The Why of Wellness

How employee health and wellness programs work and why they're more important than ever

Why wellness?

Why do over 80% of businesses in the U.S. offer an employee wellness program? And what do they involve? In this review of the basics of employee wellness, we’ll:

  • Cover the basics of wellness strategy
  • Summarize decades of supporting research
  • Review how to create and maintain an effective program
  • Discuss how to prevent security breaches related to wellness dataDownload This Guide

Employee health and wellness programs are known to improve participant health and lower employee healthcare costs. To put it simply, wellness is about human capital management. It’s proven to help employees by improving their quality of life, increasing productivity, and lowering absenteeism.

Additionally, it can lower employee turnover, decrease healthcare spending, and boost both morale and the bottom line, with proven ROI. It’s the right thing to do, morally and financially. The real question is, why not offer wellness?

Today, a wellness program is necessary to maintain a competitive benefits package. There are tailored wellness programs for every type of organization, from a small business to a large corporation. And the best part is, when you partner with wellness vendors and wellness technology companies, the hard work is done for you.

For more on the advantages of working with a wellness platform see our Comprehensive Guide on Wellness Technology Products.

Benefits of Workplace Wellness

Workplace wellness works, and there are decades of research studies to support it. From preventing and managing disease to increasing healthy habits, wellness challenges participants to be their best selves – and improves outcomes for individuals as well as organizations.

Here are just a few examples of research that supports the efficacy of wellness:

  • A study by Harvard found that companies had a return of $3.27 for every dollar spent on employee wellness.
  • A study from the University of British Columbia discovered that employee wellness programs could actually reverse Type II Diabetes.
  • Research from the CDC shows that unhealthy behaviors are associated with increased healthcare costs.
  • A RAND study finds a return of $3.80 for every $1 spent on disease management programs (a specific subset of employee wellness).
  • Harvard Business Review argues that any inconsistent or conflicting results about the benefits of wellness programs are not necessarily due to the wellness programs, but rather, the industry’s inability to measure and define well-being comprehensively.
  • Research from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM) states that improved health leads to improved productivity: employees who participated in employee-sponsored wellness program saved an average of $353 per person per year in recuperated work time (in other words, higher productivity).
  • Researchers at the University of California, Riverside found that wellness programming resulted in dramatically higher productivity for all participating employees.
  • WorkHuman reports that workplace wellness programs lead to reduced cases of burnout, improved social well-being, a greater sense of belonging, and an increased feeling of thriving.
  • According to Virgin Pulse’s State of the Industry Survey, 56% of companies that invested in employee engagement reported higher employee satisfaction, 40% reported enhanced company culture, and 14% reported revenue growth because of their employee engagement programs.

This list barely scratches the surface of research studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of employee wellness programs. But to see results, the program must be done right. An effective, comprehensive program, with targeted, updated programing, individualized content, and regular wellbeing assessments, is key.

With the right program, leaders can expect:

  • Improved overall health
  • Reduced healthcare costs
  • Stronger DEI
  • Development of healthy habits
  • Improved hiring and retention
  • Boosted productivity and culture

... and more.

Four Steps to Successful Wellness Programs

Essential components of a wellness program

Break down corporate wellness into its basic parts, and it begins to look less intimidating. Every example of successful worksite wellness involves a few of the same essential components:

  1. Workplace health assessment. Assessing the health of your employees to determine where the population stands is the first step to developing an effective program. The best way to accomplish this is with a fully digital comprehensive health risk assessment that considers the physical, emotional, mental, financial and organizational well-being of each participant. Why fully digital? So it’s inclusive of remote employees, spouses, and other beneficiaries who may not come into the office. The first round of assessments provides baseline data and insight into general population health. Regular assessments thereafter offer metrics for measuring the success of the program and insights for course corrections.
  2. Planning the program. Whether you have an in-house wellness team or partner with a wellness vendor, the next step is to use the data you’ve gathered in the wellbeing assessment tool to create a program that will impact your employees’ specific health needs. This includes creating a wellness platform, partnering with technology vendors for a variety of programming, scheduling wellness challenges, preparing marketing content, and more. See our free Build vs. Buy Wellness Technology guide for more.
  3. Implementing the program. This step involves marketing, communications, gaining employee participation, managing the programs, and fielding participants’ questions and feedback. The process is usually done on an annual basis but can also be done quarterly or on a customized timeline.
  4. Determine impact through evaluation. At the end of the wellness cycle (usually the one-year or quarter-year mark), it’s time to evaluate your participants’ progress and participation. The most straightforward way to do this is to administer another health risk assessment and compare it to the original. Have employees gotten healthier? Find out where you need to focus and fine-tune the program for the next iteration.

