How to Build Your Workplace Wellness Program

Workplace WellnessOpinion and research are clear: Workplace wellness is vital to employee wellbeing and the efficiency of company operations (Forbes, 2020; Jones et al., 2018).

Poor physical, mental, emotional, and social wellness in the working environment results in billions of lost profits for businesses and struggling and suffering employees on a global scale (Gallup, 2023; Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2021).

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Focusing on workplace wellness policies, strategies, and initiatives can move employees from functioning and flailing to flourishing (McQuaid & Kern, 2018).

This article explores developing and implementing workplace wellness programs that benefit both employers and employees.

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What Is Workplace Wellness? 15 Examples

Workplace wellness can be described as our “ability to feel good and function effectively” in the working environment (McQuaid & Kern, 2018, p. 11). Also described as workplace wellbeing, it offers the resources needed to navigate the highs and lows of our professional lives and feel good “physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and socially” (McQuaid & Kern, 2018, p. 11).

Such high levels of wellness and being able to achieve what we want at work have many positive outcomes, including (McQuaid & Kern, 2018):

  • Improved resilience and energy
  • Better health and happiness
  • Boosted social connectivity
  • Increased productivity and income

Sadly, rather than experiencing flourishing at work and outside, many of us are simply trying to get by or survive (McQuaid & Kern, 2018).

So, what initiatives are companies putting in place to support workplace wellness?

According to industry experts such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (2021), Forbes Human Resources Council (2020), and Gallup (2023), forward-thinking companies create targeted strategies encompassing physical, mental, emotional, and social aspects of employees’ lives.

Physical wellbeing

  • Fitness incentives
    In-house gyms and partnerships with local fitness clubs
  • Nutritious offerings
    A canteen, restaurant, and breakroom providing healthy snacks and lunches focused on balanced meals
  • Health checkpoints
    Routine health screenings emphasizing the importance of proactive health measures

Mental resilience

  • Mental health support
    Supporting emotional wellbeing by providing access to counseling and dedicated mental health days
  • Stress busters
    Workshops and programs equipping employees with tools to handle stress in the workplace

Flexible operations

  • Remote work
    Allowing employees the flexibility to work remotely when feasible
  • Flexible scheduling
    Allowing employees to choose their optimal working hours

Social cohesion

  • Collaborative initiatives
    Organizing team-building exercises or outings that boost camaraderie and develop team dynamics
  • Community outreach
    Arranging volunteering opportunities that promote employee wellbeing and community development.

Growth pathways

  • Ongoing education
    Ensuring access to continuous learning platforms and reimbursement for external courses
  • Mentorship chains
    Implementing mentor–mentee systems where seasoned professionals guide newer employees

Safety protocols

  • Regular safety training
    Ensuring employees are continually updated on best practices for workplace safety
  • Encourage reporting
    Setting up robust whistleblower mechanisms that ensure employees can voice concerns without fear

Comprehensive benefits

  • Health care packages
    Providing comprehensive health insurance packages
  • Financial literacy
    Organizing workshops on financial wellness to ensure employees are equipped to handle their finances efficiently and effectively

Workplace wellness should not just be a corporate buzzword. When backed by senior management, it’s a tangible strategy that can foster a motivated, healthy, and high-performing workforce (Gallup, 2023).

What is a healthy workplace - Te Whatu Ora | Health Promotion

This video explores several critical components of wellness in the workplace.

Developing Your Work Wellness Program

Developing a workplace wellness program typically begins by building a compelling case for leaders for why investing in workplace wellness is more than a nice-to-have; it is essential (Putnam, 2015).

Define a business case

Strategies for building a case include the following (Putnam, 2015):

  1. Focus on costs beneath the surface. For example, what is the financial impact of absenteeism?
  2. Identify the value proposition. How would a thriving culture impact workplace performance and employee retention?
  3. Understand organizational and employee needs. Recognize that needs differ.

A marketing company requires innovative and engaged employees; a risk management operation needs staff members that feel psychologically safe to speak out; and a leadership team wants top performers who are deeply engaged in their teams and are resilient.

So, how do we clearly define the needs of the organization and the employee?

  1. Make it emotional and logical. Show that workplace wellness is about doing the right thing (emotional) and supports staff and organizational performance (logical).

Next, it is vital to understand and share the “why” behind the wellness movement.

