How HR Can Drive Employee Engagement in Wellness Programs

It’s no secret why HR invests so much time and money into wellness programs. Beyond the positive effect on employees’ personal health, wellness initiatives can save organizations considerable spending. According to the CDC, successful wellness programs achieve 25% savings on absenteeism, health care costs, and workers’ compensation and disability management claims costs, respectively.

The pandemic significantly impacted employees’ physical and mental health and brought more attention to wellness programs to help employees cope. However, the focus on wellness programs has also revealed a gap in participation levels. A recent study by Gartner found that of organizations offering wellness programs, only about a third of employees and HR leaders reported using them. 

The challenge of participation has become more complex, as many employees work remotely part-time or full-time. With fewer employees on-site at any given time, rallying the troops for a wellness workshop or presentation has taken on a new meaning.  We’ve broken down why engaging employees in your wellness program is challenging and ways you can boost participation below. 


The Challenge of Engaging Employees in Wellness Programs

Just as the way we work and define employee wellness has changed, so has the nature of employee engagement in wellness initiatives. Where HR tends to run into issues with employee engagement is when their wellness program:

  • Isn’t relevant to employees’ needs 
  • Communication is lacking, unclear, infrequent, or non-existent
  • Doesn’t have buy-in and expectations set by leadership 
  • Isn’t accessible or easy to participate in 

These pitfalls have always existed but are now more crucial than ever. Engaging employees in your workplace wellness program has undoubtedly changed, but HR teams can take strategic steps to improve employee participation. 


Ways HR Can Improve Employee Engagement in Wellness Programs

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to increase employee participation in your wellness program. Although each member of your organization is likely interested in developing a healthier lifestyle, it’s HR’s job to tap into that internal motivation with your wellness initiative. In addition, HR teams can take a few strategic measures to make sure employees are engaged in your wellness programs long-term. 


Survey Employees for Engagement & Create a Feedback Loop 

If you want to motivate employees to participate in your programming, their feedback on your initiatives is an invaluable tool. Surveying employees before, throughout, and after your wellness program is the best way to make improvements to engage your employees. A crucial part of improving engagement in your program is how well you gather and apply feedback from employees. 

Not only does integrating employees’ perspectives into your program enhance engagement levels, but it will also likely improve overall outcomes. Be sure to make your surveying practices consistent and ongoing so that you can modify your plans as you receive feedback. Communicate how the feedback informed your program to encourage employees to keep offering their thoughts. 

Taking employees’ feedback into account will make your programs more relevant to the needs of employees. It lets you pinpoint what works and what doesn’t, based on perspectives from the very people you’re trying to engage. Regularly surveying employees makes them feel more involved and invested in the program.


Create a Communication Strategy With Frequent and Consistent Messaging

When you’re trying to harness more participation in any initiative, communication is key. More specifically, frequent and consistent communication is critical to engaging employees in your initiative. Communication should be planned ahead of time and put on a schedule so employees will know when to expect information about wellness programs. 

Suppose you send communications consistently throughout the year. In that case, employees will form a habit around when they receive information about your current wellness program—keeping the same format in your messaging, whether it be via email or another internal channel. If wellness emails always follow the same layout, employees will know where to look for key information. 

As far as frequency, make sure you send messages far enough in advance for employees to enroll or make room on their calendars. A great kick-off to your communication is a concise email about the program and optional informational webinars. Tell employees how and when they can get involved, and let them know when they’ll hear from HR next about your program. 


Utilize Leadership Engagement & Expectation Setting 

Leadership and management can have a massive impact on employee engagement and setting participation expectations. When you have buy-in from leaders in your organization, that excitement and participation can trickle down to employees. 

Roll out your wellness program to leaders and managers to cultivate buy-in before launching the initiative company-wide.  Consider scheduling virtual meetings with management to introduce the wellness program to help get employees excited and involved in your initiative. 

Ask managers to talk about the wellness initiative in their team meetings to encourage them to get involved. Leaders should make employees feel like they’re allowed to carve out time in their day to participate. This expectation can be set most effectively by their direct manager. 


Ensure Your Wellness Program is Easily Accessible

Make participation as easy as possible for employees. Ditch the multi-step process of downloading apps, creating accounts, or storing resources across multiple platforms. If your program involves workshops or webinars, try to utilize a platform that employees are familiar with and can join with one click. 

Allowing every employee to engage in your wellness program looks different today than it did just a few years ago. If your organization has part or full-time remote employees, your wellness program should be inclusive and accessible to employees who aren’t on-site. 

Virtual programs work best for this reason, and recording each session is a must. After each session, send employees the recording so they can access it on their own time. If your organization has an LMS or an intranet, store any wellness-related content there and let employees know where they can access it. 


The Costs & Benefits of Engaging Employees in Wellness Initiatives 

Organizations invest considerable time and money in designing wellness programs to reduce healthcare-related costs and improve employee well-being. Mid-size to large businesses invest an average of 3.6 million dollars annually in wellness programs to improve employee health. When it comes to getting a worthwhile ROI on your corporate wellness program, active participation is everything. 

When employees aren’t engaged in wellness programs, it costs your organization more than the money spent on the program itself. Employees who don’t participate in your wellness programs can cost your organization a lot between absenteeism, lost productivity, and poor health outcomes. In addition, lack of participation in wellness programs can lead to a higher turnover rate and impact employee attitudes about their employer. 

Each employee who participates in wellness programs can save your organization an average of $1,636 a year in health care costs. However, cutting health-related expenses is just half of it— employees who engage in your corporate wellness programs have lower absenteeism rates and higher productivity rates. A recent study found that the increased productivity of wellness program participants is equivalent to an additional productive workday per month.

Your wellness program can make a big difference in your workplace if your HR team takes a strategic approach to engage your people. Aside from the monetary benefits of wellness participation, employees who lead healthier lifestyles are better team members and performers. And it’s no secret that motivating employees to live healthier lives is more important now than ever before. If you’re looking for new ways to promote well-being in your workplace, check out our guide to creating a customized mental health wellness program:


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