If you're looking for a good resource on what you should and shouldn't ask of employees, you may have found it in new report on wellness program best practices authored by the Transamerica Center for Health Studies and the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies at Johns Hopkins.
For starters, employers need to be aware of the strict legal restrictions on wellness programs. Bosses can't require employees to partake in wellness initiatives, although they can of course offer incentives and rewards for those who do.
But the ability to reduce premiums, for instance, for participants does not mean that employers can deny access to health coverage for those who do not participate or do not meet program goals, the report explains.
In fact, premium incentives cannot exceed 30 percent of the total cost of employee-only coverage. Incentives that are any larger means that the program is no longer considered voluntary.
The report also outlines the ways in which employers are required to make wellness programs accessible to disabled employees.
"For example, if attending a nutrition class is part of a wellness program, an employer must provide a sign language interpreter, absent undue hardship, to enable an employee who is deaf to participate in the class," says the report.
The report also detailed the most effective wellness topics to focus on and the best ways to get employees involved in the program. The key health topics included physical activity, diet and weight management, smoking cessation, stress management, biometric screenings, glucose tests and sleep.
But another important topic highlighted in the report that is often neglected by conventional wellness programs is social connectedness. People who like and enjoy the company of their colleagues are happier, healthier and more productive.
"(E)mployees with few or weak social ties at work are more likely to feel job stress, burnout, and a desire to leave the company," said the report.
How to encourage social connectedness? In addition to communicating with workers and gaining insights on their relationships through surveys, the report suggests that other wellness-oriented activities, such as walking clubs, can help workers get to know each other better.
"Remember, the goal of a health promotion program is not to impose a paternalistic 'nanny state,' but to provide employees with opportunities to achieve better health," say the authors.