Create a vision

It is essential to capture the vision of a workplace where everyone is capable and has the opportunity and motivation to be their best selves (McQuaid & Kern, 2018; Putnam, 2015).

How could the workplace become a place where employees want to come, are treated like members of an exclusive club, achieve their ambitions, feel cared for and valued, and build deep, meaningful relationships (Rishi et al., 2021)?

With a vision clearly defined, it is time to create the program with input from across the organization.

Build the work wellness program

Collaborate with a diverse, cross-functional team to build the wellness program, creating company-wide strategies rather than isolated, localized initiatives.

Develop a distinctive brand identity for the program backed by a comprehensive marketing approach that promotes positive organizational change.

Next, define a plan to ensure that change is well thought out, successfully implemented, and clearly communicated. And ensure success is measurable (McQuaid & Kern, 2018; Putnam, 2015).

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11 Topics and Tips for Your Workshops

While there are many approaches to workplace wellness, the following five pillars are helpful topics for wellbeing workshops to cover (Putnam, 2015; McQuaid & Kern, 2018).

1. Physical health and wellness

Healthy eating and exercise are essential for wellbeing. Education on what makes up a good diet, such as reducing the intake of processed foods and a good combination of healthy fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, can be life changing. Also, while exercise is essential, it should be supported by incidental movement throughout the day (Putnam, 2015).

2. Emotional and mental health

Emotional wellbeing is closely aligned with resiliency — the ability to rebound and recover from difficult times. Focusing on all aspects of the PERMA model (positive emotions, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and achievement) can help make wellbeing a habit (McQuaid & Kern, 2018).

3. Financial health

Effectively managing financial resources can help individuals feel safe and secure. Workshops can support learning how to be smart with money and spend wisely. When our personal financial needs are satisfied, we benefit from diverting our energies to other areas of our wellbeing, such as forming and maintaining relationships (Putnam, 2015).

4. Sustainable health

Mental and physical wellness is not something that happens as a one-off. Instead, we must embed it in how we live, in the everyday habits we form, and in a healthy outlook; for example, choosing water and healthy juices over soda and taking the stairs rather than stepping into the elevator (Miller et al., 2018).

5. Family health

Maintaining a healthy work–life balance supports mental wellbeing and fosters stronger relationships outside of work. Some organizations encourage bringing family members to wellness workshops and events to support a broader wellness culture (Putnam, 2015).

The following tips foster an effective wellness workshop (Lowe, 2023).

  1. Set clear objectives
    Define specific goals and objectives for your wellness workshop to ensure participants know what to expect and what they can gain from it.
  2. Engage participants
    Encourage active participation and engagement throughout the workshop using interactive activities, discussions, and group exercises.
  3. Choose relevant topics
    Select wellness topics relevant to your audience and address their needs and interests.
  4. Create a positive environment
    Foster a welcoming and safe atmosphere where participants feel comfortable sharing and learning.
  5. Provide resources
    Offer helpful resources, handouts, and materials that support participants in their wellness journey beyond the workshop.
  6. Gather feedback
    After the workshop, collect feedback from participants, assess the program’s effectiveness, and make improvements for future seminars.
The eight dimensions of wellness - College & Career Ready Labs

Check out the Eight Dimensions of Wellness video to learn more about the vital principles involved in workplace wellness.

10 Creative Ideas for Your Program

Trying more unusual and creative approaches to workplace wellness can help employees move out of their comfort zones and engage with colleagues and ideas central to the wellness program (Workhuman, 2023; Robinson, 2023).

  1. Virtual nature walks
    Organize virtual nature walks where employees can connect with nature through online videos or virtual reality experiences.
  2. Gratitude journaling
    Encourage employees to keep gratitude journals to promote a positive mindset and reflection.
  3. Art therapy workshops
    Host workshops where employees can express themselves creatively using art therapy.
  4. Virtual team challenges
    Create friendly team challenges that promote camaraderie and healthy competition, even in remote work settings.
  5. Emotional intelligence training
    Provide training on emotional intelligence to help employees understand and manage their feelings effectively, develop empathy, and improve communication with internal and external clients.
  6. Virtual coffee chats
    Encourage employees to have virtual coffee chats with colleagues to maintain social connections.
  7. Online book club
    Start a mental wellness book club to foster learning and discussion around wellbeing.
  8. Random acts of kindness day
    Dedicate a day to performing random acts of kindness at work and in an employee’s personal life.
  9. Laughter yoga
    Organize laughter yoga sessions to boost mood and reduce stress through laughter.
  10. Mental health resource hub
    Create a resource hub with articles, videos, and tips related to mental health for employees to access.
Extraordinary workplace wellness programs

In this fascinating video from Johns Hopkins University, Ron Goetzel introduces three companies that have created cultures of workplace wellness.

