How to Make Corporate Wellness Programs Truly Effective

TASA ID: 22108

Corporate wellness programs have become commonplace, with companies offering everything from gym memberships to meditation apps. Yet according to my interview with Tawn Williams, founder of corporate wellness firm House of Anaya, research shows that most of these programs fail to get significant engagement and participation from employees. Surveys indicate that around 80% of employees typically do not utilize or take advantage of the wellness offerings provided by their company. This lack of impact and usage means that companies are getting very little return on their investments in workplace wellness initiatives.

So what can organizations do to make their corporate wellness efforts actually work? How can they design and implement programs that employees will actually participate in and benefit from? Here are some key best practices to keep in mind.

Start with Psychological Safety

First and foremost, companies need to focus on creating an environment of psychological safety when it comes to wellness. Many employees are hesitant to take advantage of wellness offerings because they feel unsafe admitting they have any kind of mental health or other wellness challenges they are dealing with. They do not want to be stigmatized as someone who does not have it all together or who is "weak."

Williams points out that managers in particular have an enormous direct impact on the mental health of their employees, even more so than family members or doctors. When managers regularly use language that normalizes and supports wellness practices, employees feel much safer taking time for activities like meditation breaks or yoga classes without fear of judgment.

To create this kind of safe environment, managers can role model wellness practices personally, visibly making use of things like taking breathing breaks throughout the workday. They can also be very intentional about using verbal and written language on a regular basis that reinforces the normalization and benefits of wellness practices, avoiding any phrasing that might stigmatize wellness activities as indulgences for only the burned out and "weak" employees. Promoting open conversations and a psychologically safe environment is key to getting employees to feel comfortable accessing the wellness benefits available to them.

Integrate Wellness Into Organizational Culture

In addition to psychological safety, companies also need to think about how they integrate wellness programming deeply into their organizational culture itself. Too often, wellness initiatives are introduced almost as an accessory or separate program, rather than incorporating wellness into the day-to-day culture. When this happens, employees are much more likely to see any wellness activities as extra work and tasks they need to take on, rather than something truly meant to benefit them.

Organizations should strive to fully shift corporate wellness from a one-off initiative or accessory program to an actual core value that is woven into the fabric of the company culture. There are many ways leaders can help foster this shift, for example holding frequent virtual group wellness activities that employees across locations can participate in together, or blocking off set times on employee calendars specifically for wellness practices. Setting reminders about taking quick breath breaks or ringing a bell as a mindful breathing reminder are other simple ways to subtly integrate wellness and make it more normalized. The more wellness can be integrated seamlessly into the rituals, language, and shared practices of the workplace itself, the more employees will feel comfortable embracing wellness activities as something meant truly for their benefit, not an extra duty.

Accessibility and ease of use are also critical factors to increase utilization of wellness offerings. The reality is that employees are very unlikely to take advantage of programs and options that seem complex, difficult to navigate, or require figuring everything out mostly on their own. If wellness feels like too much of a hassle, it actually creates a disincentive rather than motivation even for employees who intellectually understand the benefits. Companies should strive to make their wellness programming as turnkey and simple to utilize as possible. Easy-to-use apps that supply short wellness practices or online tools that allow remote participation are examples of frictionless access. Wellness practices like breath work that can be easily integrated into the workday in five minutes or less eliminate barriers to employee participation. The key is fitting wellness seamlessly into existing employee workflows, rather than adding extra perceived burdens on already busy schedules.

Making sure managers have the tools and knowledge to actively support team member wellness is another critical area of focus. Managers tend to be the ones who directly oversee employees who most need wellness interventions and support, particularly remote employees who lack access to company resources onsite. However, many managers simply lack training in best practices around promoting wellness among team members. Organizations should prioritize equipping managers with techniques like daily reflection exercises centered on motivation and modeling self-care, simple breath work and mindfulness exercises under five minutes for use during the workday, and tools for identifying motivations, energy levels, and positive mindful language when interacting with employees. Well-trained managers can then organically champion wellness practices among team members using these techniques.