Biometric Screenings and Health Risk Assessments

Building an employee wellness program based on data from health risk assessments (HRA) and/or biometric screenings is one of the best approaches to results-oriented wellness. With the right help, your assessments can be smooth and straightforward. Some of the major benefits of offering a health risk assessment for employees include:

  1. Promote health and prevent disease. When employees learn about their health standing, often they get motivated to make improvements. Armed with new information, they can make informed decisions and take action against early warning signs of chronic disease in order to prevent further issues.
  2. Provide baseline data. Once your organization begins tracking aggregate population health statistics, it can begin tracking changes over time. This is essential for determining whether your wellness program is having an impact on employee health.
  3. Suggest what would benefit individual participants. Once individuals complete their HRA, updated wellness platforms can automatically and immediately guide them to the right resources for their needs, including targeted wellness challenges, education, health coaching programs, screening reminders, early interventions, and more. These data-driven, individualized wellness activities will be much more effective than a generic, one-size-fits-all wellness program.
  4. Boost morale by showing care for employee well-being. High employee morale is known to increase productivity and company loyalty while lowering turnover and absenteeism. Offering competitive wellness benefits is an effective way to turn the dial on these critical issues, and among younger employees, is even more highly valued than compensation.
  5. Decrease health insurance claims costs. For many organizations, ROI is the main motivation for offering wellness. It’s also a huge selling point for leaders who may be unsure about starting or boosting a wellness program. Simply put, it’s more cost effective to cure a disease in its early stages than later when it becomes a major problem. Additionally, many leaders are realizing that, in a post-pandemic world, they cannot attract and retain talent without competitive health benefits.

During the HRA process, employees evaluate their lifestyle habits in detail. Wellness providers can then use the aggregate data collected and compare it with biometric data, including vital signs and blood test results, to gain an accurate perspective of overall population wellness.

For more, see our Complete Guide to Health Risk Assessments.

Health Coaching

Empowering employees with proactive well-being

Why offer employee health coaching? Because there seems to be a disconnect between health care and patients. You’ve experienced this firsthand if you’ve ever had a biometric screening and, after seeing your results, felt confused or apathy about what they mean and what to do next. While many employers hold company-wide biometric screenings (or require that employees get screened at the doctor), the likelihood that employees will take action to improve their results is very low if they don’t receive support and guidance (as noted above, updated HRAs offer immediate and automated guidance to personalized resources).

Participants don’t always have the education, resources, or access to care needed to make lasting changes. However, there’s evidence that the gap in health care can be filled by health coaches. A corporate wellness coach can make a big difference to the lives and health of your employees.

Let’s look at an example involving one of the most common – and expensive – chronic diseases: diabetes. In a study by the Joslin Diabetes Center, health coaching helped participants have an average 2.0-point drop on HbA1c in three months. When combined with a worksite wellness platform, the numbers dropped even lower - to 3.2 in three months on average. In comparison, those who did not participate in diabetes health coaching and instead did a year of insulin therapy and occasional doctor visits, saw a 0.5 – 1.0 average drop.

For more, see our Complete Guide to Employee Health Coaching.

Corporate Wellness Challenges

Energize employees with engaging challenges

Wellness challenges are a fun way to engage a team (including remote and in-person employees) in activities that are easy to implement and track, as one part of an overall wellness program. An employee wellness challenge is usually based on tracking steps or minutes of activity, but can also be based on nutrition, mental health, financial wellness, community giving, and more.

