles like exercising did so with the support of their partners and close friends. One of the hallmarks of a successful corporate health and wellness program is leveraging the social support of partners, spouses, friends, and even coworkers to drive employee participation in wellness programs and activities, enabling their adoption of healthier lifestyles.

What Do Successful Corporate Health and Wellness Programs Include?

Several vital components are required to make a corporate wellness program successful. HR managers can create a wellness program that works for employees by setting attainable goals and objectives through the following means.

  1. Clearly define the corporate health and wellness program’s goals, aims, and objectives. 
  2. Using employee input to determine their needs and interests. Generally, an organization’s culture, values, size, and location determine the type of wellness activities employees want. HR managers and wellness implementation committees can deploy pulse surveys to receive feedback on employees’ expectations for the wellness program. 
  3. Approving a budget and selecting an implementation timeline to fund and execute the wellness program. Ongoing corporate wellness programs must have evaluation and assessment timelines, including a recurring budget for their sustainability. 
  4. Effective and constant communications and updates from HR and the wellness committee informing employees about the wellness program’s scope, purpose, and landmarks.   
  5. Establishing a system of rewards and incentives to promote employee participation and achievement of health milestones. 
  6. Developing a system for measuring and evaluating the wellness program’s success. 

Organizations often combine a blend of wellness programs and activities when designing a successful corporate wellness program. These different programs have a common purpose: to improve employees’ physical, mental, and financial health. A few examples include the following.

Mental health benefits 

Employee mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and burnout cost U.S. employers around $500 billion in lost productivity, affecting over 18 percent of adults. Organizations can provide mental wellness programs as part of their comprehensive health and wellness initiatives. They can also provide mental health benefits through an employee assistance program (EAP). Johnson & Johnson’s Healthy Mind program is an example of the former. Their program includes periodic mental health reviews and workplace analysis for employees and their families.

Free or subsidized gym memberships 

Employers offer free or discounted gym memberships as employee perks to promote active and healthier lifestyles. How you offer this perk depends on your company’s resources or size. While large companies offer employees gym membership stipends, smaller organizations typically provide gym reimbursements for their workers. Wellness companies offering extensive wellness services, including yoga and pilates, allow companies to tap into a comprehensive gym and wellness network at lower costs. 

On-site fitness center

An onsite gym and fitness center is a great way to build employee morale and improve their health and wellness in a post-Covid 19 workplace. An onsite fitness center provides recreational and physical activities geared towards exercise and sports for employees. Employees can also benefit from social interactions with colleagues during individual fitness regimes or organized group instructional activities. These may include

  • Team sports.
  • Spinning classes.
  • Swim lessons.
  • Martial arts.
  • Yoga.
  • Weight training.
  • Cardiovascular training.
  • Wall climbing. 

Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms corporations, offers forty-three onsite fitness centers for employees across the US. A significant number of them are equipped with dedicated fitness professionals to work with employees on their fitness journeys. 

on-site fitness for employees

Health risk assessments 

Health risk assessments are integral to corporate health and wellness programs. They are critical to identifying employees’ potential health issues based on their lifestyles. About 1.7 million people die annually from diseases that are treatable when detected early through health screenings. Health assessments gather information about employees’ medical history, lifestyle behaviors, and health status. They can determine if the employee is at high-risk risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer.

Wellness challenges

Corporate wellness challenges are an excellent way to spark productivity through healthy employee competition. They encourage adopting healthy behaviors; additional benefits include improved morale and increased employee engagement. To fit their organizations ‘ employee profiles, wellness committees can customize wellness challenges.

What Can You Do to Increase Engagement in Your Corporate Health and Wellness Program?

Employees who feel coerced or forced into participating in wellness programs and activities often give minimum effort and provide passive input for participation points. These attitudes negate the purpose of wellness programs intended to change employees’ negative health behaviors while improving their health outcomes. Motivating employees to put time and effort into wellness programs requires engagement. How do you encourage active employee participation in your corporate wellness program without incurring extra costs? Below are some helpful tips. 

1. Health and Wellness Committee

Creating a wellness committee seeking employees’ support in creating input and participation. 

2. Employee Surveys

Identifying employees’ needs and interests by running a survey asking about their current wellness or fitness goals and if they are willing to participate in a company-sponsored wellness program. 

3. Effective Communication and Delivery

Use short-form educational content to get your message across more effectively. 15-minute wellness programs that attract more participants than hour-long programs with similar content. Splitting a 60-minute wellness presentation into smaller segments is an excellent way of ensuring higher viewership rates and employee participation. 

4. Flexibility

Create more flexibility using technology to disseminate wellness content and information across. Allowing employees virtual access to wellness programs at the office or in their homes increases engagement rates. Employees are also more likely to participate in wellness activities if they can do so at their own pace. 

5. Include Fun Wellness Activities

Create activities that make your wellness programs fun and exciting. HR teams and wellness committees must develop activities around popular wellness topics. Example: organizing cooking demonstrations highlighting the importance of eating healthy foods which prevent obesity and cardiovascular disease.

6. Customization

Customizing your wellness program to meet specific employee needs is the key to driving participation rates and increasing engagement. Employees have different health needs and challenges. Designing a one-for-all wellness program can discourage employees who feel their needs should be considered more important by the company. Getting employees to quit harmful habits like smoking through a personalized approach will have a higher chance of success than registering them in a smoking cessation program. 

7. Data Privacy

Addressing privacy concerns about employees’ participation in wellness programs and how you share their data is essential. Organizations must assure staff that supervisors and upper management will not misuse information on their mental or physical health issues.

8. Simplicity

Keep your company wellness programs simple enough for employees to understand. Successful corporate health and wellness programs are easily understood and explained to staff. Instead of printing 30-page brochures, information about the wellness program can be displayed in short, concise sentences. This might be on posters or published in newsletters to encourage employee sign-up and participation. 

9. Financial Incentives

Create awareness about financial incentives included in your corporate health and wellness programs. Inform employees about the financial rewards available for participation and the dollar value of achieving certain health milestones. 

10. Measure Success

Constantly evaluate and measure the impact of the wellness program and reassess your strategy. This can be done through employee surveys and interviews to receive feedback on the successful and unsuccessful strategies. Create ways to incorporate that feedback into the program to drive employee engagement.

Closing Thoughts

Designing a successful corporate health and wellness program that improves employee health outcomes while dramatically lowering health care costs takes a lot of hard work and time. But it is easy to get overwhelmed without the right partner and resources.

Contact our team to schedule a demo and uncover ways to make your corporate wellness program successful. Check out our resource library for more articles on this topic. To learn more about our wellness platform, schedule a call with our benefits expert to go over your company’s unique wellness needs.

Corporate Wellness Benefit Managers having a discussion while looking at an electronic tablet.

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