Getting real about workplace wellness

While the multiple reasons for implementing workplace wellness programming have been addressed, and many employers have “seen the light,” there still remains the questions, “Where do we start?” and “How do we do this (cost) effectively?”The first part of this process begins with assembling the interested stakeholders for the purpose of identifying the impact of the current state of wellness (or lack thereof) in the workplace, the desired results, employee needs and wants as well as available resources — including initiatives an organization may already have in place.From this point, the feasibility of the program can be better determined. Specifically, this applies to key factors, such as obtaining a sustainable budget, accessing resources — including expertise to bring the program to life and of high importance, having members of senior management on board.Support from the top occurs on at least two levels — will they clear the way to help provide necessary resources and will they also show their support by publicly endorsing the program?The latter could be anything from making time to talk about the program with employees to actually participating in the program itself. There is potential for great momentum when employees see the CFO taking lunchtime power walks around the campus or attending an on-site yoga class.So how do you get and keep this support? Emphasizing both the soft benefits and the hard ROI are more than a good place to start. For instance, research has shown that specific wellness programs, such as those that address healthy weight, also help to decrease the stress of individuals, which then contributes to a more positive group dynamic and increased morale.From a bottom line point of view, these same programs help to save the company money in terms of health-care costs, lost productivity due to absenteeism and employee retention.

Seek out resourcesA tool that you can employ to measure the workplace wellness ROI for your company is the Obesity Cost Calculator, which is available on the Center for Disease Control’s Web site at tool was developed to provide a way to assess the costs incurred from an overweight/obese workforce in regard to health care and work loss. It also will help you figure the cost to implement a program and what savings it will produce, based on estimated participation. It can help you pinpoint logistics, such as if X number of employees participate, the program will show a definite return on investment, but if only X enroll, then the program may end up costing more than it saves.As mentioned before, any program should have employee involvement to find out what they want and/or need and in what they are then likely to participate. To create better buy-in, effective ways to gain employee input include online surveys, revisiting past programs that had good participation and/or establishing a subcommittee that meets with a representative group of the workforce that can then brainstorm ideas.For further buy-in, employees have to perceive that they can be successful in meeting health goals through their participation. This is where their perceived ROI is important to consider when designing any wellness program. In other words, programs that don’t help to “shape” the healthier behavior but instead go from “0 to 60” fail to provide a realistic path that an employee can see him/herself traveling down to meet with success.For instance, launching a “Biggest Loser” campaign while the vending machines are still filled with sugar-laden snacks, staff meetings are still supplied with doughnuts and having a culture where it is difficult to exercise (early starts to the day, short lunch periods, late day meetings that extend into the evening) doom a program from the start.As an organization moves through the process, it is vital to seek out the resources that are available. One of the lead organizations at the state level is HEAL NH (Healthy Eating Active Living), which is housed at the Foundation for Healthy Communities in Concord. Its Web site ( contains everything from calendar listings of educational, professional and family-oriented events concerning wellness to toolkits that companies can access to support every step of wellness programming planning, implementation and evaluation.Debra LeClair is a psychologist, consultant and co-founder of Full Spectrum Wellness LLC, Manchester. She can be reached at 603-296-0830 or