Skip to main content

What Is An Employee Wellness Program?

What Is An Employee Wellness Program Propel

An employee wellness program is becoming an essential part of the benefits employers offer their organization. Find out what it is and why you need one.

While you may have heard about employee wellness programs in the workplace, you may not fully understand what they are. It can be confusing when talking about an employee wellness program due to the variability in how programs are run. Some are done in pieces. Others are holistic. In this guide, we’ll take you through the different types of programs and how you might implement them in your organization.

A History of Employee Wellness

The past 75 years have seen employee wellness evolve like never before. While workplace health and safety were addressed in the earlier 20th century, it wasn’t until the 1950’s that employers began to offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). These programs were put in place to assist employees with struggling with alcoholism and mental health.

The closest origins to our current corporate wellness programs came from Johnson & Johnson in the late 1970’s. Their Live for Life program included a questionnaire and a health screening to determine risk factors. Employees who completed the requirements were given a $500 reduction in their health insurance premium. By doing so, J&J lowered hospitalization rates to one-third the rate of companies without a program. They also saw absenteeism decrease by 18%.

Since then, organizations have followed suit. Many use the same formula and provide a health risk assessment (HRA) and biometric screenings to their employees. The completion of these requirements has most often led to an HSA contribution, among other rewards.

Employee Wellness Programs Today

Within the last decade, wellness programs have grown substantially, both in scope and popularity. Many organizations are beginning to address more than just awareness. The focus has broadened to the total wellbeing of the employee. Subjects like mental wellbeing, stress management, sleep management and resilience are being addressed alongside physical wellbeing.

Programs today have also begun to feature more than just a questionnaire and a screening. As we have begun to understand the science of motivation and habit change, we have learned that “knowing your numbers” isn’t enough. For a population to make real, lasting changes to their lifestyle, they must form healthy habits.

Components of an Employee Wellness Program

While each program looks different, many share the same components. If you are trying to decide what kind of program to implement for your organization, consider these!

Wellness Portal

Establishing a cohesive program should begin with a central program location. An employee wellness portal places all aspects of your program in one location, making program adoption easy. The wellness portal may house things like program information, a calendar of wellness events, wellbeing education and activity tracking resources. If you need a place to start, check out Propel’s full-featured portal that contains all of the above and much, much more!

Biometric Screenings

While knowing your numbers doesn’t necessarily lead to behavior change, it certainly helps. Many organizations with employees at one or a few locations decide to set up an on-site screening. If this isn’t feasible, other options like an at-home screening kit and individual screenings with a primary care physician are available. Participants receive crucial data on their risk factors to help identify areas that need attention. Your organization can also receive this data to better help you understand what risks your employees face.

Health Risk Assessment

To further gauge risk, many programs have participants take a health risk assessment (HRA). This assessment evaluates characteristics a screening does not, such as lifestyle, nutrition, emotional health and willingness to change behavior. Participants answer a variety of questions on these topics and are provided potential risks as well as feedback on what changes need to be made. Coupling an HRA with a biometric screening provides the greatest level of information on risk factors.

Competitions and Challenges

The fastest growing component of the modern employee wellness program is running one or more competitions among employees throughout the year. These competitions are focused on a specific component of wellbeing, such as physical activity, nutrition and weight management.

Organizations see much larger levels of engagement and enjoyment when they use a competition to introduce healthy habits to their population. For example, many companies run a yearly step challenge where each participant tracks their steps for the duration of the competition. The winners can receive company-wide recognition and, in some cases, a prize. Ideally, participants continue to keep their physical activity levels high after the challenge and begin to make lifestyle changes.

To truly drive levels of engagement higher, competitions must be organized around activities that are highly engaging for your population. If your employees love to bike, a step challenge will not motivate them in the same way a biking competition will. Propel’s philosophy is to create multiple on-ramps for participants because everyone is motivated by different things. One person might engage heavily with a nutrition competition where you track the number of servings of vegetables per day, while another might prefer a team “swim, paddle, hike” challenge where teams earn points for swimming, canoeing/kayaking/whitewater rafting and hiking. That’s why Propel offers unlimited custom competitions that can be run on hundreds of activities in categories like fitness, nutrition and overall wellness. Competition management is also a breeze with Propel’s intuitive administrator panel.


To engage the most amount of people in your employee wellness program, incentives provide the extra draw to encourage participation. Many organizations already have some incentive structure in place. This can be adapted as your wellness program adds new components. Incentives like HSA contributions, gift cards, promotional apparel and wellness products and cash are popular options today. Non-financial incentives can also be a great alternative or supplement within your program. Certificates, employee recognition and badges can provide extra incentives throughout the program year.

Wellness Education

Lifestyle change will never happen without education. Many organizations focus heavily on integrating great wellness education into their programs. Options include things like online wellness education modules and in-person seminars on-site such as lunch & learns. Topics like weight management, nutrition, diabetes and overall wellbeing are frequently addressed.

Another popular trend is theming months of the year around specific wellbeing topics. For example, designating February as Heart Health Month gives a more specific focus to heart health, allowing program administrators to deliver more tailored education.

Not sure where to find this educational content? Propel provides significant wellness education that covers more than just physical wellness. Topics like stress management, sleep management, mindfulness, work-life balance and resiliency are available and constantly updated.

Wellness Champions

No program would be successful without individuals that brought it to life for their peers. Instituting a network of wellness champions will ensure the organic growth of your program. These wellness champions act as program cheerleaders and captains, continually trying to engage their peers. To set up a wellness champions network, simply look for the most passionate among your population. Adding some responsibility to their passion will help them feel important and will help you grow your program.

Don’t know where to start?

Propel can help! We’ve been building wellness programs for over 15 years and understand what works and what doesn’t. We firmly believe that engaging a population means a multi-faceted approach. That’s why our Propel Platform features everything from competitions to goal setting to wellness education and beyond. Check out an overview of the Platform here.

Nicholas Layne

About the author

Nicholas Layne

Nicholas is the Director of Strategic Operations at Propel. He is also a Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist from the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Privacy Notice

You can browse our website without disclosing information about yourself. We use two types of cookies, the first is designed to ensure that you have a secure browsing experience. These “strictly necessary” cookies (your consent is not required) guard against unauthorized posting of content and serve to protect our website visitors. The second type, “performance” cookies (your consent is requested) help us to better understand how our site is used. This collected information never identifies you personally. If you choose to contact us on the website your identifying information is NOT shared with any third-party. You also have a right to know what, if any information we hold about you, as well as a right to ask that your personal information be updated, corrected, or deleted altogether. If you wish to make a request to us in this regard, please contact Propel at: You should also know that to opt out of being subject to Google Analytics across all websites you can visit

To learn more, see our policy page. (This will take you to the Propel, Inc., Information Security Sub-Policy Number 1—Privacy, GDPR, UK-GDPR, The SHIELD Act and CCPA Compliance). If you choose NOT to answer “Yes” even after visiting our privacy policy (and wish to continue using our site), it will not have a meaningful impact upon your browsing experience, except that the cookie notice may continue to pop-up.