The Most Overlooked Critical Piece of an Employee Wellness Plan

AfamilyEmployee wellness is catching on. Organizations are creating employee wellness teams and displaying wellness posters throughout the facilities for their employees. Some employers invite their employees outside for an additional 15 minutes at lunch for Friday Frisbee. Others hand out pedometers and offer “Lunch & Learns” for employees on healthy eating and how to read food labels.

Notice, however, the key word – Employee. If all of the focus is on the employee then our wellness programs may fall well short of the intended results. The most successful wellness initiatives targetthe employee’s family in addition to the employee.

Why it is critical to target the employee’s family in wellness initiatives?

1.       Family members are often covered on the employee’s health insurance.

When family members are covered on the health plan of the employer the health of the family members has a direct effect on the utilization—and premiums—of the employer’s insurance plan.  The employee may be active, fit and engaging in healthy lifestyle choices, but if the spouse is obese,diabetic and fighting hypertension then the employer will experience higher insurance premiums.

2.       An employee may commit to healthier habits, but if the employee’s home environment is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle then lasting change is unlikely.

Fresh fruit replacing doughnuts in the break room at work is great, but if the employee’s family consumes a half-gallon of ice cream every night, the employee isn’t going to make much progress. The office microwave may churn out a steady offering of Lean Cuisine’s for lunch, but if these same employees are downing cheeseburgers for dinner, has the employee gained anything—other than weight? Employers can make great strides to reduce stress in the workplace, but the real stress factors for the employee may be the tension in their marriage, issues with children or financial pressure.

3.       A lot of life happens outside of work.

Employers can get very creative in fostering environments that promote health.  And when there is a culture of health there will often be accountability among co-workers. Yet, once that employee strolls out the door of the office, who is there to hold them accountable?  The employee may join a few coworkers at lunch to take brisk walk around the building; but that same employee may turn into a couch potato that evening and all weekend.

“To make sustainable changes in health behaviors, employees need the support of their family members,” notes Dean Witherspoon, CEO and founder of Health Enhancement Systems. “Promoting family well-being is a smart business strategy. By encouraging family participation in corporate wellness programs, employers can surround employees with social support for a healthy lifestyle on and off the job — and amplify the healthcare savings.”

This is one reason why “Family members are not overlooked at Bravo Wellness,” writes David McGlennen, Vice President of Business Development for Bravo Wellness.  “We consult with our clients to create a plan that can include employees’ spouses in the health screenings, allowing them to also be part of the solution in lowering their healthcare premium.”

McGlennen furthermore states, “We encourage participants to not just be healthy for themselves, but for the sake of their families also.  Parents can be a positive role model to their children, teaching them the importance of eating right and exercise.  Wellness benefits the whole family.”

Employers seeking to raise the level of health in their organization will not overlook the family. Strategic employers will be creative in developing means to encourage health on the home front.

Organizations currently engaging the family may be taking first steps in choosing to actively promote their Employee Assistance Programs. Others may be taking it a step further by offering family fun and engaging activities as a part of an annual wellness fair. The most proactive organizations will take steps to include families in health screenings.  With a little help from HR, employers can find a way to include spouses in health promotion communications.

Focusing on the health of employees is a great beginning. Including a focus on the employee’s family, however, will reap the greatest return in cost savings, employee engagement and lasting employee health.


This post was originally published in my Jack In The Team Box HR and Leadership Blog on May 9, 2012.

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About Jack W Bruce
Jack W Bruce Jr. is a novice blogger, husband and father of four, living in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a lover of God, a reader and a wanna-be runner. Jack’s blogs include and Jack can also be found on LinkedIn at

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