Effective Workplace Wellness Programs Recognize ‘One Size Does Not Fit All’

Yesterday we reported on a new study that reviews worksite health interventions for ’employees with elevated risk of chronic diseases.’

The study, titled “Strategies for Worksite Health Interventions to Employees with Elevated Risk of Chronic Diseases,” catalogues “the common intervention and evaluation strategies used when implementing and assessing those interventions,” and offers recommendations for future  practice.

We highlighted an important finding from the report: No two worksites are they same. The ability for a well-run workplace wellness program to integrate flexibility — to customize solutions based on culture, individual needs, and more — is key. 

The authors write: “Different work settings have unique characteristics. Researchers and practitioners may need to examine their worksite and employee populations before developing health promotion interventions. In the chosen studies, small group education or physical activity interventions were the most prevalent and feasible format. This was used by worksites that have regular lunch breaks or settings where employees have a certain degree of work autonomy. In some small work settings with a small sample of participants, office environmental change to facilitate physical activity could be practical, such as providing sit–stand tables, treadmill desk and pedal machines. In a large worksite where a cafeteria was provided to employees and purchase transactions were recorded, interventions incorporated food labels and nutrition notifications that were feasible and measurable.”

The authors note another way in which for a well-run workplace wellness program, one size does not fit all: “Some studies have shown that employees prefer multicomponent interventions, which are also more likely to be successful.”

They write: “Additional elements in such interventions can assist and supplement education and consultation components by adding worksite environmental changes to facilitate physical activity and healthy diet. However, they may also increase program costs. The growth in mobile device applications and Internet access has increased the number of technology-based workplace health promotion interventions. This can help reduce the common barriers to participation such as time, place, and costs. In worksites where it may be difficult for employees to attend face-to-face interventions together or those that lack regularly scheduled break times, telephonic health coaches and online modules and forums could be considered as intervention delivery choices. Those strategies could also be applied in the modern workplace where employees work through telecommuting and virtual teams. In addition, offering incentives is prevalent in workplace health interventions for promoting healthy behaviors and participation retention, and it is estimated that 69% of large employers use this strategy. Understandably, other strategies such as supervisor support, job modification, and organizational and policy changes for developing workplace health interventions were rarely described in the selected articles; however, they are still crucial elements to program implementation in workplace settings.”

Effective evaluation strategies also matter: “Researchers and practitioners may need to choose optimal and suitable measurement based on the intervention components and outcome of interests.”