Implementing Your Initiatives: 4 Strategies

Workplace wellness should not be compartmentalized and cut off from other aspects of the business (Putnam, 2015).

Successful wellness initiatives must be interdisciplinary and cross-functional; department silos must be ignored or at least overcome. Strategies to ensure an effective implementation include (Putnam, 2015; Boniwell et al., 2021; McQuaid & Kern, 2018):

  1. Building a diverse implementation team
    Identify, engage with, and involve key staff from across the business.
  2. Maintain buy-in at all levels
    Keep communicating and engaging with staff to ensure multi-level support, with no one left feeling excluded. All voices must be heard and given equal consideration.
  3. Embed the initiatives
    Don’t fight existing structures; use them. Embed wellness initiatives in the organizational initiatives that are already in place, including:
    • Staff meetings
    • Staff development plans
    • Leadership development
    • Management training
    • Team development initiatives
    • Organizational development
    • Onboarding
    • Product review meetings
    • Q&A sessions with leadership
    • Innovation initiatives
    • Community outreach
  1. Make it last
    Ensure initiatives are sustainable and enduring.
    • Form deep connections between the needs of the individual and the organization.
    • Use nudges and cues to ensure the transformation is achievable and does not create resistance.
    • Encourage a growth mindset, framing change as an opportunity rather than an obstacle to overcome.

Ultimately, for workplace wellness initiatives to be successful, they must be easy to embrace and their impact on performance, energy levels, and health understood and believed (McQuaid & Kern, 2018).

5 Helpful Worksheets and Activities

Wellness at work strategiesWe have many free tools available that are valuable additions to any workplace wellness initiative, including:

  • Strengthening Ikigai in the Workplace
    Use this worksheet to make time in the workplace more meaningful by considering the answers to the following questions:

    • What are you good at?
    • What do you love to do?
    • What does the world need?
    • What do you (the organization) need from the market?
  • Workplace Mindfulness
    Mindfulness is a powerful way of adopting a state of loving-kindness to ourselves and others and significantly benefits how we handle stress at work.
  • Returning to Work Checklist
    Use this questionnaire to reflect on skills gained inside and outside the workplace when rejoining the workforce.
  • Performing an Avoidance Stocktake
    Employee stress can damage performance and wellbeing. Reflect on its causes and when using unhelpful avoidance strategies.
  • STOP– Distress Tolerance
    The STOP acronym offers a helpful tool for handling challenging emotions in the workplace and beyond.

6 Common Challenges & Solutions

According to wellness consultant Laura Putnam (2015), developing and delivering a wellness movement is not for the faint hearted. Transformation takes agents of change ready to face and overcome many challenges and find bold solutions.

Common obstacles and approaches to overcome them include (Putnam, 2015):

  • Lack of buy-in from decision-makers
    It is essential to win the support of those at the top by helping them see and understand the value of investing in employee wellbeing. This might include highlighting lost hours because of stress or illness, poor performance resulting from lack of engagement, or the expense of high employee turnover.
  • Management involvement
    Beyond receiving buy-in, ensure managers visibly participate as champions and participants.
  • Employee engagement
    Create conditions and environments where it is easy for staff to connect with the wellness program. Provide the time and opportunity to become involved in active employee engagement.
  • Culture
    Slowly build a healthy, vibrant culture where adopting wellness policies and strategies is the norm and taking part is seen as OK.
  • Accountability
    It must be clear that the organization and employees are both accountable. Create an environment where there is the capability, opportunity, and motivation to become involved and fully engaged.
  • Changing behavior
    Behavior change typically begins small. Wellbeing habits may start by swapping unhealthy snack machines with more nutritionally balanced options and encouraging staff to always take a lunchtime break, perhaps engaging in in-house fitness or mindfulness activities.

