A RAND Health workplace wellness study reports that, while approximately half of U.S. employers promote healthy lifestyles, larger employers tend to have more complex wellness programs in place. What has brought about this massive interest in employee health? It comes down to increased spending on health coverage.

According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, U.S. health care spending increased by 3.6 percent to reach $2.9 trillion, or a whopping $9,255 per person, in 2013. Adding to this, a 2013 National Conference of State Legislatures report says 75 percent of health care spending in the United States has been siphoned to treat chronic conditions that affect 51 percent of adults.

These increasing costs create ripples throughout the economy, particularly regarding corporate finances. To buffer this effect, a growing number of companies have taken the initiative to introduce healthy-lifestyle programs that encourage and support employees who want to improve their health. But which businesses are setting the standard for wellness programs? We’ll investigate specific programs that three prominent companies employ with an eye toward summing up what attributes make these initiatives successful.

Before we dive in, it’s important to note that all three of the following companies have one key aspect in common: Their wellness policies list “demonstrated leadership” as a key element of a successful culture that encourages healthy lifestyles. A wellness program should not be assembled and subsequently left alone. Whether it’s HR, department heads or other employees, you want in-house advocates to lead by instituting a bottom-up approach. This helps ensure that voices from all company departments are heard and gives people the power to take the initiative.

3 Strong Wellness Programs

Johnson & Johnson, a Fortune 500 corporation known for its health care products, has implemented a successful workplace wellness program that boasts a tremendous increase in positive behavioral change among employees, improving their health and producing cost savings. The program’s success is attributed to its well-structured team of on-site project managers and experts in health education who work collaboratively to create a culture that advocates healthy living.

To get a closer look at what qualities strengthen wellness programs, it’s worth looking at two other companies, The Dow Chemical Company and IBM, that offer strong leadership in integrated health and wellness strategies. Dow Chemical’s success in implementing its healthy lifestyle program lies in demonstrated leadership commitment to encourage employees to actively participate.

On the other hand, IBM’s success stems from its rigorous approach in utilizing technology to promote and deliver supportive wellness programs to a diverse pool of employees. Through its online collaboration hub, thousands of employees openly interact and share ideas. This open communication allows valuable feedback to be heard.

5 Essential Pillars of a Wellness Program

Drawing on some of the attributes of the aforementioned successful wellness/lifestyle programs, here are five building blocks around which to base your company’s initiative:

  1. Shared responsibility, collective effort. Collaboration fosters the right attitude and builds widespread buy-in.
  2. Exemplary models. When top-level employees demonstrate program advocacy and commitment, more employees jump on board.
  3. Accessibility. Make sure program advocates are available as a resource if employees have questions, and offer ongoing correspondence and information tailored to specific employees’ situations (whether based on nutrition, lifestyle management or exercise planning).
  4. Solid structure. A wellness program works best with multiple lines of communication and achievable, trackable goals; be sure the program leaders have this aspect under control.
  5. A sustainable, current approach. Have continuous quality improvement and evaluation efforts in place so you can adapt your focus on healthy lifestyle initiatives and disease prevention to meet current, widespread needs across the company.

Companies of any size can emulate the success of the wellness programs instituted by Johnson & Johnson, The Dow Chemical Company and IBM. The bottom line is to incorporate a well-structured program through collaborative effort, effective communication and strong leadership. The efforts will pay off in the long run.

Emmie Sahlan has a graduate degree in English and has been writing professionally for the past five years. Her niche areas are insurance, credit cards, personal finance and education.