People working out on fitness equipment at a busy gymWe all have used the same excuse to skip exercise at one time or another: “I’m just too busy to find the time.” Making time in the day for healthy habits often drops to the bottom of our to-do lists.

With so many of us spending such a large part of our lives at work, some employers are trying to incorporate healthy activities into workplaces by offering wellness programs. Worksite wellness programs often include health education, smoking cessation, counseling about nutrition and weight loss, medical screenings, and on-site fitness programs.  Many companies also give employees time to exercise during work hours and offer financial and other incentives for participating.

Lilly, a global pharmaceutical company, provides a 24,000-square-foot wellness facility for employees at their corporate office in Indianapolis. Employees can use the LIFE (Lilly Integrated Fitness Environment) center for physical fitness, stress relief, and personal development.  Lilly’s LIFE center offers group fitness classes, provides a bike hub for employees who bike to work, bicycles that employees can check out, and an outdoor track and field used for running and employee soccer games.

Charlotte Hawthorne, a Lilly employee based in Indianapolis, uses the LIFE Center as a part of her fitness program.  Several times a month Charlotte attends a 6:30 a.m. strength training class and participates in an after-work Zumba class every Thursday.

In addition, Hawthorne says that Lilly’s flexible work-hours program made it possible for her to work part-time on two different occasions when her children were small. “They provided the balance I needed to keep everything in check,” she says. “Now, it is nice to be able to work from home on occasion or have flexibility in my hours in order to be there when my family needs me.”

Hawthorne’s co-worker, Karen Whiteside, also finds that lunch-time yoga and ballet tone classes work for her schedule twice a week. “If I didn’t have the option at work, I wouldn’t get anything in with my family schedule,” says Whiteside.

Each year, Lilly also logs more than 31,000 employee visits to its on-site health clinic for such needs as allergy injections, preventive care, laboratory tests, and immunizations. The campus also provides conveniences such as two child development centers, a credit union, and dry cleaning services.

“Our intent is to reflect multiple dimensions of personal well-being, including physical and emotional health, planning for a successful financial future, and establishment of successful relationships,” says Janice Chavers, the director of HR and diversity communications.

Work/Health Balance

Lilly’s approach to wellness, which goes beyond just fitness offerings to helping employees with overall work-life balance, may be more successful than those that focus on just one aspect of health. Recent research published in American Journal of Health Promotion found that stressed out employees are less likely to sign up for or stick with a wellness program.

About 51 percent of U.S. employers offer wellness programs, according to recent RAND study.  The most popular program element is nutrition/weight management, with 61 percent of employers including this component. Smoking cessation is the next most-offered program at 59 percent.

But the most important finding in the RAND report was that the wellness programs studied actually improved employee health. Employee participants walked more often, had higher fruit and vegetable consumption, stopped smoking, and reduced their body weight and blood pressure at higher rates than employees who didn’t participate.

The report’s bottom line for employees: “well-executed [wellness] programs can help improve your health,” says Soeren Mattke, M.D., the study’s lead author and senior scientist at RAND.

Need a Little Motivation?

Even when companies offer wellness programs, getting employees to take advantage can be a challenge. Many companies throw in perks to entice participation. Of the employers that offer incentives, 47 percent give out merchandise or gift cards, 42 percent offer discounts for gym memberships, and 21 percent have cash rewards, according to the RAND report.

Ron Goetzel, Ph.D., president and CEO of The Health Project, which presents the C. Everett Koop National Health Awards to recognize health promotion and wellness programs, says that while most programs offer incentives to participate or rewards tied to health outcomes, these perks are not always the driver to keep employees active.

“Employees are going to participate if they feel they can personally benefit,” says Goetzel. “If they feel healthier, stronger and are having fun, it will keep them engaged. The employer really just provides the opportunity to lead a healthy lifestyle.”

At Kaiser Permanente Northern California, launching its award-winning Live Well Be Well program in 2010 was seen mostly as a recruitment and retention tool to attract and keep top talent.

“As an organization that has a brand that’s focused on thriving, we wanted to cultivate a culture among our physicians and employees where they felt inspired, motivated, and encouraged to focus on their health and wellness,” says Margaret Lapiz, vice president for strategy and integration for the Permanente Medical Group.

Live Well Be Well offers more than 250 activities and services, which include everything from cholesterol and blood pressure screening to cooking, weight-loss, exercise and smoking cessation classes and programs. With 21 facilities across Northern California, more than 90 percent of its 67,000 employees have participated in at least one Live Well Be Well service or activity. More than 20,000 have done at least five of them.

Tips for Workplace Health

But what if your company doesn’t yet offer a wellness program? No problem, says Kenneth Clarke, owner of the one-on-one personal training studio Fitness Together, located in Silver Spring, Md. Clarke says following these tips can improve your health while making minimal change to your busy work schedule:

  • Form a lunchtime or before-work walking group. You and your co-workers can keep each other accountable.
  • Find a parking spot far away from the front entrance or if taking public transportation, get off a stop or two early.
  • Invite a local, trusted fitness professional to conduct a weekly lunchtime or after-work boot camp/fitness class.
  • Choose healthy snacks and lunches for office celebrations, instead of the usual donuts, bagels, and baked, sugar-laden foods.


Original post by the Center for Advancing Health. Updated by the GW Cancer Institute January 2016.