The concept of wellness has gained an immense following over the past decade, with corporate and worksite wellness initiatives, wellness spa treatments, employee wellness programs, and wellness tourism, to name a few initiatives. Heck, even your pet can get a slice of the wellness pie with ‘all natural’ food products designed to enhance their wellness. But the fact of the matter is that wellness, as we know it today, largely took form in the 1950s. And the actual roots can be traced back to ancient times, as far back as 3,000 BC. 

But wellness is no longer just a personal endeavor, as businesses have found the advantages of implementing it in the workplace to spur productivity. The goal of implementing workplace programs is to ensure employees exercise holistic healthy habits. When individual employees are physically, mentally, emotionally, intellectually, and even spiritually healthy, they tend to work better and are more present in the workplace. They also become better team players.

Businesses can carry out wellness programs in a variety of ways that boil down to the following: On-demand wellness, purely individual user-based, and hybrid or group-based programs. Each of them has its pros and cons. So, which one is best for your company? And how does the AMSO Model help in the implementation?

What is the Wellness Program Theory?

Historically, work has always been associated with stress to some degree. Wellness program theory disputes this idea favoring the concept that working doesn’t automatically mean stress.

With many studies showcasing and proving the importance of wellness in the workplace, the concept is becoming less of a theory and more of a reality. 

The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as the “active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.” Holistic means that every aspect of an individual is healthy, from physical to mental, emotional, social, spiritual, nutritional and even financial.

It used to be that wellness had no place in the workplace. In fact, it was something you indulged in your own free time. However, much evidence has since cropped up regarding the links between wellness and improved productivity. 

But more than just productivity, the goal of wellness in the workplace is to encourage behavioral change. Many health issues that people face can be prevented with a change in lifestyle. For example, at least 70% of heart attacks, type II diabetes, cancer, stroke, and other diseases are related to what people eat, their activities, and habits such as smoking and frequent drinking. 

So, how do you get people in the workplace to participate? That’s where the AMSO model comes in handy.

What is the AMSO Model?

Wellness promotes healthy behaviors, which can be achieved through awareness, motivation, skills, and opportunities, collectively known as the AMSO model. Developed by Dr. Michael O’Donnell, the AMSO framework simplifies how to achieve positive employee health behaviors. 

Dr. O’Donnell established the framework after decades of studying hundreds of health programs. The goal of the AMSO model is to simplify the complex nature of health programs so that employees can easily understand that concept. 

How Can You Implement the AMSO Model in the Workplace?


Education is essential in every wellness program, and employees need to know why undertaking such an endeavor is necessary. Education also has to be profound and meaningful to the individual. For example, people know that eating healthy is good. However, such a lesson is shallow when not bound with tangible information affecting employees. Businesses should provide health risk appraisals and biometric screenings so employees also know their health risks. This awareness leads to the next logical step.


People who have learned about their health risks through appraisals and assessments will be motivated to be healthier. In fact, even those not at high risk of anything would be motivated to participate if they get something from it. Feedback and actionable items provided from an assessment, HRA or health appraisal provides that individualized feedback people need to make decisions on their health.  

Therefore, the company’s job does not stop at implementation. Employers must ensure employees participate by motivating them in some way. This can be done intrinsically and extrinsically. To get started, many utilize extrinsic motivation in the form of tangible incentives such as gift cards, insurance discounts, merchandise, extra employee benefits, etc. Employees are also more motivated when they have a hand in designing the wellness program. Let employees provide feedback, give them what they want, and show them their opinions, viewpoints and voice matter!


The wellness team must arm employees with the right knowledge and skills set so they can achieve success. For example, you can teach employees to cook healthy food or provide them with a budgeted grocery list of healthy food items. Helping them with exercises that are just right for their capability is also ideal. O’Donnell said that one of the most successful strategies is to set a goal. Through that goal, wellness programs can create a program tailored to the specific employee and their goals.


Provide employees with the opportunities to participate in the programs. They say variety is the spice of life; this holds true for wellness. Provide variance in the activity types so all personalities will have something to choose from. When an individual has fun, they will continue to participate. For example, you can provide a healthy pantry for employees or create a space for a gym. Make it easy for individuals to join wellness programs and activities to have a healthier lifestyle.

