wellness coordinator sitting at desk, looking at his computer thinking about wellness participants

Is Your Wellness Program a Valued Employee Benefit?

2-minute read

Conventional employee wellness program wisdom: The more participants you attract and retain, the greater positive impact. Maybe.

Wellness leaders have aimed for ever-higher participation the last 25 years… but a funny thing happened — we found out employees are only mildly interested. They rank wellness a long way down the list, 8th of 12 benefits surveyed.

It’s our fault. We’ve designed programs around risk, cost, reward (and sometimes punishment) instead of aiming to be a valued benefit. Shifting emphasis to this primary goal can establish and maintain relevance for employees, boost your career, and make going to work a lot more fun. Here’s how.

  1. Get laser focused on what most people want. It’s easy to be distracted by the latest overhyped crisis. But chasing initiative-of-the-year at the expense of basics won’t nudge wellness up the benefits leaderboard. Learn what employees want by asking.
  2. Create your own best practices. Lists created by others may have value. But confirm they’re important to your employees and program goals. Pick the best and ignore the rest. Build on what works for your culture and population.
  3. Do more by focusing on less. Your budget is finite. Slicing it into pieces, aiming to serve the broadest range of interests, is a recipe for mediocrity. Learning what most people care about then creating your own best practices will result in a more workable set of objectives. Pour everything into the top 3 (or 2, or 1). Be exceptional where it matters and achieve greater fulfillment.
  4. Check personal biases. Outside perspectives from smart people — and not just those who agree with you — are essential. You can learn the most from conflicting viewpoints. Ask them to weigh in on how you gather and analyze employee feedback and what they would do in your role.
  5. Be okay with participant turnover. It sounds like a contradiction, but wellness burnout exists. More is better only if it’s better. Resist the temptation of incentive schemes to keep employees perpetually in your program. Have great services in place when they’re ready, but give them space to live, work, breathe, without a tether to wellness.
  6. Understand that loudest doesn’t mean most important. For self-preservation, don’t ignore leadership’s directives, but be clear about priorities. Do your best to meet their needs without sacrificing greater impact.
  7. Aim to make employees feel good with every interaction. There’s enough stress and pressure in other facets of work and life; your wellness program shouldn’t add more. Try to make every well-being activity intrinsically motivating with challenging goals, fun elements, plus a chance to learn and grow.

Relevance for any employee benefit hinges on needs and interests. Get to work understanding and delivering on what employees care about for long-term significance and career growth.


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.