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How to Choose the Best Workplace Health Promotion Programs

Here are the 10 thinks to look for in a well-being vendor:

1. Focuses On Health Behaviors
2. Provides Valid, Independent References
3. Utilizes Benefits-based Incentives
4. Passes the Test of Time
5. Uses Scientific Evidence, Not Just Marketing Pixie Dust
6. Stays Current With Technology and Security
7. Interacts With You and Your Employees
8. Supports Culture Change
9. Offers a Performance Guarantee
10. Customizes Programming to Each Worksite

I have a conflict of interest as the author of this blog post. I am the CEO of a wellness company telling people how to choose a wellness vendor. Obviously WellSteps would love to be your wellness vendor, but if not, we want to make sure you still choose a good one. When you pick a good wellness program your employees will love it and your leadership will get positive wellness outcomes. When you pick the right wellness vendor everyone wins.

More often than not, employers who are considering WellSteps as a wellness vendor have already had a bad experience with previous workplace health promotion program vendors. Sometimes WellSteps is the third or fourth vendor to enter the workplace. This suggests that selecting the best corporate wellness vendor must be difficult for employers to do.

I’ve been in the wellness industry for almost 30 years and I’ve pretty much seen everything. During that time I’ve been able to identify many of the most important characteristics of a successful wellness vendor. Being able to select the best workplace health promotion program is important for a variety of reasons. As trusted advisors, insurance brokers and consultants put their credibility and trust on the line when they make a recommendation for a wellness vendor. If the vendor does a good job he or she looks like a hero, but if the wellness program is a bust, they may lose a client.

Workplace Health Promotion Programs work wellness employee wellbeing programs

What Criteria Should We Use to Pick a Workplace Health Promotion Program?

Until recently I have had the privilege of serving as a member of the board of the C Everett Koop Health Project. This board is responsible for identifying the best wellness programs in the United States and acknowledging them with the Koop Award. It is the most prestigious wellness recognition in the world. The application for the Koop award gives us a great list of criteria to look for when selecting the best workplace health promotion programs.

The application for the Koop Award asks questions about how a company’s health promotion vision and mission are communicated throughout the organization. The questions in the application are roughly based around each of the steps in the AMSO behavior change model. The application asks how the wellness activities and initiatives are communicated to the employees, what is done to engage and motivate employees to adopt healthy lifestyles, how employees are taught the skills they need to change behaviors, and what are the physical, organizational, and cultural environments that are created to nurture these new healthy behaviors.

Participation rates need to be in a good or excellent range. A good participation rate is 60-70%; a best practice participation rate is 80+%. Wellness programs need to be in effect for a minimum of three years and most importantly they have to provide proof that the wellness efforts have produced positive outcomes.

Proof of positive outcomes must be based on the entire employee population, and it’s best if the outcomes data can be compared between wellness program participants and nonparticipants. This is the most important part of the application. To be considered for the Koop Award applicants must describe the methodology that was used to evaluate their health promotion program. They have to accurately describe the impacts on health risks, health behaviors, financial outcome,s and program cost effectiveness. Each applicant must have multiple years of data.

The criteria used in the Koop award application are designed to identify the programs that have the most rigorous research designs and the most accurate outcome evaluations. In essence, the award is really a research award. Any wellness program that produces solid research that demonstrates positive wellness outcomes should be seriously considered for the award. Other wellness programs may be just as effective, but without reliable evidence of positive outcomes, it is impossible to know if the vendor can actually deliver an effective wellness program. Every wellness vendor has fancy marketing materials (I like to call this marketing pixie dust), but few have the scientific evidence to back up those claims.

How to Select the Best Workplace Health Promotion Programs

I have created a list of criteria that could be used to help anyone identify the workplace health promotion program. I used information from the Koop Award application combined with the published evidence on the impact of wellness programs. At a minimum this list can help you eliminate those vendors that may not make the cut. When you select a well-being program, look for one that:

1) Focuses On Health Behaviors
If the goal of your wellness program is to reduce healthcare costs and improve employee health than the focus of your wellness program should be helping employees adopt and maintain healthy behaviors. Healthy behaviors are the key to most wellness outcomes. To be successful a wellness vendor must stay focused on helping employees learn new behaviors. Health behaviors are directly responsible for elevated health risks. Employees who have elevated health risks are more likely to have chronic disease and high health care costs. Successful wellness programs are focused on helping employees modify health behaviors.
Workplace Health Promotion Programs work wellness employee wellbeing programs

2) Provides Valid, Independent References
The best, unbiased advice you can get is from existing customers of the vendor you’re considering. Don’t just ask for a list of cherry-picked references, ask for several dozen references from the vendor and then contact a random selection from the list. Ask them what they do and don’t like about their vendor. These person-to-person reviews are more valuable than online reviews, blog posts, or even company testimonials. When you interview current customers you get trustworthy information from people who have real world experience working with your wellness vendor.

3) Utilizes Benefits-based Incentives
You won’t improve employee health behaviors if the employees don’t participate in your wellness offerings. That’s why incentives are so important. The most powerful incentives are those that are benefits based. Program communications, leadership support, healthy cultures, effective wellness committees, and even small gift cards or awards are helpful. But none of them are as effective as benefits-based incentives. If your wellness vendor is going to be successful they’re going to need to motivate your employees with the right kinds of incentives. You can read more about how to do this here.