In addition to daily practices and offerings, companies may want to consider organizing occasional wellness-focused retreats. When designed appropriately, retreats can be powerful bonding experiences that immerse employees in wellness activities and allow them to practice self-care techniques with the full support of coworkers. Retreats make wellness the central focus instead of something ancillary built around a typical workday. Companies can organize partial or fully subsidized retreats centered around specific wellness goals like mindfulness or resilience practices. To ensure accessibility, retreat offerings should include options tailored to employee needs like virtual retreats or local weekend retreats for remote employees. Wellness retreats, especially when they help employees across the organization connect in new ways, can profoundly deepen the culture of wellness within an organization.

Implementing Organizational Wellness Programs

Of course, improving any complex organizational system like a corporate wellness program takes time and concentrated effort. It is important for companies to realize they will not transform their wellness offerings overnight or see immediate sky-high participation. True culture change requires focus on reasonable milestones over multiple years. For instance, in the first year focus on getting just 25% of employees to utilize one wellness offering per quarter. The next year aim for 50% using two offerings per quarter, and continue ramping up until hitting 75% utilization in the third year. With realistic, incremental goals like these, companies can make steady and sustainable progress.

One impactful way to drive participation and focus on wellness is to incorporate it into formal performance management mechanisms. For instance, a certain percentage of a manager's performance evaluation could be tied to how well they provide wellness opportunities for their team and role model beneficial practices themselves. Bonuses for meeting wellness targets could be implemented. There are many creative ways to signal that wellness is a central priority by linking it to other performance metrics managers care about.

Finally, listening continuously to employees' evolving needs through regular surveys is key to shaping wellness offerings that will engage them. Robust data should be gathered on desires for new types of wellness activities, which program features employees find most valuable currently, and any obstacles that may be preventing participation. Dynamic surveys like these will help ensure programs stay closely tailored to employees' needs and don't become stale or irrelevant.

Addressing Cognitive Biases in Wellness Programs

One major challenge in improving corporate wellness programs is addressing common cognitive biases that get in the way. Two biases that play a particularly strong role are loss aversion bias and status quo bias.

Loss aversion bias causes employees to perceive potential losses from wellness activities as psychologically worse than the gains. For example, an employee may see meditating during a lunch break as "losing time" to work rather than gaining calmness. To combat loss aversion, companies need to frame wellness practices as reducing losses (like burned-out productivity) rather than taking away time.

Status quo bias leads both managers and employees to irrationally favor sticking with the normal routine over trying wellness practices. Even when employees say they want wellness options, status quo bias causes inertia. Companies can overcome status quo bias by making small wellness habits very simple to initiate (like one-click app sign-ups) and rewarding experimentation with wellness offerings rather than perfect participation.

Understanding cognitive biases at play allows companies to intentionally design nudges and incentives that encourage overcoming natural mental obstacles to using wellness programs.


The path to successful and impactful corporate wellness programming requires reframing workplace wellness as a true organizational core value rather than a discardable initiative. Following practices like these focused on integration, safety, accessibility, and continual improvement creates the cultural shift necessary for employees to fully benefit from and embrace workplace wellness. Investing in holistic wellness across all elements of the employee experience provides tremendous rewards for both companies and their workforce when executed with intention and commitment over the long-term.


TASA Article Disclaimer

This article discusses issues of general interest and does not give any specific legal or business advice pertaining to any specific circumstances.  Before acting upon any of its information, you should obtain appropriate advice from a lawyer or other qualified professional.

This article may not be duplicated, altered, distributed, saved, incorporated into another document or website, or otherwise modified without the permission of TASA and the author. Contact marketing@tasanet.com for any questions.

Previous Article The Military Mindset for Entrepreneurial Success
Next Article Navigating the Technology Transformation Through Brain Training
Tasa ID22108

Theme picker


  • Let Us Find Your Expert

  • Note: This form is to be completed by legal and insurance professionals ONLY. If you are a party in a case that requires an expert witness, please have your attorney contact TASA at 800-523-2319.

Search Experts

TASA provides a variety of quality, independent experts who meet your case criteria. Search our extensive list of experts now.

Search Experts