Here's how wellness challenges get people moving:

  • Count Steps: Almost everyone needs to get more exercise, and walking is one of the easiest ways to do it. Adding a little more walking every day can make a huge difference. Just a 20-minute walk around the block will bring you up to the recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-level activity per week!
  • Motivate: What makes challenges so motivating? They put a number on physical activity efforts. A realistic and beneficial goal is between 8,000 and 10,000 steps per day. On average, 2,000 steps equal about a mile. You may be surprised how quickly steps add up by daily activity like walking in the office, through grocery store, and around the block!
  • Create healthy competition: To reinforce tracking daily steps or minutes of physical activity, offer incentives for reaching a daily or weekly goal. Simple incentives often work best – recognition in your monthly staff newsletter, a free healthy lunch, or the opportunity to choose the next wellness challenge may be all that you need to spark some competition.
  • Increase participation: Step counter apps or even basic pedometers can help reinforce your walking challenge. CoreHealth’s platform allows users to track their progress while accessing every other part of your wellness program too, in ready-to-use, virtual wellness challenges.

Need some wellness challenge ideas? Check out some of the ways CoreHealth can help you implement simple walking challenges.

Wellness Technology

Wellness platforms play a crucial role in wellness program success

The underlying component of all the wellness programs we’ve discussed is the wellness platform that powers them. Wellness technology is a broad term that describes wellness software, tools and systems that allow organizations to assess health risk levels of employees, and to develop, then deliver wellness programming. It also helps evaluate the performance of these programs and measure ROI.

So where does wellness technology come from? There are many sources of wellness technology, from independent computer programmers to a company’s in-house IT department. There are also companies that focus solely on creating wellness technology, such as CoreHealth’s total well-being platform.

Vendors that specialize in developing wellness technology (vs. providing wellness programs AND developing technology) have special insight into the industry. They’re constantly evolving their platform to incorporate customer feedback and improve clients’ ROI.

For more on wellness technology, see our Comprehensive Guide to Wellness Technology Products

Wellness Platform vs. Wellness Software

It’s important to note the difference between two types of wellness technology: a wellness software application vs a wellness platform. A wellness app typically has a single function, while a wellness platform is a digital home-base that stores multiple apps, partner integrations and more, to consolidate all aspects of a well-being program behind a single login.

Additionally, programs and software vary in the duration and complexity of services they provide. Some wellness technology focuses exclusively on specific components or programs (for example, only health coaching, health assessments, or challenges), while others provide a complete, end-to-end well-being program with many components.

Platform - The underlying hardware or software for a program. The platform defines a standard around which a system can be developed. Once the platform has been defined, software developers can produce appropriate software and purchase appropriate hardware and applications.

Software Application - Is any program, or group of programs, that is designed for the end user and is typically designed with a specific purpose.

The biggest difference between an application and a platform is the amount of flexibility you have. A platform pulls a multitude of features, products, software, hardware together and is typically designed for them to work seamlessly together with one login. Platforms are designed to meet the vast needs of many, in limitless form, while an application is designed for a specific scenario with limited flexibility.

Preventing Security Breaches with Wellness Data

Considering all the technology and information required to make wellness run, it’s no surprise that employee wellness programs collect and rely on lots of personal health information (PHI) and other sensitive data. Ensuring that PHI is safe from security breaches must be a top priority. A sophisticated security procedure is essential for maintaining the privacy of participants and to avoid a data security breach.

Your program must comply with data security laws, which differ by region and country. A few examples include GDPR (EU), HIPAA, and HITECH laws (US) and PIPEDA (Canada). As a top provider of secure wellness technology, CoreHealth is constantly updating security measures to maintain the security of our wellness platforms and comply with evolving employee privacy laws.

Wellness Challenge Incentives

In most cases, unless motivated, most employees will have a hard time making healthy lifestyle changes. This is where incentives can help.

While there is controversy about wellness incentives and if they actually work, 75% of wellness programs do include incentives to encourage participation.

