Workplace wellness doesn’t need to include an investment in a state-of-the-art gym for your employees, and you don’t have to hire skilled nutritionists and trainers. A well-designed and well-implemented wellness program can provide employees with the support that they need to get healthy, which benefits your business. You may see fewer sick days, higher productivity levels and fewer employee visits to the doctor.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund supports a $9 million national initiative that encourages the establishment and development of health programs in the workplace. Even so, there will be costs associated with any kind of wellness program that you provide. How can you create an effective plan for your business that remains affordable?

Invest in Participatory Wellness Programs

For those businesses with the means and time to dedicate to workplace wellness, the implementation of participatory wellness programs is an option. This may include reimbursing employees for gym memberships or rewarding employees for attending a health care seminar. It may include rewards, such as time off or monetary investments, to those who complete a health risk assessment. Employers can establish programs to encourage participation in these types of events, though you cannot make them mandatory.

It’s also important to keep in mind that your goal is to aim for those that need the help the most. This is not the individual who is going to be capable of getting in shape for a triathlon in a month’s time. Programs with very high expectations are immediately disregarded by employees who see them as too far out of reach. Instead, establish smaller goals that seem attainable to those who need them the most.

Minimize the Risks Associated With Discrimination

The Department of Labor (DOL) warns that, while these workplace wellness programs are ideal motivating tools, employers must make rewards and incentives available to all employees. This includes individuals who have medical conditions that make it unreasonably difficult or inadvisable to participate in health-related programs. A different, but reasonable, alternative for qualifying for these rewards must be provided.

For example, programs designed to encourage individuals to compete in marathons or to achieve significant weight loss are not realistic to all employees. These goals can be limited by the health and fitness levels going into the program. For example, someone with bad knees should not try to run a marathon, and someone who is already in the target weight range should not aim to lose significant weight. Making special rules for some individuals is an option, such as creating specialized programs for these individuals that are in accordance with their doctor’s wishes.

Ensure Accessibility to All Workers

If your business has workers who spend 90 percent of their day behind a desk and others who are in the job field and on their feet for their entire shift, you need a program that is achievable for all workers. At the same time, you need to ensure that all employees have access to the resources necessary. For example, those in one area of the building may not have access to healthy food options placed in other areas.

By ensuring that your program is multifaceted and geared toward all of your employees, you’ll likely increase participation. This is essential to making your program financially worthwhile.

  • Make your program fun to ensure excitement in your employees.
  • Ensure that it’s something employees that want to be a part of and are even excited about completing.
  • Offer rewards that people want.
  • You do not have to spend a significant amount on rewards; simple gift certificates, a half-day of work or recognition may be enough.
  • Listen to your employees throughout the program, and make changes to meet challenges as needed.
  • Participate yourself!
  • Incorporate a light-hearted atmosphere in the program.
  • Keep it front of mind. Remind employees about it.

Only those who are self-motivating will remain in a program that is overly challenging or that doesn’t have support or encouragement built in.

Cost-Effective Incentives Are Available

You may think that workplace wellness programs are too costly in terms of the initial setup, services provided and the cost of incentives. However, there are incentives to keep employees on track without hurting the company’s bottom line:

  • Provide a one-on-one lunch for each person who achieves the required goals of the program (of course making it accessible to all employees through modifications as necessary).
  • Provide movie tickets for the winning group.
  • Provide hand-written notes of thanks.
  • Offer gift certificates for groceries from a healthy or organic grocer.
  • Provide an extra day off.

Being creative is important. Work closely with your insurance provider to structure programs that will work for your employees and your budget. Create incentives that interest and motivate your employees and that are specific to your employees’ needs. If you are unsure of what will get them motivated, ask! It’s worth the time you put into these programs.

The DOL states that workplace health programs can promote healthy behaviors, improve health knowledge and skills, and help employees get necessary health screenings and follow-up care that they may not otherwise have obtained. All of these benefits make establishing wellness programs worthwhile to any business.

Sandy Baker is a full-time freelance writer specializing in health, personal finance and Internet marketing. Her long-term history online has included publications with companies including Marriott Hotels, The New York Times and dozens of other small and medium-sized businesses. She is also published in print with award-winning books such as The Complete Guide to Estate Planning, Complete Guide to Early Retirement, The Complete Bankruptcy Guide for Consumers and Small Businesses and The Complete Guide to Organic Lawn Care.