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The 3 Keys to Wellness Program Participation

The 3 Keys to Wellness Program Participation

January is the biggest month of the year for buying things we struggle to use.

In the rush of excitement to stick to our fitness resolutions, we splurge on exercise equipment, gym memberships, and sporty new workout clothes. All too often though, by February the equipment is gathering dust, the gym membership is nothing more than a monthly debit from our bank accounts, and the workout clothes still have their tags.

Despite the best of intentions from all those involved, wellness programs all too often go similarly underutilized.

A report sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor found that half of employers with at least 50 employees offer a wellness program, as do 90% of those with over 50,000 employees. But, the median participation rate hovers around 40%.

How can you prevent your wellness program from suffering the same fate as your exercise-bike-turned-clothing-rack?

There are three keys to increasing wellness program participation: culture, communication, and rewards. The right balance of these elements will help your company and your employees get the most out of your wise investment in wellness.


Culture is a reflection of a company’s values, traditions, goals, and shared beliefs. Culture represents the prevailing attitudes of the people who work at a company, from the CEO on down: How they approach their work, how they relate to each other, and how they see their role in the world.

At the most effective companies—the places routinely listed among the best places to work—culture isn’t something that just happens. Company culture can be planned and documented. Many companies share their culture codes online as a statement of intent to the world and to attract like-minded employees.

When wellness is part of your company culture, it sets the tone for employees who may otherwise be reluctant. According to one survey, 53% of employees who decline to participate in their company wellness program cite “cultural barriers,” including “inconvenience and their employers’ lack of support for their participation.”

In other words, it’s not enough to merely have a wellness program. Your company should find ways to signal to your employees that you care about their health and well-being and that you support their efforts to achieve healthier, well-balanced lives—even when it takes away from work time.

Some possibilities include:

  • Having management participate in (and even lead) wellness challenges.
  • Encouraging periodic breaks to get up from the desk, stretch, and even take a walk outside.
  • Setting aside office space for wellness, such as a meditation room.
  • Modeling “good behavior” from the top down. If you expect your employees to shut off their phones in the evening, management should do the same.
  • Offering praise and encouragement to employees as they tackle their wellness challenges.


Why don’t your employees use your wellness program more often? A significant portion of them don’t even know it exists—60%, to be exact.

It’s not your employees’ fault. The modern worker is bombarded with messaging throughout the workday: emails, text messages, chat, not to mention sometimes endless strings of meetings. It’s easy for your wellness program to get drowned out by the cacophony.

An effective communication strategy can do wonders for the utilization rate of your corporate wellness program. Here are some tips:

  • Post signs and informational flyers around common areas, in restrooms, and wherever else employees congregate.
  • Use a friendly, positive tone in all your communication (no shaming). Promote wellness events with colorful graphics and a sense of humor.
  • Reach your employees where they communicate with each other. Chat platforms, such as Slack, and social networks, like Facebook, might get more attention than an email.
  • Keep your messaging relevant to the priorities and goals of your employees. (You can learn more about the wellness needs of your employees by holding a biometric screening event.)


Sometimes, you just have to coax your employees into giving your wellness program a try. (Although, we should point out that a quality wellness program is an incentive all its own.) Plus, being healthy is hard; your employees deserve a reward for trying to get more exercise, eat right, and cut back on stress.

Some of the traditional incentives for completing wellness challenges—such as cash rewards, gift cards, and trips—are expensive. If your company can afford to go big when it comes to wellness rewards, great. If not, don’t worry. Low-budget incentives can be just as motivational.

For example, when one company challenged its employees to develop a new healthy habit over 30 days, the reward was witnessing the CEO shaving his head. Needless to say, the team members had no problem reaching their goals.

There are two secrets to choosing incentives that will inspire your employees to wellness:

  • Keep it fresh. Don’t keep going back to the same rewards year after year. At some point, what once seemed novel will become routine, and employees will lose interest. Take the time to devise creative new rewards for each challenge.
  • Know your audience. What works with one group of employees may not work with another group. Quirky, pop-culture-inspired incentives may appeal to younger employees, while older workers may prefer a nice lunch or a prime parking space.

If you need help implementing any of the ideas we suggested in this article, feel free to get in touch with the experts at WellRight. We’re always excited to help our clients transform their wellness programs from underused expenses to highly popular drivers of employee happiness.

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