Case Studies

To make it easier for businesses to start a wellness program for employees, here are some programs that perfected the AMSO framework and their respective results:

Reduction of Coronary Risk Factors

In Rockford, Illinois, the Center for Complementary Medicine of the Swedish American Health System implemented a 40-hour educational curriculum of the Coronary Health Improvement Project (CHIP).

The learning was carried out for 30 days and was complemented with clinical and nutritional assessments for its employees. Those who joined the program were encouraged to exercise or walk at least 30 minutes daily, optimize their diet, and discouraged from smoking. 

The result? There were significant reductions in cholesterol levels, low-density lipoprotein, triglycerides, blood glucose, blood pressure, and weight among the participants. Those who were at higher risk of coronary diseases showed the best improvements. 

It was clear that as long as you have well-designed intervention programs in the workplace, employees will significantly benefit from them.

Diabetes Prevention Program

Close to 40 employees participated in the U.S. National Institutes of Health Diabetes Prevention Program of the BD Medical Systems in Sandy, Utah. They were enrolled in a single group time-series study with two-hour oral glucose tolerance tests and other measured diabetes-related medical exams every six and 12 months. 

Diabetes is the country’s sixth leading cause of death, which is why the program was seen as a crucial wellness program to be implemented in the workplace. The intervention primarily focused on education, teaching participants the proper diet to prevent diabetes, exercise, and behavior change. If there were activities during office hours, the 37 participants were allowed to join without losing work hours or pay. 

The result? Around 51% (18) of the participants were tested in various baseline data and were concluded to no longer be in the pre-diabetes category, which they were in during the pre-test before the program implementation. Many of the participants have also improved their glucose tolerance. 

There is no reason why other workplaces couldn’t replicate such a program to help lower diabetes prevalence in the world. As of 2021, the IDF Diabetes Atlas reported that at least one in 10 adults suffers from the debilitating disease. 

Behavioral Change

The most important part of wellness programs in the workplace is behavioral change. In both the studies–CHIP and Diabetes Prevention Program–education was critical. Employees learned how to eat and work out better, and to prevent practices that could harm their health. 

Implementing Wellness Program in the Workplace

Every workplace should have a wellness program for the holistic health of every employee. It’s simple, really: When an employee is physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially healthy, they are likely to be more productive. More productive employees make a highly successful business. 

But how does wellness program theory impact actually planning a wellness program? What kind of wellness program is ideal for the workplace?

On-Demand Wellness Vs. Purely Individual User-Based Vs. Company-Based Programs

Wellness programs are versatile. You can be creative with how you implement wellness in the workplace because so many activities can be included in the program. Some companies choose to start small with one or two wellness activities or initiatives a year. Other’s focus heavily on prevention and screenings.

The good news is, there are benefits to every wellness initiative no matter how large or small. There is no completely wrong or right way to do wellness. The key lies in knowing your population and creating a program that is meaningful and impactful to them. Let’s look at some of the more popular approaches to wellness programs.

User-Based Programs

Historically, wellness was predominantly individual user-based. Wellness was left up to an individual to prioritize, create and complete. This lead to the introduction of user-based wellness programs. These type of programs provide ownership and autonomy for the individual. They get to choose, they are responsible to find motivation, and they do wellness as an individual. 

While the employer may provide a framework or resources, it is up to the individual to pick and choose what to do and how to accomplish it.  Individuals can also have a wellness app they can follow for their user-based programs.

Individual user-based programs can be a great fit for some but certainly not all.

Group-Based Programs

Next, let’s consider group-based programs. These type of programs are typically preplanned by the company and include elements to be completed as a group. Group-based programs can focus on cultural shifts in the company to promote health and wellness.
Group-based programs heavily lean into group elements including, social connections and comradery, teamwork and competition. These type of programs encourage everyone to be involved and participate “for the betterment of the group.”

On-Demand Wellness Program

On-demand wellness is more of a library based approach to wellness. Think of it as the “all-access pass” approach to wellness. On-demand programs are either provided by vendors or by an in-house team. Either way, the software utilized, usually comes in the form of a wellness app making accessibility easy for all users.

Interestingly enough, the characteristics of on-demand programs serve as both their pros and cons. Having a large library of content for education allows something for everyone, covers a variety of content and can relatively easily be accessed at anytime.

However, without direction individuals can become overwhelmed or even feel lost, not knowing where to start. Having access to a wide variety of content allows individuals to choose what they might find interesting or things they already have a foundation of knowledge on, leaving them missing out on learning and changing those behaviors they truly need to adjust for their health.

