Workplace Wellness: Where Do We Start?

There’s quite the buzz about workplace wellness at the moment. Organisations of all sizes are switching on to the fact that healthy and happy employees have a positive impact on company culture, morale, engagement and productivity. Ensuring the wellbeing of staff can increase employee attraction and retention, reduce levels of absenteeism, improve team spirit and reduce costs. Why then are so many companies reluctant to start a wellness programme? And for those that have started, how come so many of them have been unsuccessful?

Creating a wellness programme can be straightforward if a structured process is followed. Like any project, it requires proper consideration and planning. I’ve found in Ireland that wellness activities are not prioritised and therefore they are at a disadvantage even before they have begun.  It’s usually a member of the HR team that’s tasked with organising wellness activities at their workplace. Quite often this task is in addition to the day job so a) they don’t have a whole lot of time, if any, to dedicate to it and b) they have had no training in this area in the first place.

So before you even consider creating a wellness programme, my first piece of advice is to formally allocate time to the person or team tasked with this activity.

The 7 Steps to a Successful Wellness Programme

When I’m working with clients to create a wellness programme (or updating an existing programme) I follow a 7 step process that my friends at WELCOA (Wellness Council of America) have developed and iterated over the last 30 years (I use my own terminology for a number of the benchmarks):

1.       Senior Leadership Support

2.       Create a Team of Wellness Champions

3.       Survey the Population

4.       Craft an Operating Plan

5.       Choose Wellness Initiatives

6.       Cultivate a Supportive Environment

7.       Evaluate, Communicate, Celebrate and Iterate

I will explore each step in greater detail at a later date however the biggest mistake I see with workplace wellness in Ireland is that those tasked with creating programmes (who are very well intentioned I might add) bypass all the early steps and jump straight in at step number five to choose the initiates.

What’s wrong with that I hear you scream? Jumping straight in and choosing the initiatives at the outset without going through the initial steps is a pure shot in the dark and it does not give your wellness programme the best chance of engaging with employees and succeeding. In fact, it may already be set up to fail.

So Where Do We Start?

Let’s take a few steps back. The first four benchmarks are important in their own right. First and foremost if you don’t have senior leaders driving the idea and supporting your initiatives with their participation and financial backing (if necessary) then it’s highly likely that your initiatives will not be successful. Once you have senior management buy in, the next most important step before choosing any kind of initiative is to listen to your employees. It stands to reason that initiatives you create and organise will have a greater chance of engagement and success if they are based on feedback from employees expressing an interest in those specific areas. An employee wellness survey can provide the baseline from which all of your workplace wellness initiatives and programmes should be developed.

Quarterly Wellness Survey

Let me guess, you already have an annual employee survey? That won’t cut it in my opinion. Firstly those surveys are too broad in scope and quite often seen by employees as a chore, as a mandatory work related task. A targeted wellness only survey is what’s required. Secondly, wellness is an ever changing area and one that is not suited to an old school annual survey. Taking the wellness pulse of employees on a quarterly basis provides the foundation for a wellness programme that can be continuously evaluated and improved. It also lets employees know that their employer genuinely cares about their health and wellbeing (a real shot in the arm for your retention rates). Add in an incentive such as a draw for a wearable fitness device each quarter and you should see good response rates to your survey.

What to Measure

What are your employee’s wellness needs and wants? What is their general level of health? How active are they on a daily basis? Do they feel their workplace is supportive of a healthy lifestyle?  A good employee wellbeing survey should measure the physical, nutritional and emotional wellbeing of employees, as well as identifying areas where you can improve wellbeing within the workplace. It can also be used to gather feedback on how employees view the wellness culture in your organisation.

Don’t make the survey so long that it’s an arduous and time consuming task to complete. You need to collect relevant data though so it can’t be too short either. My own employee wellness survey varies between 40 and 50 questions (depending on the company) and takes about 20 minutes to complete.

Long Term Thinking

Workplace wellbeing is not a quick fix solution. A series of one off ad hoc events does not constitute a wellness programme. If initiatives are not part of a longer term, integrated workplace wellness strategy, they are less likely to succeed. That’s why I welcome the recent launch of accreditations like the KeepWell Mark from Ibec . In order to achieve this type of accreditation, organisations will need to think long term and implement sustainable policies and procedures that support a culture of wellness at their workplace. If your organisation is thinking of applying for something like the KeepWell Mark, then the data you gather from your employee wellness surveys is exactly the type of evidence that will be required to support your application.

Be Realistic

You don’t have to be a huge corporate company to create a great place to work; every business, regardless of their size, can introduce initiatives that create a positive environment. You do need to consider the potential benefits of your programme against the costs of starting the programme however. You may not be able to go all in at the start, and that's fine. There are creative and cost effective ways to get the ball rolling, and you can continuously iterate and improve the wellness programme as you gather more and more information from your quarterly surveys.

Join the free Workplace Wellness Ireland group to get some ideas for your programme. The first meet up is on September 4th in Dublin where you can hear lessons learned, mistakes made and success stories from those promoting wellness in Irish workplaces.


In a recent article I argued that employee retention and attraction has taken over as the number one reason why Irish businesses are increasingly focusing on staff health promotion. Businesses with strong wellness cultures will win the war for recruiting new talent. Millenials are demanding a workplace with quality wellness programmes and initiatives as part of their overall package. They want to work for a company that genuinely cares about their health and wellbeing.

To lay the foundation for a successful wellness programme, get started by:

  • 1) Securing senior leadership commitment to the project
  • 2)Allocating time to the individual or team tasked with developing wellness initiatives
  • 3) Listening to what employees have to say

The best companies in the world look after their people because they know that they will, over time, look after their business. Don’t get left behind!

The Office Worker Health Wellness Survey

Still don’t know where to start? Don’t have the time or resources? Don’t worry!

Allow me to do the heavy lifting for you. I’ve studied and researched numerous local and international institutions and developed a workplace wellness survey baseline based on my findings and on my own personal experience. I can partner with your HR team to understand more about your business and customise the survey to best suit your organisation and your goals.

I’ve created a package called a Workplace Wellness Audit that incorporates my employee wellness survey. Check out this link to find out more and as always please reach out with any questions you have:

Yours in health,


The Low Down

Brian Crooke is a wellness consultant and speaker empowering employers and employees to make their workplaces healthier places to be. He is the founder of Office Worker Health.

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