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Develop an Employee Health Survey

The First Step to Building a Cost-Effective Corporate Wellness Program

An effective employee health survey is the important first step to developing a cost-effective corporate wellness program in any size company. If HR and/or senior management implement employee wellness program components without staff input, disappointing attendance and poor return on investment (ROI) may have a negative effect on any future health promotion efforts.

Why Is an Employee Health Survey So Important?

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Most businesses do some type of market research before investing resources into new products or services. An employee health survey is like that baseline market research summary. An effective survey also has many potential benefits including the following:

Develops or strengthens senior management buy-in.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control’s Healthier Worksite Initiative website, and studies of successful wellness programs usually cite the importance of consistent and strong support by senior management. Senior management usually wants to see quantifiable versus anecdotal evidence of employee interest and support before committing their time and company money to a new initiative. You can help them see the benefits. Use resources like a previous story, “The Advantages of Corporate Wellness Programs,” which clearly outlines the advantages and positive benefits of employee wellness programs.

Strengthens employees’ ownership and lessens resistance when program is introduced.

For instance, survey participants are far more likely to attend a stress management-related program if they actually highly rated the importance of that idea.

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Clarify worksite wellness program components.

For instance, if the survey results show that 95% of employees aren’t interested in a heart disease prevention program, why bother investing money or time in coordinating or developing the program?

Identify individuals to help implement the employee wellness program.

Studies have shown that most successful wellness programs have some type of wellness committee or motivated employees to supplement understaffed HR departments. To learn more about how other companies have structured their wellness programs, you can visit summaries of award winning programs at

Serve as an evaluation tool.

When evaluating a employee wellness program results on an annual basis, the company can measure expressed interest versus actual attendance and plan better for the future.

What Needs to Be Included in an Employee Health or Wellness Survey?

If your company wants to keep costs down, it doesn’t have to invest much time or money to develop its own employee health survey or contract out to develop one. After all, why reinvent the wheel when the average American employee faces the same health-related issues no matter where he or she works?

The Wellness Councils of America (WELCOA), a not-for-profit membership organization to “benefit the health and well-being of all working Americans,” has a free, relatively comprehensive “Needs and Interest Survey,” that has been used by all types of companies since 2005. I suggest that you first modify it to better fit the employee demographics, current or potential wellness program components, and financial constraints of your particular organization. Then, try this survey out on a few employees first to make sure they can easily understand it.

This “Needs and Interest Survey” is popular because it has the following components of a successful employee survey:

Quick and easy to use.

Employees are mostly asked to circle the likelihood of attending program components in the next year on a four point scale from “extremely likely” to “extremely unlikely.”

Pinpoints program times.

Employees have to choose when they would be willing to attend a wellness program – before work, during lunch, and/or after work. If your company has multiple shifts, you may want to ask which shift the participant works so you can use the survey information more effectively.

Identifies desired screening tests.

Many employees may not get annual physicals or see any type of doctor regularly, so you can find out if there is employee interest in scheduling an outside organization to provide free or low-cost screenings for increasingly common health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, bad cholesterol levels, and heart disease.

Addresses mental health issues.

An estimated 26 percent of Americans age 18 and older, or about 57 million people, suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year according to the federal National Institute of Mental Health. So, that means there are probably several of your co-workers who haven’t quite reached the diagnosable stage, yet.

You can use the survey to find out if they want outside speakers to come to speak about such topics as stress management, depression, dealing with change, anxiety or anger issues. Many might be struggling with the impact of being in the “sandwich generation” of taking care of elderly parents and children.

Assesses interest in fitness programs.

Find out how many employees might actually join a walk-at-lunch program or take advantage of the company discount at a local gym or join an on-site stretch or yoga class before shelling out the corporate subsidies.

Tailors educational programming.

A survey could help identify what health-related seminar topics might draw more of a crowd. How many staff would actually attend a presentation on handling chronic pain, back pain, headaches, etc.? You could also use the survey results to get informational brochures for people who may not want to attend a seminar. Studies also show that readily available self-help materials are effective. Seventy-five percent of people who receive a self-care guide will use it at least one time within six months.

Nutrition education interest assessment.

As Americans increasingly become more aware of the mind-body connection and the graying American workforce fights obesity and the results of years of poor nutrition, you may find out that some of your co-workers want to learn more about nutrition.

Assesses interest in weight loss, smoking cessation, and stress management programs.

Senior management might have identified these areas as the primary causes for rising insurance premiums but if employees won’t participate in programs, the ROI just isn’t there.

Opportunity to provide individualized feedback.

The survey participant must have a chance to provide additional suggestions or alternatives beyond what the survey has included. If programs already exist at the company, this might be a good time to get some anonymous feedback on those programs to better meet employees’ needs.

Once the survey content is finalized, your company needs to decide if there will be some type of incentive to complete the survey. This decision is based on your company’s history in implementing results from any type of past employee survey, your company’s culture, and its financial situation. Armed with the results of the survey, your company can start taking much larger and more effective steps in developing a wellness program.


Julia Freimund
My Work Oasis

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