How to Start a Wellness Program

Involving your employees in healthy lifestyle changes can benefit the entire company

By Lynn Hay

How many times have you put off starting a wellness program—or even creating healthier choices for yourself—because you got “too busy” at work or “life got in the way”? Here’s one way to make it easier to incorporate wellness into your lifestyle—create a program at your business that gets all employees involved and committed to making healthy changes.

Eating healthier, lowering blood pressure, learning to live in the moment—those are all practices that allow you and your employees to deal with the “busy-ness” of work, the crankiness of customers and the pressure of the service industry, while being able to celebrate and appreciate the beautiful moments that happen in between.

I work with clients—both individually and in groups—and help them take the angst out of starting their health-and-wellness plans. Half the battle is making the commitment to yourself and your staff to start. Here are a few tips I give to my clients when they are starting on their health-and-wellness journeys:

Be Crystal-Clear on What You Want

This is vital to the success of any group wellness plan. As with my individual clients, you have to know where you want to go in order to get there. A few common goals pop up among my clients, including weight loss in a foodservice environment, stress reduction, reduced company turnover and reduced worker’s compensation claims.

Wellness plans in the service industry have both hard and soft benefits. When working with my clients, I take them through exercises to visualize how they want their businesses to look and feel, asking such questions as:

1. How do you expect your employees’ behavior to change as a result of this plan, and what will result from these changes? Examples can include reduced turnover, reduced sick time and better customer satisfaction.

2. How do you envision your employees’ lifestyles after making these changes? Are they taking more vacation? Have they lost weight? Do they feel less anxious?

3. How do you see your customers reacting to the business as a result of the changes employees are making? This could include a higher social media following, unsolicited testimonials and increased profits.

By keeping the end in mind, you can come up with action steps to put into place to get you where you want to be.

It Starts With You

Creating a group wellness plan for your employees is not going to be successful unless you take the time to incorporate wellness into your own life. Just as you lead by example in other aspects of your business, set the tone for healthy changes among your employees.

1. Incorporate activities and incentives that will motivate you and your employees to stay engaged in the plan. For example, one client loved yoga but was finding every excuse available not to practice. We created a yoga challenge for her and her team. She was able to create excitement about the challenge and stay motivated because of her passion for yoga.

2. Be realistic; understand what is attainable and sustainable for you and your employees.

3. Have fun. Enjoy the activities you plan.

Include Your Employees in the Planning

Mandating new health-and-wellness plans is typically not a way to get buy-in within an organization. What does help is to get a group of people together from different areas within the organization to come up with ideas that would benefit the company as a whole. Things to consider as the group meets are:

1. Will you offer the wellness benefits to all employees or only full-time employees?

2. Will you charge a fee for benefits like yoga class or acupuncture?

3. Should you offer a gym membership? If so, how do you keep gym members active?

4. Does the group require ongoing nutritional support and advice?

5. Is email, text or telephone the best way to follow up with participating employees?

6. Should you consider a contest or promotion to promote engagement?

Invite Your Customers to Participate

Utilize your list, and showcase your new plan! There are so many opportunities to allow your customers to join you on your wellness journey. If you are bringing in a yoga instructor two days a week for your employees, open the class up to your customers, charging a nominal fee to offset the cost of the instructor. If you’re encouraging your employees to eat more nutritiously, ask your chef to conduct a healthy cooking class. If you invite the public to the class, you’re introducing new customers to your business and strengthening your relationship with existing customers. When you bring people along on your wellness journey, you are creating a new connection with them. You are no longer just providing them with a service; you are bonding over your shared interest in health and wellness.

Celebrate Your Success

Too often we only take the time to dissect the bad things in our businesses—the hurtful comments on social media, the dissatisfied customer, the employee drama. Take time to celebrate what is working well with your wellness plan. If you see increased employee engagement in nutrition challenges, decreased employee worker’s compensation claims, fewer sick days or a reduction in your staff’s overall stress levels—celebrate that with the following ideas:

1. Have a drawing each month for each participant who achieved a certain milestone. Provide a nominal gift card for personal training, yoga or iTunes. Alternatively, simply recognize someone publicly for his or her achievements.

2. Provide a meditation app as a way to celebrate a drop in overall BMI.

3. Add success stories to weekly/monthly meetings.

By incorporating these strategies, you and your employees will be motivated to continue moving forward with each small success. A health-and-wellness plan does not need to be complicated. It only requires a bit of dedication and the willingness to start. Start today.


Lynn Hay is a health-and-wellness coach who works with caterers, restaurant owners, event planners and small business owners. She owned and operated Chez Hay Catering, Inc. in Lincoln, Neb., for 13 years before selling it because she was burned out and overwhelmed by the industry. Today, Lynn creates wellness plans for owners/operators and their staff members, so that they can enjoy their personal and professional lives, and thrive in their markets. For more information, visit, or send an email to