6 Steps to Continuous Employee Well-Being Program Success

3-minute read

Wellness initiatives are often launched with great fanfare — because they’re new and different they enjoy a honeymoon. But sometime around year 2 or 3 the shine wears off; population health improvements aren’t nearly as dramatic and may even begin to revert to pre-program levels.

It’s not that the services are no longer appropriate or are ineffective; it’s likely that a long-term strategy for wellness success wasn’t considered at the start or has been lost along the way.

Just as any company’s offerings must be continuously enhanced and positioned to appeal to targeted consumer segments, so too your wellness program needs a plan to stay relevant to your population. Here’s how:

  • Stand for something but not for everything. Decide what matters to the organization and the people you serve, then focus on it like a laser. If it’s health risk, pursue risk reduction relentlessly. If it’s productivity, position everything you do in terms of impact on production.<>

    Resist the temptation to be everything to everyone, though — health, equity, productivity, morale, cost-savings, risk reduction, retention, diversity, perceived benefit — or you’ll dilute your value to all.
  • Approach your role with beginner’s mind. This is an attitude of openness, a willingness to look at each challenge without preconceptions. It’s hard to adopt, especially if you have an advanced degree in health and/or a history of success in other endeavors that may, on the surface, seem like they should transfer to wellness.
    Changing health habits ingrained over years is difficult, especially in the context of an unhealthy culture. Maintaining an open mind means you’re more likely to see opportunities for improvement and growth than if you show up thinking you have the answers.
  • Collect data that matters. The fact is, for 9 of 10 organizations in the US, it’s pretty easy to know what the top 3-5 population health risks are without doing any data collection or analysis. The real value in surveying your population is knowing who’s ready to take steps to improve health and who needs to be nudged along.
  • Be biased toward action, not analysis. When it comes right down to it, you would improve well-being dramatically if you could just get everyone to go for a brisk walk 30 or more minutes a day and eat more vegetables. All the analysis in the world isn’t going to change that fact. So get on with it.
  • Stay ready for change. Stuff happens. Whole industries tank almost overnight. The supportive CEO gets canned and the new one thinks wellness is just more overhead.
    Spend some time considering contingencies for your program if the worst happened. How would you react? What would you do to keep moving forward, even if it’s not in the same way as before? Thinking through these scenarios now will help you handle the situation that much better when a crisis does occur… and it will.
  • Seek input constantly. Soliciting feedback is one of the easiest and most valuable — yet least practiced — habits for any wellness program manager. Then, once you do have the input, really consider it and make changes as needed. Don’t just cherry-pick the responses that match your view of the world.
    It goes back to beginner’s mind: Are you open to new challenges and opportunities based on what you’re hearing, or do you already have the answer?

None of this is rocket science. It’s harder. There’s no perfect formula or wellness program model with a checklist for achieving lasting success. It requires ongoing discipline… a willingness to regularly, honestly examine your progress in each area — and work toward mastery.


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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