When I tell people I meet about the work I do in worksite wellness, I often get the question “What is a worksite wellness program?”.
A worksite wellness program is ‘an organized set of activities or programs that encourage employees and their family members to voluntarily adopt behaviors that help improve their health and enhance their performance.” (Chapman, Small Employers: Options for Implementing Wellness, 2006).

If you have ever worked in a large company (public or private), chances are that you have seen or participated in a worksite wellness program. When I was 19, I went to work for a life insurance company in Hartford, CT. The company had all sorts ‘benefits’ available to the 1,800 home office employees. These benefits included a bowling alley and two squash courts in the basement, summer volleyball league, a workout room and locker rooms with showers. The company was progressive in encouraging healthy lifestyles for their customers (this was in the mid-70’s). They offered a national promotional program called “Run for your Life”. It was a program that encouraged running as a way to improve and maintain your health. Frank Shorter, the 1972 Olympic Gold Medal marathoner, was the program spokesperson. The program offered an opportunity to learn to run. Yes, there are things you need to know to ‘learn to run’.  I had never run before, but this was an opportunity to learn to run, meet people in the company I would not normally meet, and to get some exercise. This program has many of the elements that are typically involved in a worksite wellness program. This program offered the opportunity to build skills (learn to run), have social support (co-workers to run with), and personal health benefits (exercise). I came to appreciate the ‘benefits’ that this employer offered and the role they played in encouraging healthy lifestyles for their employees.

Worksite wellness programs take all shapes and sizes. It isn’t just a gym in the office (but that is a great start). A worksite wellness program should create awareness, provide education and skill development, and influence individual behavior change. Policies in the work place, such as drug-free work place, smoking policies, seat belt policy in company vehicles, and food policies can create awareness for employees. Education may take the form of self-care books, brochures, or lunch-and-learn programs on health topics. In many cases, these can facilitate skill development, such as learning to set goals. Behavior change programs such as smoking cessation directly address the behavior that limits good health.