Let’s review:

Individual Based ProgramsEveryone is accessing the same things but completing everything separately.

Meets the user where they are starting and allows them to go at their own pace.

Show a moderate level of importance of wellness from the company.
Everyone is in their own silo which can make things feel disjointed.

Individuals actual needs may not be targeted with the preplanned program leading to missed opportunities to improve health.
Group Based ProgramsCan include company culture elements.

Allows for comradery, teamwork, socialization, and competition.

Everyone is working toward a common goal.

Easy to promote internally because everyone is on the same path working toward the same goals.
No opportunity for user interests or individual needs to be incorporated.

“One size fits all.”

Designed program may not apply to all groups and types of individuals.
On Demand ProgramsWide of variety for topics.
Individual plans their own program around what interests them.
Shows a low level of support and interest from leadership.
Simply an access to information-no true behavior change.

Lack of direction. Who is in charge? Where do I go for questions? What is the purpose?

Individuals may focus solely on areas they are already healthy and avoid areas that could truly impact their health.

What’s the Best Program for Companies?

So, what is the best approach to wellness? How does all this tie into wellness program theory? How do you know what is best for your company?

Every company has different needs and every employee in the company has different needs but all need access to a program that addresses their overall well-being. For wellness programs to be successful, they must cater to the employees and the company as a whole. 

A hybrid of user-based and group-based activities is ideal for most companies. It’s fun to have group-based activities because they foster camaraderie and unity. However, too many of them may become taxing for individuals who may not always keep up with the group. Individual activities allow every person to do the activities at their own pace-meeting them wherever they are on their individual wellness journey.

These types of programs maximize the benefits to the user, tap into the group energy but allow the users to “choose their own adventure” for portions of the program. They see results because it is based on overall group data and participation, but the user has ownership and choice for elements of the overall program.

The Cost of Implementing a Wellness Program in the Workplace

Wellness programs show employees you care, and lead to healthier and happier employees who just so happen to also be more productive. Turns out, wellness is an investment! While there is no set standard cost of wellness programs, there are a variety of offerings that will suit any budget. As mentioned, wellness is versatile and can be anything the company wants, based on what the business needs-small or large, comprehensive or piecemeal, user or group based.  

Based on surveys, a program may cost between $150 and $1,200 per employee per year. There is no uniform pricing for wellness programs. Every business has different needs, and so does every employee in the company. 

To understand what the workplace needs, you have to follow the four steps of a workplace health model:

  1. Assessment – a thorough evaluation of what the company needs by looking at the individual and overall productivity, as well as their holistic health. 
  2. Planning – to ensure the appropriate wellness program is implemented, the company must collaborate with wellness professionals in creating an employee health management plan using evidence-based strategies
  3. Implementation – management has to regularly and effectively promote health models and programs and encourage employees to participate in group activities. 
  4. Evaluation – get feedback from employees about their experience and determine if the program is working and if it needs improvements. 

When you have all the necessary information, you can plan a custom wellness program to serve every employee and the company. 


Wellness program theory has been a talking point for ages. With studies indicating how important an employee’s holistic health is to a company’s productivity, businesses are now looking at implementing wellness programs in the workplace. 

Wellness programs improve productivity among employees and the company as a whole. Wellness programs also brings in a return on investment (ROI) as fewer people resort to absenteeism or presenteeism when they are physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially healthy. 

Any program is better than no program but the preferred programs include both individual and group elements.

Keys to success for any program include:

  • Highly customized elements (branding, overall program planning)
  • Aggregate data and information that can be utilized to plan programs that are highly tailored to the company population and needs
  • Elements that check both the group-based and individual-based elements of the program
  • A plethora of information and tools to engage with to keep it entertaining while also actually improving health

At WellSteps, we provide evidence-based solutions to help you adapt the wellness program theory to your routine. Our solutions include behavioral, physical, and mental campaigns, tools, challenges, and a wellness app to ensure success. Schedule a demo with us to understand how we can help improve employee health, control healthcare costs, and create a culture of wellness in the workplace.


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.

1 Comment

  1. By prioritizing physical and mental health, such initiatives enhance overall well-being, reduce stress, and boost productivity. Investing in employee wellness not only cultivates a healthier workforce but also promotes a positive and thriving work environment. I appreciate this so much. Thanks!

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