“Think about taking the steps. Your heart will thank you.”

This is a sign I posted by the elevator of our two-story building a couple years ago.

In its own tiny way, that sign was an example of wellness, as it made our staff at least think about a healthier alternative. By no means do I think that sign really measurably improved our company’s wellness. That kind of impact typically requires formal, sophisticated wellness programs. But, it was a start.

Just so there’s no confusion, I’m not suggesting that all employers choose smaller wellness activities over more extensive wellness programs. The best strategy depends on a number of factors, including an organization’s culture, goals and budget for wellness (I’ll get more into this later).  What I am suggesting is that there are ways for every company to help their employees focus on how they go about their daily routine.

What I am also suggesting is that, no matter the size of the wellness initiative, no matter the nature of your organization and its goals, you need to secure buy-in from the top. If senior-level management and executives just go through the motions of supporting your wellness initiatives—if their real commitment is just in  maximizing the ROI of your wellness programs and keeping healthcare-related costs in check—you’ll simply be wasting time, resources and money. The reason? Because the real return from wellness doesn’t come when you focus on ROI and costs. The real return comes when you focus on creating a culture of health which ultimately will lead to an ROI, both tangible and intangible, and for both employees and employer.

When you create a culture of health, you openly demonstrate how much you care about your employees and their wellbeing. The result can be difficult to quantify but it’s easy to see. Employees are happier and healthier. Absenteeism and the harder to quantify “presenteeism,” both drop. Satisfaction and productivity levels rise. In fact, creating a culture of health can help improve your entire culture, especially if your rapport with employees was ailing prior to the wellness initiative.

Cultures of health also foster employee engagement. A new survey found that 66 percent of employees believe they will be more productive and engaged at work if there is a culture of health in place. I think that’s crucial, as higher levels of engagement are linked with higher employee productivity, higher profits, higher customer rankings and significantly lower turnover, according to a Gallup study.

And most organizations have plenty of room for improvement in employee engagement; according to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report, only 30 percent of Americans who hold full-time jobs are engaged at work.

You can start developing a culture of wellness without investing in a full wellness program. As I mentioned earlier, there are many simple actions that will demonstrate your commitment to and concern for employees. A few examples include:

–          Not allowing smoking on the premises.

–          Free smoking cessation programs.

–          Swapping out soda and unhealthy food choices from snack machines.

–          Making healthy snacks available for free.

–          Providing healthy menu options in the lunch room.

If you’re looking to implement more comprehensive wellness programs, there are lots and lots of options on the market. It’s important, however, to get the right fit—to choose programs that match your specific goals. Equally important, you need to select programs that your employees will participate in. For example, if your workforce is mostly in their 20s, a program that features ropes courses and daily jogs might be a great fit. But if many of your employees are married with children and have less free time, a somewhat different program may be in order.

Regardless of what you choose, wellness programs are also usually coupled with some level of medical screening.  History has shown that biometrics are far more effective than simple questionnaires.  As one of our past speakers pointed out, historically men have lied about their height and women have lied about their weight on Health Risk Assessments.  If accurate information can’t be gathered, the program can’t be correctly customized for participants; nor can you get accurate metrics of the program’s effectiveness over time.

It’s also important to remember that you don’t need to figure out everything on your own when it comes to wellness. You can talk to experts and program providers. And you can talk directly with your employees about what they want. Many employers rely on surveys to solicit input and opinions from their employees.

When you do commit to wellness—whether you’re taking small steps or launching a major program—do it as part of a larger strategy for creating a culture of health. That way, not only will your employees be healthier, but so will your organization.

We’ll continue our examination of wellness best practices at our Las Vegas conference in September.  Hope to see you there!