Employee-based wellness programs are nothing new. For years, corporations have been trying to reduce absenteeism, strengthen productivity, and cope with rising healthcare costs by encouraging healthier behaviors in the workplace.

The benefits of employee wellness have been proven. Johnson & Johnson, for example, saw medical costs decrease by roughly $225 per participating employee per year after implementing its wellness program. Keeping employees healthy also improves engagement and job satisfaction, which can reduce turnover.

Plus, wellness can be a fun way to reduce stress and help team members bond.

Employers always have the best intentions, but they often stumble in the execution of their wellness initiatives. Either they come on too strong or their efforts taper off after a few weeks. As a result, many programs are met with indifference--or worse, resentment--and eventually fail.

Usually, the problem is in the approach. A wellness initiative isn't something you do to employees; it's something you do for them. While you may think you know what's best, no employee wants to feel like Mom is nagging her to eat her vegetables.

If you're serious about investing in the health and happiness of your employees, there are a number of things to consider when developing a wellness program.

Leaders Have to Lead the Charge

Although the ultimate goal of an employee wellness program is to develop healthier employees, wellness shouldn't be exclusive to them. You have to lead by example and encourage other leaders to participate in the program as well.

By "walking the walk," you not only demonstrate your company's commitment to a healthier lifestyle but also help foster a more team-oriented environment. This can increase participation rates and ultimately make your efforts more successful.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Even if you're jazzed about running laps around everyone with your pedometer and stocking the break room fridge with veggies and hummus, understand that not everyone has the same attitude toward wellness--nor do they need to improve their health in the same ways.

To get all your employees on board with wellness initiatives, you must develop a diversified program that meets a wide range of needs.

Don't Single Out Employees

No matter how enthusiastic your employees seem, remember that health is personal. Employers should never single out employees for unhealthy behaviors, and any conversation about an employee's health should involve a human resources representative.

You should also get familiar with HIPAA. Privacy is essential, and you should never make an employee's personal health information accessible to the whole company. (This is especially important when it comes to doing social challenges or physical activities.)

If there's a concern about an individual, always err on the side of caution and have the conversation in private.

How to Make Wellness a Reality

While employers should never overstep their boundaries when it comes to employees' health, there are ways to introduce wellness components into the workplace and encourage healthier behaviors without being pushy.

RunKeeper, a Boston-based mobile app company, does this well with its health program. The company reimburses employees for general health and fitness expenses, standing desks, weekly fun runs, and healthy snack options.

You don't need to follow this blueprint exactly, but there are several things you can do to prioritize wellness:

  • Subsidize more than gym memberships. Offer a monthly stipend for fitness classes, yoga sessions, or Pilates.
  • Stock the office with nutritious snacks. Or cater a healthy breakfast or lunch once a week.
  • Offer opportunities to get moving. A growing body of research indicates that sitting is the newest workplace health hazard. Install standing workstations, and schedule walking meetings to get employees up out of their chairs. At my company, we have weekly step count competitions, and employees who walk more than 7,000 steps per day are rewarded.
  • Start a team within a local sports club. Kickball, softball, and volleyball are fun for everyone. Depending on the size and skill levels of your workforce, you may need to create several teams.
  • Skip happy hour. Instead of opting for the traditional "dinner and cocktails" after work, participate in a fun group activity that gets people moving, such as bowling, rock climbing, trampolining, or ballroom dancing.
  • Incorporate technology. Consider providing wearable fitness technology to employees, such as UP by Jawbone orFitbit, to help them monitor their fitness levels and make healthier choices at work and at home.

When employees understand their health and can track their progress, they're more willing to participate in wellness initiatives. In test groups, employers found upward of 80 percent participation rates and a 600 percent increase in weight loss when they incorporated fitness technology.

Wellness may seem straightforward, but it can be a struggle for many people. The success or failure of a program often comes down to its execution, and it's important to remember that what works for one person won't always work for another.

But by offering employees lots of options, leading by example, and encouraging healthy behaviors, you can make a difference in the health of your staff without overdoing it.