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Inclusivity and Wellness: How to Tailor Corporate Wellness to Fit All Employees


Just as you wouldn’t set out on a road trip without analyzing the best route to take, corporate wellness program directors should never design a program without considering the overall well-being of their entire employee population. Skipping this important step risks ending up with a cookie-cutter wellness program that excludes segments of their staff.

While some might think a customized approach is too expensive or time-consuming, many employers find tailored programs actually help reduce costs and mitigate risks by better serving all employees. It also makes it much easier for plan administrators to stay compliant with critical regulatory requirements.

So, how can you make your wellness program more inclusive?

To build a wellness program that truly works for every employee, start with these three goals:

1. Identify Barriers to Adoption

Wellness program directors should use employee surveys and focus groups to understand what employees really want in a program and what might prevent them from participating—for example, language difficulties, literacy challenges, job schedules, family situations, and current health problems including chronic illnesses or disabilities.

2. Incorporate Support Programs

Link your wellness program to other support programs already in place, like employee assistance programs and health advocacy solutions. This helps ensure employees can get the support they need when a physical illness, emotional situation, or financial problem negatively affects their personal life, health, and work.

3. Make It Personal

When individuals can customize their wellness program goals and access to a wealth of resources and support—such as coaches, online apps and portals, and wellness challenges—employees become more likely to stick with the program and achieve their goals.

Understanding Inclusivity Regulatory Requirements

Keep in mind: Ensuring that your wellness program is inclusive is not just good for engagement and morale—it’s often required to stay compliant with government regulations.

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently ruled on how the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) applied to wellness programs. In this ruling, the EEOC states that disability-related inquiries and exams—such as health questionnaires and biometric screenings—can only be part of a voluntary wellness program that is “reasonably designed to promote health or prevent disease.” To meet the “reasonable design” standard, the wellness program cannot be “overly burdensome” and must have a “reasonable chance” of improving the health or wellness of participating employees.

In other words, if a program is designed in a way that an employee cannot reasonably participate, medical inquiries and exams related to that program may violate the EEOC ruling.

Wellness program directors should also consider the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Under HIPAA, companies that offer incentive-based wellness programs need to meet a “reasonable alternative standards” requirement. This means wellness programs must accommodate employees whose health or disabilities preclude certain activities or outcomes, by providing options for “reasonable alternative activities or outcomes.” For example, if a reward is given to employees who walk 10,000 steps per day, a reasonable alternative standard might be fewer steps, or the option to watch a series of wellness videos or participate in coaching sessions.

Tailoring Your Wellness Program

Of course, the ideal wellness program is one that offers a multitude of options for every employee and their unique needs. To get started on making that happen, there are some common scenarios faced by almost every company at some point and how you can successfully include these groups of employees into your wellness program:

The Aging Workforce

Older employees, with their decades of wisdom and experience, are a valuable asset to your workplace, so you need them stay as active, healthy, and engaged as possible for as long as possible.

Unfortunately, these longtime employees may find that as the years pass, they age into chronic conditions that impact their career. One survey reported that 50% of men and 33% of women leaving the workforce before age 62 did so because of health limitations like arthritis and cardiovascular conditions.

health limitationsWhat Employers Should Consider

Older employees may require worksite accommodations, like changing the type of job they do (e.g., less walking and heavy lifting) and using special equipment (like an ergonomic keyboard and mouse). When planning wellness program activities, note that some of the chronic conditions that often accompany age may preclude vigorous exercise. Consider offering balance/coordination activities, flexibility and range of motion exercises, strength training, and mild aerobic activities to help employees stay fit, even if they’re not up for running marathons.

Disabled Workers

Disabilities are more common than you think: More than 6 million U.S. employees have one or more disabling conditions. And unfortunately, the wellness program participation rate of those with disabilities is often comparatively low.

That’s because those with disabilities are often anxious about releasing private information about their medical conditions to their employers. As well, disabled employees may feel left out of traditional wellness programs if the challenges make no allowance for their disability.

What Employers Should Consider

Corporate wellness programs can offer a great opportunity for disabled employees to boost their productivity, morale, and physical and emotional comfort at work. By offering a variety of wellness activities, employers can give employees with disabilities plenty of flexibility to choose activities that suit their needs. If you’re not sure what options to offer, involve employees with disabilities in brainstorming sessions when it comes time to design new activities.

Low-Risk Employees

It may seem odd to think that “low-risk” employees might need inclusivity in their wellness program, but they do. After all, just because employees look healthy, doesn’t mean they are.

You may not recognize stress, depression, high blood pressure, and other chronic conditions until it’s too late. In fact, employees suffering from depression cost employers more than $44 billion per year in lost productivity, with more than 81% of that lost productivity coming in the form of presenteeism (when employees are at work but unable to fully function due to a wellness issue).

What Employers Should Consider

Even if you have a group of employees who are outwardly healthy, remember that everyone can improve. Add tiers to each of your wellness program components. For example, physical challenges can include walk, jog and run levels—giving every employee a new target to aim for. As well, make sure your program includes elements beyond fitness and nutrition. Helping employees develop better emotional, financial, or occupational wellness can ease a lot of the stress that contributes to hidden chronic conditions.

Partner With a Trusted Team to Develop Your Program

It’s not always easy to maintain high levels of engagement in a corporate wellness program. Lack of time, low enthusiasm, changes to an employee’s health and wellness, and lack of program diversity can all work against each other to reduce involvement.

But wellness program providers can turn these setbacks around and create successful—and inclusive programs—that help employees become the best they can be.

When you’re ready to build a culture of health—one that supports employees’ physical, emotional, financial, and social wellness and engages every employee—contact WellRight. We’ve got the mobile technology and tailored solutions that offer each employee a personalized program. With interactive dashboards and hundreds of challenges from which to choose, WellRight’s robust program ensures no employee is left out on the journey to improved health.

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