Most of the time when we hear about Corporate Wellness Programs or Workplace Wellness Programs, we are informed about all of the great benefits.  Some examples of these benefits include lower health care costs, reduced employee absenteeism, increased productivity, and lower employee turnover.  If you haven’t heard about all the great impacts that Wellness Programs can have then you must live under a rock.  However, many companies who are excited to implement new Wellness Programs run into the harsh reality that many Wellness Programs FAIL!  Companies are promised these great benefits and they don’t happen…why?

In my experience there are three main reasons that Wellness Programs fail.

The first and main reason Workplace Wellness Programs fail is a lack of implementation. Companies begin by putting someone in charge of coordinating the program.  These people bring in outside vendors or resources to be used, set up great programs and maybe even some fantastic access for their people to fitness programs…and then the program sits on the shelf.   Management staff is busy being busy so they cannot give it the support it needs for implementation and the program grows no legs of its own.   This is why many Workplace Wellness Programs end up being “Shelfplace” Wellness Programs—the programs that sit like books on the shelf collecting dust and as a result they ultimately fail.

The second reason Workplace Wellness Programs fail is a lack of communication.  Even for those who do implement, most do not understand how much communication it takes to build awareness.  Employees have no idea that a new program was put in place and even if a couple of emails go out and a poster goes up it is pretty much 100% guaranteed they still don’t know.  Communication to build awareness is about using as many channels as possible as frequently as possible to make people aware of what is going on.  This is a huge undertaking and must be strategically designed from the beginning if there is any hope for success.   When we just wing it or leave it to chance, the program fails.

Finally, Workplace Wellness Programs fail because of a lack of engagement.
  People eat bad foods, live in constant stress and frustration, do not exercise, smoke, and engage in all kinds of behaviors and vices that are bad for them.  Some people are ignorant enough to think that these same people don’t “know” these things are bad for them.  They know!  They just don’t care enough to make a change!  They don’t see what’s in it for them to change and so they don’t.  So if the company wants employee buy-in or engagement, they have to overcome this and give them reasons to change.  As with all things, people take action for one of two reasons: 1) hope for reward or 2) fear of punishment or pain.  Sometimes these reasons are also known as the carrot and the stick.  Most companies do not have a rewards system that is motivating to employees and conversely their penalties are either poorly enforced or, worse yet, may sometimes even be illegal the way they are done.   With health care changes coming, there will be even more opportunities for companies to change their structure of rewards and penalties, but one of the big components that may still be overlooked is FUN.  When companies give people motivating reasons to do something and then make it FUN as part of the culture of the program (especially when leaders at the top are visibly participating) then there is a chance of success.  When companies just do it to say they have a Wellness Program then it’s doomed to failure.

So here’s the bottom line:  when you do a Wellness Program (or re-do one) avoid these three landmines and give your program a fighting chance to do what it has the potential to do for the people and families who are counting on you.

by Jeff Dousharm
President, Tiger Rock

For more information on Health, Fitness and Safety, email Jeff Dousharm at