Workplace Health Promotion Programs work wellness employee wellbeing programs

4) Passes the Test of Time
According to the SBA, 70% of companies fail during the first 10 years of operation. There is nothing magical about the 10 year mark, but picking a vendor that’s been in business for at least 10 years does increase your odds of getting one that knows what they’re doing. WellSteps is at the 10 year mark right now, and as the CEO I can testify that in those early years we were not nearly as effective as we are now. Over the years we have improved and refined our services to such a point that we are a different company from when we started. As we continue to improve I’m excited to see what we will look like 10 years from now.

5) Uses Scientific Evidence, Not Just Marketing Pixie Dust
How do you know if an intervention or program works? How confident are you that a wellness vendor can do what they say? We get information from blogs, articles, white papers, advertising materials, and social media. Which of these sources of information do you trust? The most reliable source of information we have is published scientific evidence. This evidence comes from data gathered by the well-being companies that have been peer-reviewed and published in the scientific journals. The data have been independently evaluated and criticized by other scientists whose only desire is to see that the science is done correctly. Very few workplace health promotion programs have been able to publish scientific evidence that their solutions work. Every wellness vendor well-designed brochures, press releases, white papers, and blogs, but none of these rise to the scientific level of peer-reviewed publications. Ask your prospective vendor to show you the peer-reviewed research supporting their product or service. Ours is here.

This science is extremely difficult and expensive to do but it is the only way we can know for sure what the wellness vendor is doing is actually working. This is exactly why so few wellness programs are good enough to earn the Koop Award.  This is how one WellSteps client won the Koop Award.

6) Stays Current With Technology and Security
With the use of technology, most effective workplace health promotion programs are really just tech companies. A simple question to ask your vendor is if they have a dedicated app for their end-users. There is nothing special about having an app other than it is a symbol that the organization is keeping up with the technology. They may still have programs that don’t work but the fact that they are working hard to keep up with the technological trends suggests that there are some bright minds at work within that company. If your wellness vendor has an app most likely they have a robust data platform behind it. If they have a robust data platform most likely they have given some serious thought to data security. Having an app is no guarantee that a wellness vendor will have effective programs but it does set them apart as a company that is progressive and tech savvy. These workplace health promotion programs have an eye on the future, not the past.


employee wellbeing programs

7) Interacts With You and Your Employees
Every wellness vendor has a website. The temptation is to automate every aspect of the wellness program and expect companies to use this automation and platform to do all the work. The technology should be used to assist wellness coordinators with the delivery and administration of their wellness program. The technology is a tool to be used to help humans change behaviors. Effective workplace health promotion programs will have real humans talking to real humans about how to plan, administer, and evaluate a wellness program. WellSteps calls these humans WellSteps Guides, but, regardless of the name, successful wellness programs will have a high level of human interaction with their clients. They will help organize and participate in all of the meetings with the wellness committee. Your wellness vendor should be a human partner in helping you leverage the technology to reach and impact every employee. Ask the wellness vendor you are considering to introduce you to the person or persons that will be helping with your wellness program.

Workplace Health Promotion Programs work wellness employee wellbeing programs

8) Supports Culture Change
Adopting healthy behaviors is actually fairly easy. The challenge is to maintain these healthy behaviors for years. Worksites that can create health-promoting environments and a worksite culture that supports healthy living will experience a variety of positive wellness outcomes. Ask your wellness vendor specifically how they plan to help you create a healthy worksite culture. How are they going to evaluate your current culture, and what are some examples of things they have done at other companies to change the work environment? We work with every one of our WellSteps clients to take a good look at their worksite culture using our free tool called the Checklist to Change. Then, each quarter the wellness committee and worksite leadership pick one thing to change within their worksite environment. After several years of small, consistent culture changes, the entire organization begins to look and feel like a place where people want to work and be healthy.
Workplace Health Promotion Programs work wellness employee wellbeing programs

9) Offers a Performance Guarantee
If your wellness vendor is really confident that their solutions will produce positive outcomes, they should offer a guarantee. They should even offer an ROI performance guarantee. For example, if after three years you do not see a positive return on their wellness investment, the vendor should return some or all of your fees. A worthy wellness vendor should stand behind their services. Here is the WellSteps Performance Guarantee. 

10) Customizes Programming to Each Worksite
Every worksite is different. Each one has unique characteristics and challenges that make it hard to use a wellness program that subscribes to the one-size-fits-all approach. Ask your wellness vendor if they are willing to customize your programming. Will they build out special campaigns or challenges specific to your worksite? Will their coders and engineers design and implement changes to the program from your specifications? Will they offer their wellness programming in specific languages that are used at your worksite?

This last criteria is really about whether or not the wellness vendor wants to be a true partner or a supplier. Wellness suppliers sell a finished product for a specific price. Workplace health promotion programs that are true partners will do whatever it takes to create and administer a wellness solution that is customized to each location within an organization, while at the same time producing positive wellness outcomes.

Here is the list of the top 25 workplace health promotion programs to choose from.

So What?

Hiring a corporate wellness vendor is a big investment for most worksites. There is risk involved. Hire the wrong vendor and you’ll waste your money. Contract with the right vendor and your big investment will turn into an even bigger savings. When you make the right choice you’ll have a wellness vendor who is your partner for success. Wellness done right can transform an organization and its employees. The right wellness vendor will help you reduce your healthcare costs, improve employee health, and help create a happy, productive workforce.

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About The Author

Dr. Steve Aldana

Dr. Aldana is the CEO of Wellsteps, a worksite wellness solution that leads the nation in wellness program deployment and engagement. Dr. Aldana authored over 75 scientific papers and 7 books on health risk management, healthy living, and health promotion programs. He has given over 350 keynote speeches across the U.S. on the ability of good nutrition and regular exercise to prevent, arrest, and reverse many chronic diseases. Email him at: