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What Makes for an Effective Workplace Wellness Program?

Employee wellness programs are steadily increasing, and the industry is projected to reach $90 billion in the United States alone by 2026. But not all programs are created equal.

An effective wellness program is more than a health risk assessment or online health education about risk factors. It uses evidence-based policies, programs, and a supportive environment that make the healthy choice the easy choice for workers. 

Working at the workplace

The workplace is key to improving the health of employees, their families, and communities.

Workplace wellness works when programs are comprehensive in design and fully supported by senior leadership. This approach includes a commitment to evaluating the effect of programs and policies on employee health and productivity.

The American Heart Association’s Workplace Health Achievement Index is an organizational health scorecard that includes evidence-based culture of health questions and employee health outcome measures. The health outcome measures are based on our organization’s Life’s Simple 7® that defines ideal cardiovascular health with seven metrics that people can improve through lifestyle changes: smoking status, physical activity, healthy weight, healthy diet, blood glucose (sugar), cholesterol, and blood pressure. 

“Both workplace culture of health metrics and employee health metrics are necessary for a company to continually improve performance,” Sanchez said.

Following the recipe

The key ingredient to a successful workplace wellness program is incorporating the best science and latest evidence about what works. We at the American Heart Association suggest:

  • An assessment of individual risk with personalized feedback
  • Health-enhancing worksite policies, such as tobacco cessation and healthy vending machines
  • Evidence-based programs to address chronic conditions like obesity and hypertension
  • Leadership commitment and visible support for employee wellbeing
  • Environmental supports such as enhancing the built environment to empower people to move more and sit less

Employers, vendors, and researchers should evaluate their offerings and identify opportunities to improve, and innovate. In a rapidly changing workforce, health and wellness initiatives must evolve to achieve the greatest positive health impact. Programs that help employees improve on Life’s Simple 7 have the potential to positively impact a company’s bottom line as well as improve individuals’ health. Healthy and engaged employees are more productive, have lower rates of absenteeism and generally have lower health care costs, according to the CDC.

Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, Prevention; Chief, Center for Health Metrics and Evaluation, American Heart Association, [email protected]

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