wellness coordinator presenting to a group of people

Big Impact Wellness Programs: How Little Things Add Up

4-minute read

At HES we have the good fortune to work with organizations that generously fund their wellness programs and the extra good fortune to work with others operating on a shoestring. While both are capable of success, programs with limited funding and high engagement levels often have managers who show exceptional attention to the little things — the stuff that doesn’t cost much but is valued most by those they serve. Some examples:

  • Visibility. The good news is wellness programs managed through a platform’s dashboard can reach a lot of people efficiently. The bad news is you can do it without real interaction. Too often that devolves into a program without visible leadership. Budget-challenged program managers attach great significance to facetime (the noun, not the app). They make it a monthly priority to show up on the agendas of team meetings even if it’s for 5 minutes. They offer up 20-minute in-person presentations on topical wellness subjects like Keto: The Good, Bad, and Ugly and refresh the subjects quarterly. They get involved in committees and projects that go beyond the stated wellness mission but influence culture. A program with a face is a program with a soul.
  • Empathy. In-touch managers know employees don’t care about the wellness program unless they know you care. They lead with empathy, understanding full well that an organization’s wellness program should augment and support a caring culture that values the individual for who they are as well as their contribution to the bottom line. Empathy comes across in messaging and mission — through recurring themes of community and common purpose around the attainment of personal and cultural well-being. They avoid shoulds and imbue program language with feelings of opportunity, possibility, hope.
  • Soundness. Services are based on principles of science-backed health and behavior change, not fad or pop culture. Mimicry is gimmickry; Biggest Loser-type competitions have no place in a program that aspires to have lasting impact earned through ongoing credible services and competent leadership. Managers know they may get a pop in participation chasing the latest rogue “expert”-inspired diet, but also understand each failed programming attempt influenced by fads chips away at their reputation for quality.
  • Clarity. What will I do in this program? What will this program do for me? How will I do it? Why? When? A wonderful evolution in our industry is the move toward the whole person, an emphasis on overall well-being. But in-tune wellness managers know that the typical employee isn’t thinking deeply about the breadth of well-being each day and often just wants to know How can I have more energy? Feel better? Save money? Save time? So leaders keep it simple. No complex formulas, no extensive soul-searching, no ambiguity.
  • Ease. Removing obstacles to engagement and participation is pursued doggedly by smart well-being pros because they know how fractured and frustrating other aspects of work and life can be. A wellness program with a reputation for easy access combined with stellar quality is a recipe for lasting success. No long forms to fill out, no endless disclaimers to read, no byzantine websites to navigate, no exhausting surveys to complete. Managers deploying online services adopt a 30/3-second rule — allowing participants to engage in 30 seconds with the first touch and 3 seconds on subsequent interactions.
  • Freshness. The third continuous year for just about any wellness service typically sees a plateau or decline in participation — been there, done that — even if it’s expertly executed. A constant stream of newness is never far from the top wellness pro’s agenda. It’s not as difficult as it seems at first. A new name, updated content, reordered sequencing, and a fresh coat of paint can extend services well beyond their anticipated shelf life. Mixing and matching the best elements of successful campaigns over the years is another way to breathe new life into your offerings. And judicious purchase of best-in-class vendor services is a direct path to freshness.
  • Personalization. Choice — not only for what an employee participates in, but how they participate — is what true personalization is all about. A drop-dead easy mobile app is a wonderful option for many, but for others a sit-down group meeting fills a need for social interaction and may be a better — or more valued — supplemental option.
  • Responsiveness. Whether it’s through a contact management system, email, or voicemail, participants love same-day responses. The quicker the better as long as the answer is thoughtful. Managers use an auto-response only when they know they can’t get back in touch today. But even then the message is specific about when to expect a reply and includes an alternative for immediate help.
  • Lightheartedness. Programs that emphasize reward or punishment, driven by a misguided quest for fictional 3:1 ROI, have a hard time making wellness services fun. After all, we’re pushing employees to do this to get that when we bribe with cash or coerce with the threat of elevated premiums. (No matter how you spin it, discounted premiums for some are elevated premiums for others.) So the latest walking program falls flat in promoting intrinsic motivation when it’s just one of the “choices” to earn a reward/avoid a penalty. The attainment of better health and quality of life should be fun or at least not shrouded in payoffs or dire consequences — particularly in the context of a workplace wellness program. Absent the reward/punishment model, skilled wellness leaders are able to create programs and promotions that appeal to the individual’s inherent desire to do what’s in their best interest. That is best achieved in a wrapper of lightheartedness.

The irony of these “little things” is they’re less obvious than big things — budget, staff, website — but can have greater impact over time on the health of your program and your population. Take time this week to evaluate your performance in this area. And if you’ve had successes in how little things add up, please share them here.


Dean WitherspoonDean Witherspoon
Chief collaborator, nudger, tinkerer; leads the most inventive team creating well-being and sustainable living programs. Reach out if you’d like to talk about employee well-being, emotional fitness, or eco-friendly living.


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