The goal of a wellness program is for employees to adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle for the long run - ideally, permanently. Traditionally, improving lifestyle behaviors revolved around education, but today that isn’t enough to get many to quit smoking, stop eating junk food or go to the gym. Now companies are using money, gifts and sometimes penalties to encourage employees to be healthier.

Here are some tips on implementing incentives:

  1. Consider your company culture and how company values and goals are aligned with wellness. Culture and wellness need to be united in order to present a clear and believable message that employees can buy into.
  2. Listen and communicate with employees and their superiors. Find out firsthand what they are looking for in a wellness program and what types of incentives will motivate them the most. Incentive design that takes into account what employees want will support them and their goals and reflect well on the workplace environment.
  3. Do your research to avoid trial and error. Once underway, monitor and track your programs with reporting and feedback to determine if any adjustments or changes need to happen.

Almost every successful wellness initiative provides some type of incentive program to help employees with their journey to health.

Here are some incentives ideas that promote healthy behaviors that some of our customers provide broken down by budget.

No Cost Incentives

Options for incentives are endless. There are also non-tangible incentives that can be used and are essentially free such as:

  • Flexible schedules (so employees can fit exercise into their schedules more easily)
  • Paid time off to exercise
  • A shoutout in the company newsletter
  • Getting to choose the next wellness challenge or program

Low Budget Incentives - <$100

  • Sports bottles
  • Pedometers
  • Gardening tools
  • Running hats
  • Fit bands
  • Exercise clothes
  • Paid entrance fees to organized athletic events (e.g. marathon)
  • Exercise videos and books
  • Punch pass to community centers
  • Kitchen appliance to make shakes and smoothies
  • Exercise equipment (e.g. soccer cleats, tennis racquet, etc.)
  • Gym bag
  • Earphones
  • Cooking lesson
  • Yoga mat

 Mid-Range Budget Incentives - $100 - 300

  • Running shoes
  • Health food store certificates
  • Exercise lessons
  • Massage certificates
  • Camping equipment
  • Wearable devices
  • Sports sunglasses/goggles
  • Spa gift certificate
  • Hiking gear (boots, backpacks)
  • Snow shoes
  • iPad
  • Gym memberships
  • Helmets and protective gear
  • Gift cards
  • Kitchen cookware (pots and pans to encourage healthy eating) 

High-Range Budget Incentives - $300+

  • Bike
  • Scuba gear
  • Day off with pay
  • Stand-up desks
  • Home exercise equipment
  • Kayak
  • Hockey skates
  • Trip or tour (weekend getaway, whitewater rafting)
  • Camping gear (tent, vehicle storage)
  • Car bike rack
  • Skis or snowboard
  • Paddle or surfboard
  • Golf equipment
  • Water ski equipment
  • BBQ

Besides choosing which rewards you want to give there are three primary types of incentives that may work better than others depending on the type of wellness initiative.

  • Participation-based incentives – rewards for anyone who participates in the wellness program. This option is obviously the most inclusive and encourages overall participation.
  • Progress-based incentives – these rewards are given to participants that are on route to reaching their goals, such as weight loss or number of steps counted. This option is fairly inclusive and ensures active participation.
  • Out-come-based incentives – awarded to participants that meet a certain goal, such as healthy BMI levels or decreased risk for diabetes. Some look at this incentive rewards as the least inclusive as it excludes participants who haven’t reached their goal yet however, for the most part it still provides value as it shows employees where they need to be to really maximize their health.

Measuring ROI of Employee Wellness

As noted above, there are many studies that prove a high ROI for wellness. However, measuring ROI of employee wellness can be tricky because it comes with several returns that are hard to quantify. These include:

  • Disease prevention
  • Injury prevention
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Higher morale
  • and more

However, there are many results of wellness that can be measured, including:

  • Decreased absenteeism
  • Lowered medical costs
  • Lowered disability costs
  • Lowered prescription costs
  • Measured activity levels
  • Total eligible employees vs. total program participants
  • Percent of active vs. inactive employees
  • Measurement of changes in selected health risk factors

Many of these statistics are best collected with an annual HRA to track year-over-year progress. But still, in the age of The Great Resignation and employees valuing a full benefits package more than compensation, perhaps the question should not be “what’s the ROI?”, but rather, “why haven’t wellness programs always been this important?”

