Corporate wellness programs are on the rise as company leaders begin to recognize the benefits of preventative health initiatives to both productivity and health care costs.

In a Q&A with EHS Today, Jason Morgan, manager of global health and wellbeing at Mars Inc., tells readers why wellness programs are crucial to a healthier, higher-performing workforce.

Stefanie Valentic, EHS Today.com (EHS Today):  Why is workplace wellness important to a company?

Jason Morgan (Morgan): A wellness program ultimately can help associates create and sustain healthy behaviors, giving them more energy, leading to greater productivity and higher performance. If you look only at costs (indirect and direct), it makes sense to try and establish healthy behaviors and environments with your associates. Healthier associates generally experience greater energy, higher productivity and fewer medically-related absences, all of which can result in significant cost savings to the company.

However, workplace wellness goes beyond that. Wellness programs and healthy environments can help improve morale and energy, as well as help in the recruitment and retention of associates. Associates see wellness programs and healthy environments as a sign that leadership supports their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. The associate is then more likely to stay and grow with the company.

EHS Today: What components make up an effective workplace wellness program?

Morgan: An effective workplace wellness program should have strong leadership support and engagement, environments that foster and support healthy behaviors (i.e. healthy options in the cafeterias and vending machines, work spaces that promote and encourage movement; areas for associates to recover mentally and emotionally and programs that address holistic wellbeing (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual). 

It’s important to first focus on the leadership and environment aspects because without supportive leadership and an environment that supports healthy behaviors, programs will struggle to be sustainable or successful.

EHS Today: How do you get workers to participate in these programs and stick with them? 

Morgan: We use a variety of different communication strategies (i.e. email, message boards, leadership communications, and mobile messaging). We also leverage gamification, leadership participation, and team based programs. When a leader is engaged and participating, it increases our engagement and participation by almost 55 percent. Associates see their line manager participate and feel like it’s okay to participate themselves.

We also leverage technology and a wellbeing platform that allows associates to access the program no matter where they’re located via a mobile app. The app comes available with all of the same features as the desktop/laptop version. This makes tracking (via fitness device integration) easier and more fun.

EHS Today: What kinds of fitness activities and incentives work best with employees?

Morgan: I find that team-based fitness programs yield the best engagement. In addition to helping increase engagement, it also helps sustain engagement. Team-based fitness programs also help build team morale. Team challenges where you try to walk or run a certain distance provide a little extra fun as well. 

We also provide individual-based programs based on interest. For example, if you’re looking to train for a 5k or other type of race, or if you have certain other goals that you would like to achieve, we have fitness professionals that will help you. 

As for incentives, this becomes a little harder to due various laws, etc. Premium reductions have proven to be effective in driving engagement, but don’t always help to create behavior change. Gift cards, merchandise and discounts to area attractions or online stores have also been received well.