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Between afternoon yoga classes, discounted gym memberships and healthier food options, workplace wellness initiatives are on the rise — nearly 80 percent of people who work for organizations with 50 or more employees have access to a wellness program.

While the ROI of wellness programs is still difficult to measure, the predicted benefits are enticing: Successful programs aim not only to increase employee satisfaction and engagement, but also curb healthcare costs.

“A company not focused on the total well-being of their team members is a company who may not have high productivity. Retention may suffer and recruiting the best talent may be compromised in this marketplace," explains Heather Provino, Chief Executive Officer of Provant, a workplace health and wellness solutions provider.

To learn more about the rise of workplace wellness and the people pushing the programs forward, we spoke with four corporate wellness experts about the challenges they encounter, their current initiatives and their best advice for companies looking to create healthier work environments.

Kerry Cragin

Title: HR and Wellness Manager at Catharsis Productions

How did you get involved in workplace wellness? I have a deep interest in taking care of employees holistically. My current employer, Catharsis Productions, was very invested in developing a wellness program and loved the experience I could bring with corporate wellness, counseling and being a yoga teacher.

What current initiative or past project are you most excited about? I just returned from the Mindful Leadership Summit in D.C., where business professionals from around the world met about how to bring mindfulness practices into the workplace. I am currently working on a step-by-step process to integrate this practice into our workplace culture.

What qualities make for a successful wellness initiative in the workplace? First, a company needs to assess how its employees define wellness. Then, build a wellness committee with employees who represent all sectors of your business and use their voices to build programs.

Mary Beth Helgens

Title: Corporate Health and Wellness Coach at Benchmark, Inc.

What's the most challenging part about your job? Keeping programs fresh and appealing to a wide audience. Another important, very delicate component of any program is for employees to understand that their results and any coaching that takes place is totally confidential — that can be a big hurdle.

What current initiative or past project are you most excited about? Group coaching for employees. Having employees meet together around a common interest and goal will hopefully provide more accountability and motivation.

What qualities make for a successful wellness initiative in the workplace? Executive involvement, an incentive that is realistic, desired, and empowering, and a wide variety of options for participation.

Fiona Gathright

Title: President and CEO, Wellness Corporate Solutions

How did you get involved in workplace wellness? I started my own company in 2004 in pursuit of my passion for health, nutrition and wellness. As the industry has matured, we've branched out to do a host of things including biometric screenings to assess employee health risk, health coaching and implementing wellness and stress-reduction programs.

What's the most challenging part about your job? Building a culture of health and wellness takes time. The most challenging part can be getting employers to understand the long-term benefits in addition to short-term cost reduction.

What current initiative or past project are you most excited about? For one of our larger clients, we built a network of 900 wellness champions to bring programs to each location in the U.S. We are also helping this company expand wellness initiatives to global employees.

Katie Bressack

Title: Holistic Health Coach and Yoga Teacher, Balanced Beings

How did you get involved in workplace wellness? Living in New York City and working a corporate job, I was chronically sick for a year. I finally found a doctor who was able to help me focus on why I kept getting sick, rather than just giving me medication. My health and job performance improved as I began to do small things throughout the day — yoga during lunch and going on afternoon walks. I decided to go back to school in order to help other people in similar corporate positions.

What's the most challenging part about your job? Often, as an employee, you feel like you don't have the time to spend on yourself at your job. You feel guilty for going for a walk, or taking a lunch break. The biggest challenge is empowering managers about the benefits of letting employees feel more at ease.

What qualities make for a successful wellness initiative in the workplace? Get management involved, and have incentives in place for employees.

Header photo: Creative Commons