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Businesses work with human resource consulting firms to craft wellness programs for several reasons. These initiatives help control medical and workers' compensation costs by keeping employees healthy, and at the same time, they help boost morale for employees who would otherwise stay inactive behind their desks.

However, these programs are for naught if employees do not participate in them in the first place. While this motivates companies to promote their wellness programs as much as they can, it may help to understand what causes nonparticipation to begin with. New research published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology explored this very topic.

Programs should be tailored by risk group
According to the authors of the study, between 40 and 75 percent of employers in the U.S. and Europe offer some form of workplace wellness program. However, between 50 and 75 percent of employees do not take advantage of such benefits.

To learn why, the researchers surveyed more than 1,900 university employees who were invited to participate in a workplace wellness program, which had two stages to it. During the first stage, participants filled out an online health questionnaire, receiving $150 in return. The second stage included a health education workshop.

During their assessment of the participants, the researchers distinguished implicit barriers to participation, such as position at work and perceived health status, from explicit barriers, which were self-reported reasons for nonparticipation. Results showed that people who were likely to withdraw from both stages of the wellness program included men, people in low occupational positions and those with impaired health. When divided by stage, nonparticipation in the first part was more of an issue for older workers as well as employees who felt the employer was not committed to supporting their well-being. The second stage saw less participation from younger workers or individuals who were not interested in adopting good health habits.

"Our findings suggest that organizations should not only pay attention to the potential gains that [work health promotion programs] offer but should also identify the resources that are at risk and minimize their actual and perceived potential loss," the study authors said in a statement. They added that these programs may be most effective when they are tailored to specific groups of employees.

Approach onsite wellness holistically
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, workplace wellness initiatives can come in several different forms. Apart from having dedicated educational programs and classes, companies can build fitness centers, provide onsite kitchens, serve healthy snacks in the vending machines, and have "walk-and-talk" meetings. All of these strategies may help reduce obesity and other chronic conditions that may be aggravated by the increasingly sedentary nature of the modern workplace.