Dr. Pamela Peeke Argues for Corporate Wellness Programs

A few years ago my husband worked for a large aircraft manufacturer. At the start of a new year, each employee was made to get a full physical to create a baseline for their health. At the same time the next year, each employee would have to do it again, and if they’d improved or at least maintained their insurance premiums would be reduced. This seemed like a no-brainer because he’s not overweight, doesn’t smoke and doesn’t have any diseases or risk factors for things like diabetes or high blood pressure. Throughout the year the company supported everyone’s efforts by sending a package once a month with a variety of things like a cutting board encouraging us to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, floss to maintain dental hygeine, and a book called The Culprit and the Cure.

The following year we got our insurance discount. I’m certain many others did, but also certain many did not. At the time, I couldn’t help but wonder — do companies have a right to do this?

“I absolutely think they do,” Dr. Pamela Peeke told me. She cited the interconnectedness of an employee’s health and a company’s bottom line, which can ultimately impact the local economy. “The only way to implement a corporate wellness program is also to provide ways for people to get off the ‘stuff.’ They need counseling, guidance, and discounts.” By stuff she means cigarettes, unhealthy eating habits, alcohol, or anything else that creates a barrier between staff and a healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Peeke and I spoke last week about the rising need for and popularity of corporate wellness programs. Dr. Peeke has an impressive resume that includes the Chief Medical Correspondent for Discovery Health, author of Fight Fat After Forty, and the founder of the The Peeke Performance Center for Healthy Living.

“It is absolutely growing,” Dr. Peeke said about the rise of corporate wellness programs. “There’s no question. People have no choice now.” She cited that for every one dollar a business spends on wellness for its employees, they get five dollars back in the way of productivity and less absenteeism. As well, costly insurance premiums are reduced when they aren’t carrying the burden of unhealthy employees. To companies that still balk at the idea of the added work or expense of a program, Dr. Peeke says, “For crying out loud, we’re investing in the health of these people.”

The Benefits to Employers and Employees

It may not seem obvious at first glance, but the benefits to everyone involved in a corporate wellness program are numerous. And while not everyone wants their boss staking any sort of authority over their personal health, Dr. Peeke says “the grand majority of companies find that employees become very welcoming [of the idea] and would love to have the option.”

When employees are healthier, they’re happier, and that is a direct benefit for the employer.

This is especially true when the company installs a quality wellness program. To do so, Dr. Peeke recommends contracting with a corporate wellness expert to help develop a necessary infrastructure. She also suggests creating a staff position for someone to oversee the corporate wellness program, this way you aren’t burdening an already over-worked employee with more responsibilities and a dedicated individual can make sure the program runs flawlessly. If you have space in your office or business site, Dr. Peeke suggests installing a gym. If that’s not an option, offer to pay for a health club membership for your staff (gym membership discounts are usually available for corporate groups).

How to Get Started

For one, take Dr. Peeke’s advice and seek outside direction on creating your program. With them, determine what your goals are for the company and for the employees. Then, as senior management, be an active participant. Look beyond the physicals and insurance premium analysis, and you’ll see many things you could implement practically tomorrow if you wanted to, or at least with a little bit of planning.

  • Install blood pressure cuffs in the bathrooms, allowing employees to monitor this important health stat. (This is done at Johnson & Johnson, according to Dr. Peeke.)
  • Host a Salad Potluck once a week. You provide the greens, the staff each bring their favorite toppings. (We do this in our Brooklyn office.)
  • Break the cubicle mold and replace standard desks with treadmill desks, standing desks, or office chairs with balls.
  • Give a phone headset to every employee to promote pacing during longer calls.
  • Take meetings outdoors when it’s nice. Or take a page from Steve Jobs’ book and take walks for one-on-one meetings.
  • Encourage employees to use conference rooms for yoga during breaks or at lunch.
  • Add a free “mental health day” to your employee’s vacation time.

Keep Employees Motivated and Incentivized

Whether it’s clean bedrooms and good grades when we were kids, or losing weight and doing well on the job as an adult, everyone likes to be rewarded. Of course, as professionals, gold stickers aren’t going to do the trick; the value for our incentives increases exponentially. So how can you get your employees on board with actively participating in the corporate wellness program? Dr. Peeke suggests money for starters, which can be paid out as cash bonuses, additional vacation time, or like my husband’s company, a reduced insurance premium. She also suggests discounts at gyms and health clubs.

Other options for incentivizing your staff could include hosting an off-site retreat, concert tickets, golf packages, on-site chair massages or spa gift certificates, consultations with a dietitian, and much more.

In the end, Dr. Peeke says the success of a corporate wellness program “depends on how the company carries it out.” Like any other aspect of your business, proper planning, putting key people in the right positions, being an active participant yourself, and making clear the benefits to your employees will get you far. If you’ve tried saving your ROI by cutting corners, consider reducing your company’s health expenses for the sake of everyone on your payroll.


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