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How To Build Wellness Programs Your Startup Employees Will Love

by Huyen Win

There are many benefits to implementing a workplace wellness program. Employee retention, absenteeism rates, cost savings, productivity, and staff morale all improve with these programs in place. Recent research backs this up, showing that workplace wellness programs promote preventive interventions and have proven effective in reducing health care costs. 

As Google’s Health & Wellness Champion and Account Manager, I know firsthand how workplace wellness initiatives—at any size—can offer positive outcomes for both employees and employers. A recent study found that medical costs decrease $3.27 and absenteeism-related costs drop $2.73 for every dollar spent on wellness programs. 

While developing and launching a workplace wellness program at a startup may seem overwhelming, startups don’t need to be intimidated. In fact, implementing a workplace wellness program is more affordable than one might think. Providing onsite flu shots, starting programs surrounding smoking cessation and healthy eating, or initiating physical activities such as walking groups, are all rather simple measures to put in place.

Here are some key steps to help startups get their wellness initiatives off the ground. 

Engage Your Workforce

At Google, one of the biggest challenges we encountered when building corporate wellness programs was consistently reaching out to employees to learn how they received them. Are employees across the organization participating? Are we providing diverse options to foster inclusion? Some things to keep in mind:

    • Take a budget-friendly approach. Wellness programs don’t need to be expensive. Look into fitness apps, or meditation apps like Headspace that employees can use to track and share employee progress. 
    • Check in regularly. Renew survey questions when on-boarding new employees, or pick a time every year to measure your wellness program’s success. You can also look at employee responses to gauge what’s most scalable, especially if your program is gaining traction.
    • Lead by example. Because the founder of any startup is so visible within the company, it’s imperative they set the tone for any wellness initiative. If employees see that the company founder is excited, they’ll engage more. 

Create Goals

Once you launch your wellness initiative, you can begin to build based on the program’s use and outcomes. First, decide the goal of the program. Is it to encourage employees to reduce stress? Promote healthy lifestyle through exercise? A focus on mental health? It can be one or all of these things, but deciding as a leadership team what you want employees to get out of the initiative will be key in deciding programs and goals. Some examples of goals include: 

  • Kicking off a group employee walk program where everyone counts their steps together, then using the results to generate goals, such as increasing weekly or monthly step counts. 
  • Implementing a meditation program to help reduce stress, then adding up employees’ minutes spent meditating. 

As your business grows, the need to scale up your wellness program will follow. Having solid benchmark data on hand will assist in effectively scaling up and wisely using resources. For example: 

  • Do your employees prefer a yoga class over meditation? 
  • Do their step counts dip at certain points or rise at other times? 
  • Would employees appreciate having an onsite nutrition program? 

Follow-up surveys can effectively track employees’ sense of their wellness accomplishments. 

Tap Your Employees’ Passions

Startups have limited resources, and there’s no need to reach out to an expensive fitness guru to lead an onsite exercise class. Instead, turn to your biggest resource: your staff! Ask them if they have any expertise or passions they would like to share with the company. Here are some ideas:

  • Do your employees have hobbies they would like to share? Are they into painting or gardening? Enlisting interested folks to incorporate their interests into a wellness program helps employers make these programs more affordable while engaging employees’ interests and boosting overall workplace morale.
  • Ask employees to reach out to their communities. Bring in diverse speakers and host events that tailor to your employees’ interests. Maybe one of your employees knows someone who could lead an Active Parent Workshop or has a registered dietitian relative who can speak about nutrition. Such events bring together employees across the organization.
  • Connect with your community and keep it simple. Inviting a guest speaker from your community can happen once a month or once per quarter. A startup doesn’t have to have daily or weekly events to have a successful wellness program—what’s important is consistency and engagement.

Don’t Forget to Share

Once your wellness initiative kicks off, employees will share their ideas for possible onsite workshops and events. To keep the momentum going, circulate a newsletter within your startup that highlights different community resources that employees can access on their own time. It’s also possible these community resources might be connected to different vendors that could diversify and enhance your wellness program. An employee newsletter that highlights community resources and vendors is also a great way to keep the conversation going and hopefully generate more ideas on how to make wellness part of every employee’s health and well-being.

Huyen WinHuyen Win’s core role is Account Manager for Large Customer Sales in Google’s Atlanta office. She’s also the Global Wellness Lead for the Black Googlers Network, and a personal trainer part time. Huyen started her Google career as a BOLD Intern in gTech. Her passion for serving others drives her interactions with her clients (a 30+ person Digital Media team at The Home Depot) as she helps them optimize their investments, and with the BGN community as she advocates to maximize the holistic wellbeing of its constituents. Huyen studied business and philosophy at Emory University in Atlanta, and is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist.


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