Top talent can be attracted and maintained with an inclusive workplace culture and prioritized well-being. While ROI is a great starting point for valuing wellness, the real value for organizations may lie in keeping employees healthy, happy, and productive. This is about the value on investment (VOI) instead of ROI. In other words, there’s more return from wellness than just a dollar amount.

Check out our guide to learn how you can prove the VOI of wellness programming.

Additional Steps to Success

Vision and Mission Statement

Successful wellness initiatives should align with the organization's goals. It’s essential that you have a set vision and mission statement on which the program will be built.

This mission and vision statement will also serve as the basis for communicating the initiative to employees. It will similarly guide the curation of the wellness program goals, which will help get buy-in from decision-makers.

The mission and vision statement should be clearly reflected in the goals, which should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Having a goal will direct the wellness program, including types of offerings, frequency of initiatives, and the details of how success will be measured.

Dedicated Budget

One of the reasons business leader support is crucial for wellness programs is the budget. Workplace well-being initiatives will use valuable resources, such as investing in updated technology to increase program participation. Aside from administrative needs, organizations also have to spend on program materials, third-party vendors, training costs, and evaluation expenses. A detailed financial plan is critical for the longevity of the offering.

Excellent Communication

A wellness program is futile if it can’t be communicated properly to target participants. Communications should be tailored to individual employees – the days of the mass e-mail are long gone. Individualized messaging will increase participation by making wellness relevant to each potential participant. An updated wellness platform can make this easy.

Program Evaluation Plan

Successful wellness programs should not be short-sighted. Plan on offering comprehensive HRAs at least annually, with more specific assessments more often. This is the best way to assess and analyze the program’s success.

Based on the results, coordinators can identify what aspects of the program can be added, removed or changed. This should be based on the initiatives' set goals and key performance indicators - which should be established prior to starting your corporate wellness program.

Fully digital programming

In our hybrid/remote culture, a fully virtual wellness platform is essential to increase participation in wellness. It makes programs inclusive and accessible for all employees and beneficiaries, no matter where in the world they're located.

You know the why - now what? Does this sound like a lot of work to take on by yourself? Many organizations partner with wellness vendors and wellness technology companies to make the process smooth and simple. These companies offer their experience and customized programming to your population to make sure they get the best ROI and health results possible from their corporate wellness programs.

In Summary

Offering workplace wellness programs provides proven benefits for both employers and employees. Organizations have embraced wellness programs as a way to help employees thrive in the workplace, and to help the business thrive in turn. It’s been shown to lower employee healthcare costs, boost productivity, promote high morale and reduce employee turnover. That’s why wellness is a healthy investment.

Technology shouldn’t be a barrier –

it should be the catalyst to greater things.

 Contact CoreHealth

About CoreHealth

CoreHealth by Carebook is a total well-being company trusted by global companies to power their health and wellness programs. Our wellness portals help maximize health, engagement, and productivity for over 3.5 million employees worldwide.  We believe people are the driving force of organizations and supporting them to make behavior changes to improve employee health is in everyone’s best interest. With the most flexibility, customizations, and integrations of any software in its class, CoreHealth’s all-in-one wellness platform helps achieve great wellness outcomes. 

From simple to sophisticated, it's up to you. For more information, visit the CoreHealth website.


Download Our Free Guide to Wellness Technology


We are able to deliver our unique content, motivational challenges, education and personalized programs without the cost of custom development. We can contract a client and have their tailored portal live within hours. I also have the support of the enthusiastic CoreHealth team whenever I need them. I am very pleased. 
Amy Cohen, President

Amy Cohen, President Inspired Perspectives

From creative job titles, to the implementation team taking our incentive structure and making it so much more than what our last portal could do! Not to mention it saved us over $75,000 per year and allows for us to resell our program to the community. For us, CoreHealth is a win-win."
Emily Elrod, Wellness Coordinator

Emily Elrod, Wellness Coordinator Hamilton Healthcare Systems