Man in a group presenting

Successful implementation of the workplace health program depends, in large part, on how the employees react to the changes. Even the slightest misunderstanding can result in major disruptions. Thus, regular and consistent communication is a vital component of the overall program and fosters an organizational commitment to employee health. Employees are key stakeholders and should be informed of the program’s purpose; the actions taken; the reasons for and results of those actions. Consistency comes from repetition and uniform presentation from all levels of the organization and over time will create a culture of health.

Develop a communications plan

The development of a communications plan can accomplish several things for the program including1:

  • Increased awareness and recognition of the program
  • Increased awareness of workplace health and safety risks
  • Increase awareness of workplace health promotion opportunities for employees
  • Increased trust between management and employees
  • Increased program participation
  • Improved health-related behaviors
  • Ultimately, improved employee health

Well-designed communications can:

  • Increase employees’ knowledge and awareness of a health issue, problem, or solution
  • Influence or reinforce perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes
  • Refute myths and misconceptions
  • Prompt action
  • Demonstrate or illustrate health-promoting skills
  • Show the benefits of behavior change
  • Educate employees on the organization’s position on a health issue or policy
  • Increase demand or support for health promotion programs and services
  • Strengthen organizational relationships
  • Realign the social rules or standards for workplace behavior

However, communication usually must be combined with other strategies such as implementing a health-related program, policy or benefit to:

  • Overcome systemic barriers, such as insufficient access to health promotion programs and services
  • Cause sustained behavior, culture, and environmental change – from employees adopting and maintaining new health behaviors, to the organization adopting and maintaining new policies8
  • Change the physical or psychological aspects of the work environment

Clearly communicate the workplace health program goals and objectives

Materials and messages should be culturally competent, that is, understood by and applicable to individuals from different cultures, race or ethnicities, or languages; relevant, and at a sufficient level of health literacy.

Health Literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions, as defined by the National Library of Medicine and as used in Healthy People 2010. According to the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), more than 77 million adults in the US demonstrate basic or below basic health literacy skills.

Effectively market program offerings to employees

Messages should include both the program’s marketing strategy, as well as the reasons behind the program’s strategic direction. If employees are unaware of the health promotion opportunities available to them, they are unlikely to participate, and without sufficient participation, program success cannot be achieved. Employees also need to be aware of what the program is trying to achieve for both individual employee health and the employer’s bottom line.

Brand the health strategy, including a logo

  • The workplace health program should be branded, including a logo, and used in all communication materials

Define the target audience(s)

  • Identify the employee group(s) who will be the subject of the communication efforts
  • Consider identifying subgroups for tailored messages, in view of such demographic factors as job category, education level, or age
  • Engage employees to learn as much as possible about their demographics; their knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs related to health promotion; their needs and interests; and opportunities and barriers for employees to access health information
  • Conduct a situation analysis to determine overall strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to the current employee communication strategy. For example, opportunities could include the addition of “outward-facing” components such as health and social responsibility activities that support good causes in the community or activities that promote a good work environment

Use a variety of message channels such as e-mail, newsletters, intranet, etc

  • Multiple communication channels should be used to ensure that employees receive the information they need to make informed decisions; these channels may include email, bulletin boards, newsletters, the intranet, presentations, and direct communication from management, a representative of the wellness council, and coworkers
  • Consider the optimum timing and frequency of message delivery to reach the intended employee audience(s)
  • Consider pretesting and revising of messages with representatives of the target audience

Recognize and celebrate success

  • Employee success stories should be highlighted, shared, and celebrated to help motivate others to make lifestyle changes
  • Employees can also be recognized and supported using incentives as rewards for meeting individual health behavior goals
Tools and Resources
  • The CDC National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has developed as part of its WorkLife Initiative the Essential Elements document which identifies twenty components of a comprehensive work-based health protection and health promotion program and includes both guiding principles and practical direction for organizations seeking to develop effective workplace programs. The Essential Element’s twenty components are divided into four areas: Organizational Culture and Leadership; Program Design; Program Implementation and Resources; and Program Evaluation

 Top of Page


1.  National Cancer Institute. 1989. Making Health Communication Programs Work. Rockville, MD: U.S Department of Health and Human Services.