Taking Your Temperature: Health and Wellness Programs in the Workplace

Published On
Dec 15, 2016

The U.S. Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services estimate that more than half of all employers offer their employees some form of wellness program. Statistics also indicate most organizations that don’t have a program in place plan to add one in the future. Wellness programs make for a healthier and happier workforce, result in greater productivity, reduced absenteeism and lower healthcare costs to employers.

According to “Winning With Wellness,” a recent report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “Today’s healthcare cost crisis in the United States is largely a consequence of poor health. The economic burden of the growing health risks that lead to chronic illnesses in our population is daunting. As of 2012, 117 million Americans have one or more chronic illnesses, which account for 75 percent of all healthcare costs and 70 percent of deaths in the United States.”

These figures can be drastically reduced through widespread implementation of effective wellness programs. The goal of such a program is to prevent and reduce the risk of future health problems by promoting healthy habits. 

A number of things can be done to encourage proper health measures and lifestyle modifications, such as increasing physical activity, improving eating habits, reducing stress and quitting smoking.


Promoting preventive health measures can benefit everyone. Providing on-site flu shots or reimbursing employees receiving flu shots will result in less sick time for employees and have a positive impact on cost versus expense. 

Encouraging exercise is another element of a successful wellness program. Exercising makes people feel better, more energetic and increases life expectancy. No matter the age, gender, physical ability or job role, physical activity will improve productivity and quality of life. 

Benefits from increased physical activity include controlling weight, combatting health conditions and diseases, decreasing blood pressure, reducing rates of depression, enhancing mood, boosting energy and promoting better sleep. Simple steps, such as encouraging workers to use stairs instead of elevators or subsidizing gym memberships, can go a long way.

Health education also is important. Bringing in guest speakers to discuss nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices can help workers understand the importance of overall wellness. 

In addition, having doctors come into the workplace, a potential component of a wellness program, provides employees the chance to schedule routine and preventative care without taking time off work.

Promoting healthy eating habits is also important. Studies have shown that poor nutrition affects morale, job safety and productivity. Unhealthy eating habits may even reduce job productivity. Eating well is a commitment toward ensuring long-term health. Proper nutrition helps control weight and reduces the risk of chronic disease, back injuries and heart disease. It also contributes to success in the workplace.

An incentive program can cause some angst when it pertains to job performance, but it can help encourage employees to make better lifestyle choices and promote improved wellness. For example, some employers offer lower out-of-pocket healthcare costs for workers with lower body fat percentages, healthy blood sugar levels, etc.


Be aware of mental health as an important piece of a wellness program. It is estimated that one in five people in the United States suffers from some form of mental illness. Often, these symptoms can be brought on by stress. Common workplace issues that can contribute to negative mental health include stigma and discrimination; effort/reward relationships; job burnout; harassment, violence, bullying and mobbing; and substance abuse at work. If mental hazards are effectively managed, they will lead to reduced absenteeism, employee turnover, grievances, health costs, medical leave, work time lost and workplace injuries and accidents.

The final component commonly included in workplace wellness programs is access to behavioral resources. Providing counselors for stress management, weight loss, drug or alcohol abuse, smoking cessation, etc., can be a powerful tool to helping achieve optimum wellness on the job.

These elements provide the basic framework for creating a successful health and wellness program. This information can also be used to build a case to higher-ups for putting such a program in place. Any of these suggestions can help create a healthier group of workers and contribute to improving overall wellness. 

If your employer does not offer a wellness program, you can certainly take these steps on your own. For more information on workplace wellness programs and other occupational safety and health related issues, visit www.osha.gov.

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist

Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Reach him at toconnor@intecweb.com.


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