Those leading a workplace wellness program within an organization must be clear on why they are doing so and become great communicators (Putnam, 2015).

Resources From

We have many resources available for workplace coaches and counselors supporting employees.

A great topic for a wellness workshop is positive relationships. Our Positive Relationships Masterclass© includes all the tools you need to present science-based relationship training. It includes hands-on tools such as presentation slides, videos, and exercises. After taking this course, you’ll be able to help people build supportive workplace relationships and establish a framework for lasting behavioral change.

In addition to this masterclass, our Positive Psychology Toolkit© contains over 400 activities, exercises, and interventions created by a team of experts. Many of these tools will be suitable to improving wellness at work, and two are described briefly below.

  • Achievement story
    Reflecting on past successes and considering how best to share them promotes recognition.

Ask the client to try out the following steps to work on their achievement stories:

    • Step one – Reflect on a previous accomplishment.
    • Step two – Identify the actions that were necessary for success.
    • Step three – Highlight the essential skills involved.
    • Step four – Summarize the achievements and steps into a three- or four-line paragraph. Then, learn it.

This story and others like it will be easy to share in interviews or when called upon to discuss successes.

  • Career deal breakers
    While we all face career-related decisions throughout our lives, making considered choices can be challenging and overwhelming, affecting workplace wellness.

Before considering career options, define the parameters, conditions, and limitations that make them acceptable or unacceptable.

    • Step one – What are the essential factors in your career?
    • Step two – Which ones are nonnegotiable — deal breakers?
    • Step three – What does each one tell you about what is important to you in your career?
    • Step four – How could you consider these deal breakers more clearly in your career?

The answers should help your clients clarify what matters and how they maintain workplace balance.

You can access these comprehensive tools with a subscription to the Positive Psychology Toolkit©.

If you’re not quite ready to sign up for access to over 400 tools, consider this collection of 17 validated work and career tools to help others with their work and career. Use them to help others find more meaning and satisfaction in their work.

A Take-Home Message

Employers have an opportunity and a responsibility to create workplace wellness programs that continue to adapt to the needs of their staff and support their mental and physical wellbeing (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2021).

Forward-thinking companies can boost the mental, emotional, and social aspects of employees’ lives through strategies that include fitness incentives, mental health support, remote and flexible working, online and safety training, and comprehensive health care packages.

A strategic workplace wellness program begins with a business case and a vision that recognizes the needs of the employees and the company. It seeks support and buy-in at all levels and across the organization.

A cross-functional team is required to ensure policies, strategies, and programs are well thought out and achieved through a planned, targeted, and managed roll-out.

As mental health professionals, we are in a vital position to provide support and knowledge to ensure that such programs are appropriate, adaptable, and ultimately sustainable.

Why not build your workplace wellness program using some of the approaches described in this article, adopting many of the exercises, activities, and interventions we offer to improve employees’ lives and help them reach their highest potential?

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Work & Career Coaching Exercises for free.

Frequently Asked Questions

Proven strategies to help achieve wellness at work include workshops targeting mental, physical, and financial health; fitness incentives such as partnering with local gyms and clubs; health screenings; dedicated mental health support; remote and flexible working; mentoring; and comprehensive health insurance (McQuaid & Kern, 2018; Putnam, 2015).

Workplace wellness initiatives must be specific to the needs of the employees and their situation. Areas of focus typically include (Putnam, 2015):

  • Physical health and wellness, such as encouraging balanced diets and regular exercise
  • Emotional and mental fitness, including focusing on positive emotions, engagement, and building healthy relationships
  • Financial health, including sharing learnings regarding being smart with money
  • Supporting and maintaining wellness in the employees family

A successful workplace wellness program can be identified by reduced employee turnover, lower absenteeism, high employee satisfaction and engagement, and a notable increase in initiative participation. Perhaps more than anything, a program is truly successful when the conversation of mental health challenges has been normalized in the workplace (Jones et al., 2018; Greenwood & Anas, 2021).

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  • Rishi, S., Breslau, B., & Miscovich, P. (2021). The workplace you need now : shaping spaces for the future of work. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Robinson, A. (2023, May 23). Employee wellness programs & activities for the Workplace. Retrieved October 9, 2023, from
  • Workhuman. (2023, March 14). 12 employee wellness ideas for the workplace. Retrieved October 9, 2023, from

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