6 Steps to Create a Culture of Health

An organization is only as strong as its people, so in order to operate at its best, employees need to be at their best.

From a numbers perspective, the cost of health care to both employers and employees is on the rise, while at the same time we are seeing a decline in overall health with specific rises in obesity, heart disease, and diabetes across the country.

In the past, talking about one’s personal health in the workplace was considered taboo, in today’senvironment of hyper connectedness with technology and  sharing your life on social media, it’s now become OK to have the conversation. In fact, employees want to have the conversation.This is why creating, supporting, and sustaining a culture of health is so important for organizations today – but how do you create programs that matter to your employees and yield meaningful and measurable outcomes?

Determine what Employees NEED

Measurable outcomes that improve overall employee health (i.e. improved biometric screening numbers) while reducing health care expenses should be the desired outcome of any health and wellness program. A great place to start when beginning to put programming in place that supports a culture of health and wellness, and to determine what is most needed for your employees, is to partner with your health care provider and get reports on your claims data. Specifically, look for the largest health challenges faced by your employees and understand how moving the needle on different ailments (e.g. obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes) will make a difference in health care outcomes and claims. After you have this information, you can begin to determine what you want to tackle, and set both short-term and long-term goals. However, don’t go too far down this road without also getting your employees involved.

Ask Employees what they WANT

It’s often surprising how frequently Leadership tries to determine what would be interesting and meaningful to employees when it comes to health and wellness programming without ever asking their employees. When you ask employees directly about the types of activities they would like to do, what topics are of interest to their family, and what the organization can do to make them feel supported in their health and wellness journey, their answers are usually far less complicated (and usually less expensive) thanwhat Leadership designed, and there will often be an overlap with what they NEED. Put the employees Needs/Wants story together using both quantitative and qualitative methods or, more simply put, numbers and meaning.


Survey your employees with questions around the areas the organization wants to tackle based on the claims data. The numbers tell you where to look as well as provide an overall impression of the direction employees want to take by helping to rank what is more important to them.


Then use these findings to develop focus group questions and askemployees how they would like to see interventions in these areas come to life. Basically, you get the employees to design the program for you, and they become stakeholders in its success. People support what they help to create.

Provide Incentives

We’re creatures of habit, and changing lifestyle habits is no easy feat. Tying incentives, both monetary and non, to the behaviors (and ultimate lifestyle change) you’re looking to see your employees embrace is a great way to motivate that change and encourage participation.

After you take a stab at creating educational programs, activities, and outcome-based incentive plans using the NEEDS and WANTS, it’s important to circle back with the employees (maybe those who participated in your focus groups) to get their feedback on the program. Are you directionally correct? What are some tweaks or incentives they would suggest to ensure employee interest and participation? Do they have any recommendations for communication plans to roll out the new programs?

Authentic Communication & Education

Proper communication is key. No program, regardless of how well designed, will work if employees don’t know about or understand it. While face-to-face, in- person communication is ideal, it is not always feasible. Organizations with a remote workforce can take advantage of webcasts or meetings-in-a-box to help communicate the program designand incentive structure. Don’t forget about the folks at home. For program eligible spouses and dependents, make sure to include materials that can be mailed, taken home, or posted digitally for them to access.

Furthermore, be authentic in your communications. Let your employees know that you care about their health, as well as the health of the organization. Clearly explain and educate your employee base on why you are undertaking these changes and creating new programs. Remember, your employees are wanting to be a part of these conversations with you.

Walk the Walk

It is equally important that leadership be on board with and role model the desired behaviors. Your employees are looking at you – even something seemingly small like encouraging healthier eating while continuing to serve donuts and coffee cake at meetings without offering healthier alternatives, or encouraging employees to work out without giving them time to do so, can send the message that the company and its leaders are not fully committed to the behaviorsthey are trying to incent and the culture they are trying to create. In order to truly turn the tide, leaders at all levels need to walk the walk, and company policy needs to support them being able to do so.

Chances are you have employees who have some passion around health and wellness or have undergone a health transformation of their own. Utilize them, share their success stories as well as their struggles, and allow them to be ambassadors of your changing culture!

Evaluate & Iterate

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is not an overnight process, and culture change is the same. It’s important to get something out there, be authentic in your communications, get feedback from your employees, and iterate to constantly improve.

Think about the apps we download on our phones. They work to get a product out and constantly make improvements based on user feedback. The samething works for fostering a culture of health and your Health and Wellness programming. While benefit plan changes are difficult to make off-cycle, you can quickly get feedback and make changes to programming, though keep in mind that when connecting your program to measurable health and wellness outcomes, it will take a longer period of time to see meaningful changes. But, don’t let that discourage you, stay the course.

Your employees’ and organization’s health is worth it!

This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of HR News