How to Promote and Improve Wellness in the Workplace

Wellness initiatives represent companies recognizing that the health of their employees may impact their bottom lines.

By Julie Alvira, MD, MBA

“The greatest wealth is health.”

Thanks to some Affordable Care Act incentives, many companies already have wellness programs in place or plan on implementing them in the near future. The wellness initiatives represent companies recognizing that the health of their employees may impact their bottom lines.

By focusing on employees’ well being, productivity can be increased and absenteeism reduced. The question remains, are the programs delivering the desired results even though a company’s healthcare costs are increased?

Lots of programs focus on physical health and ways to reduce cardiovascular risks (i.e., smoking, lack of physical activity, obesity, etc.) by improving employees’ well being. In addition, many also offer employees incentives to engage in healthier lifestyles that can result in weight loss, reduce or quit smoking, and other positive changes.


Companies assess employees’ needs, identify the negative issues in terms of lifestyles and wellness levels, hire a firm to handle technology tools and policies, and promote innovative incentives. Commonly, problems at work are more associated to health complaints than any other life stressor. The key is to maintain healthy behaviors for an extended period of time, and not just for a week. Most programs promote healthier food choices, smaller portions, exercise, smoking less or cessation, drinking control, use of seat belts while driving, techniques to reduce stress, and other healthy habits.


As long as employees are exposed to these wellness initiatives, positive outcomes can be expected. Following are some ideas to engage employees and maintain a competitive structure:

  • Focus on prevention
  • Develop a smoke free environment
  • Publish a wellness newsletter
  • Create flexible work hours
  • Offer one remote working day each week
  • Incentives for smoking cessation
  • Gradually introduce healthier food options
  • Innovate with a gratitude practice
  • Introduce yoga and fitness lessons or classes that employees are willing to attend
  • Optimize for standing desks
  • Encourage physical activity breaks for long meetings
  • Promote competitions
  • Identify areas around the building for physical activities
  • Innovate with employee volunteer coaches
  • Introduce weekly office goals
  • Add healthy snacks in vending machines
  • Work with cafeteria personnel and vending machines to show calorie and nutritional content
  • Hold low fat cooking demonstrations
  • Identify one healthy snack for the heart at the cafeteria on a daily basis
  • Have an employee healthy luncheon and introduce recipe ideas to pass along
  • Create support groups for different needs (weight management, smoke cessation, and others)
  • Share non alcoholic cocktail ideas
  • Innovate with health fairs
  • Promote stress management techniques such as taking a pet for a walk in partner with a pet shelter, breathing relaxation, mindfulness, stress relief breaks, etc.
  • Reimburse and provide incentives for employees that enroll in smoking cessation. Hold monthly events and programs
  • Incorporate wellness maintenance medical visits
  • Conversations about lifestyles
  • Perform regular screenings tests for glucose and cholesterol levels
  • Target employees who already have chronic diseases


The above ideas can improve programs, but companies have to pay attention to ROI and VOI. Screening all employees for health risks, offering one-on-one coaching, and counseling sessions can get expensive. Other ideas included earlier can be more cost effective. The metrics have to be based on the reason the company started. ROI is often limited if it’s focused only on cutting health care costs. VOI is a broader way to see benefits that go beyond expenses. Low levels of absenteeism, satisfaction, mental health (which is another topic of discussion in wellness programs), retention, and satisfaction can be of importance in metrics.

Recent findings conducted by Song and Baicker (2019) for JAMA of more than 4,000 employees at different organizations concluded that wellness programs for a short term have some positive effect on employees’ health behavior (weight management and others) as long as the employees are exposed. However, there’s still a question of positive financial return in the short term. Employers have to be clear about their goals for the program, will have to continue tailoring their programs, evolve with needs, and try to implement for the long term.

Far more can be accomplished by focusing on employees’ health rather than just on costs. Lots of variables, including the appropriate metrics, need to be taken into consideration.

Julie Alvira, M.D., MBA, Healthcare Management is the founder of Coach Dr. Julie, LLC – Physician Life Coaching Services as well as a certified life coach. She’s master certified in health and wellness. You can find her on Facebook as Coach Dr. Julie for via email at