Building the “well workplace” means more than just adding programs and services 

By Bill Zolis

If you do an Internet search on “workplace wellness,” you immediately get a long list of ideas for new and supposedly innovative elements of a successful program, including everything from meatless Mondays to dream coaching and starting a tai chi club. 

But, seriously now, there has to be more to an effective program than that. 

So let’s go back to basics. First of all, what do we want to achieve with a workplace wellness program? I think the answer is pretty broad, and that it will vary considerably from one workplace to another, but that it comes down to three things: 

– the ultimate goal is to build a healthy, happy, productive and creative workplace in which everyone feels that their health and wellbeing are valued and actively promoted; 

– a more easily defined goal is to integrate various elements of a benefits plan to build a program that produces the best results as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible; and, 

– as we have discussed before, there is a real need to respond to employee expectations for a benefits program that provides them with services that they see and hear about and that they have come to regard as desirable. 

I’m not sure that starting a tai chi club ticks any of those boxes but, hey, if that’s what people want, I wouldn’t discourage it. 

Second of all, let’s touch on something you don’t hear spoken out loud very often, but that I sense in meetings and discussions about workplace wellness all the time: the downside of an open-ended program that tries to do all things for all people: 

– the risk that elements of the program will be seen by many employees as trivial and insincere, with the result that it undermines confidence in the workplace culture, rather than enhancing it; 

– the risk that promotion of wellness initiatives will be seen as oppressive and unwarranted interference in the lives of employees. 

If the “goal” is workplace wellness, what are the “objectives” we can identify under that broad heading? There is a great deal of information available on just what constitutes “wellness,” and there seem to be several common themes that emerge.  

So, to keep things in perspective – and to keep our eyes on the prize  here are the key areas that the most successful programs tend to focus on.  

Psychological wellbeingThis is a little hard to define, and many wellness programs refer to “social connectedness,” which is certainly a key element. I list it first here because it covers so much ground, and to make up for that crack about tai chi earlier on: the fact is, if people want to sign up for a tai chi program – or any of dozens of similar, seeming far out ideas  it’s really all about the social connections(But unifying mind and body doesn’t hurt.) 

Stress management: The best definition I have found for stress is finding yourself constantly between a rock and a hard place, with no way forward and no way out. Stress itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the sense of being trapped and overwhelmed is. Managing stress, learning how to keep things in perspective, and prioritizing are all skills that can be acquired with a little help. 

Sleep hygieneYou often hear people say that the person who has no real problems will sleep soundly at night. But it’s really the other way around: the person who sleeps soundly at night is ready and able to take on almost any problem that comes along. Many people are unaware that there is an entire field of healthcare called “sleep hygiene” that can help them enormously if they just reach out. 

Nutrition counselingWe all know that we should “eat healthy,” but some of us need a little help along the way. Whether it’s information, or counseling or just setting a good example at work, the important message here is that nutrition is an important part of the big picture. 

Exercise promotionMany benefits programs include gym memberships, but there are a lot of additional ways to promote exercise  sports teams, bicycle parking as a big hint to bike to work, or just encouraging people to take the stairs. 

Focussed health assistance: Weight loss support, addictions counseling, smoking cessation and similar employee assistance plan (EAP) elements can have a major impact on improving quality of life for the people who need these services. 

Traditional health benefits, such as prescription, medical, dental and vision careThese are, of course, the core elements of a wellness program, as well as the major drivers of cost. They need to be seen as integrated with all other elements of the wellness program. 

In fact, all of these elements are connected, and are part of an overall culture of wellness that a good program should be designed to foster. Are you stressed out? Let’s talk sleep and exercise and social connection. Are you having trouble sleeping? Okay, let’s talk stress and exercise… and so on.  

The big take-away for me is the most successful programs out there include all of the elements above, and make sure that they are all connected and integrated. 


Zoom exercise! Speaking of exercise and working home, I used to lead exercise sessions at work, and I’m now doing them by Zoom. Wasn’t sure how it would work out at first, but actually it’s been a lot of fun. Let me know if you would like me to do one for your group. 


I really appreciate comments, ideas, suggestions or just observations about the blog or any other topics in benefits management. I always look forward to hearing from readers. If there’s anything you want to share, please email me at 

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