A Culture of Inclusion in Workplace Wellness


It’s time for that weekly staff meeting which can range from one to many hours of conversation, reporting, strategizing – and most importantly – a lot of sitting.  Deciding to become a wellness champion, you suggest a “Moving Meeting” to get some physical activity, which may also increase natural vitamin D and spark creativity with coworkers.  In addition to providing more movement throughout the workday, you have also helped to lower your coworkers’ risk of cardiovascular disease and other causes of mortality by reducing their sedentary time.

Moving Meetings, among many other wellness strategies, can become a part of your worksite’s culture.  Employee wellness programs are gaining speed in corporate America, providing benefits to employers (e.g. reduced health insurance costs), and to employees, (e.g. increasing access to necessary health screenings).  The latest data shows an employer’s Return on Investment (ROI) to be $6 for every $1 spent on workplace wellness.  In a recent research report sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and conducted by RAND Health, it was noted that almost half of employers in the U.S. are offering wellness program initiatives.  The report also noted that meaningful improvements were seen in exercise frequency, smoking, and weight control for wellness program participants compared to nonparticipants. 

Within the Affordable Care Act (ACA), employee wellness programs are supported as a means of reducing chronic illness by improving health and controlling health care costs while protecting consumers from unfair practices.  Final rules regarding employee wellness programs, which support and further outline guidelines for two types of wellness programs, were released in May 2013 and become effective in January 2014.  These include participatory wellness programs that are available to all employees without requirement to meet a health-related standard and health-contingent wellness programs where a reward is offered to individuals who meet a health-related standard.  The final rules go further for health-contingent wellness programs outlining five additional requirements to limit health status discrimination.  Click to read the entire final rules regarding employee-based wellness programs.

In regards to providing wellness for all employees the final rules consist of terminology such as “reasonably designed”, “uniform availability”, and “reasonable alternative standards.”  These phrases protect consumers from being discriminated against in relation to health status, and allow employees with medical conditions, which may or may not include employees with disabilities, to equally receive wellness-related rewards.  It is also important to note that the final rules do not override other laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires reasonable accommodations for employees with known disabilities to allow them to participate.  Employees with disabilities are more likely than their coworkers to have secondary health conditions; therefore adding a level of inclusion to worksite wellness programs is both the smart and right choice.    

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Include employees with disabilities in wellness program planning either on the wellness committee or working closely with the wellness coordinator to ensure program activities are accessible and meet the needs of all employees.
  • Create inclusive marketing materials by using images of people with and without disabilities, person-first language, and inclusive terminology such as “Moving Meeting” and “Run.Walk.Roll 5k”.
  • Ensure accessibility of marketing materials by providing a variety of formats such as audio, picture-based, large print and accessible electronic formats.
  • Provide relevant incentives for employees with a variety of abilities.   
  • Create accommodations when appropriate.  For example, a walking program encouraging 10,000 steps a day may not be appropriate for all employees.  Instead allow employees to track steps or movement throughout the day and encourage an increase in activity.
  • Provide a map of accessible routes to increase physical activity throughout your worksite’s campus instead of only promoting the stairs.
  • Consider a smoke-free workplace policy which will impact all employees, but especially employees with disabilities, since they are more likely to smoke cigarettes (25.4% vs. 17.3%). 
  • Include healthy options in vending machines and ensure they are accessible to employees who may use a wheelchair.

The culture of a worksite can make or break participation in employee wellness programs.  To reap the benefits both for employers and employees, consider creating a culture of inclusion, welcoming all employees to improve their health. 

Additional Resources: