Achieving a Healthy Workforce Worldwide: Creating a Corporate Wellness Initiative

Corporate global wellness initiatives are in their formative years. Although some companies have offered employee health programming globally for some time, a majority of U.S. multinationals are new to the strategy. 

January 09, 2020

Corporate global wellness initiatives are in their formative years. Although some companies have offered employee health programming globally for some time, a majority of U.S. multinationals are new to the strategy. Employers encounter a number of obstacles as they seek to develop global wellness initiatives, despite the fact that interest in health promotion is high. Health conditions and risk factors around the world are numerous and varied, and data about employee health globally are limited. Understanding all possible inputs affecting outcomes is complicated at best and not enough is known about what makes a health intervention a global best practice. Identifying what works and what doesn’t is situational and health behaviors are notoriously difficult to change.

Nevertheless, as more companies pursue health promotion globally, the scholarship evolves. While there is no one ‘right way’ to shape a global health initiative, information is emerging about which factors need to be considered in order to achieve viable programs with significant impact.

What is presented here reflects more than eight years of Global Institute research on global wellness and well-being and information culled from the Best Employers: Excellence in Health & Well-being Global Distinction award process. Global Institute research has relied on a variety of sources, including corporate members, consultant partners, academic research and the popular press. The work’s focus has been multifaceted and varied, from complicated issues that support wellness (e.g., engagement and health communications) to benchmarking at the corporate and local levels. This combined effort has led to some understanding of the factors that drive corporate global wellness initiative success.

Step One: Understand the Desired Corporate End Goals

Companies need to set a foundation for their global wellness initiatives. Specifically, what are health programs or interventions expected to accomplish?

Insight about which objectives within the organization drive health promotion programs globally will direct and structure all subsequent activity. In particular, once there is an understanding about what the overarching challenge is, it is possible to chart an appropriate course for reaching desired end goals –taking into consideration assets, limitations, inherent barriers and existing leverage points.

“Look for the problem the company is trying to solve. Answer those questions.” – Larry Lewin

Step Two: Manage the Corporate Path to Global Wellness

Although there are no simple solutions to improving employee health globally, there are overarching issues that companies can manage in order to influence program success. Understanding the impact of these issues within your organization can help chart the process to meeting wellness objectives.

When starting a corporate global wellness initiative, a number of foundational questions are useful for implementation and tactics. Answers to the following questions provide that framework through which corporate wellness action is feasible globally.

  • To what extent is health a corporate-wide priority?
  • Do the corporate values and organizational structure support global wellness?
  • Has your company created effective feedback loops for sharing and receiving information?

To what extent is health a corporate-wide priority? Organization-wide engagement in health can determine the success of global wellness efforts.

  • Commitment to Promoting Culture of Health - How does your company define a culture of health? Does your company leverage its mission, policies and procedures to promote and sustain a consistent culture of health throughout the organization? How do/can senior leaders within the organization show dedication to a corporate culture of health?
  • Program Objectives and Priorities - What are your company’s short- and long-term objectives and priorities for employee health worldwide?
  • Working Definition of Health - How does your company define health? Which elements of health (physical, mental, emotional, financial, community, familial and professional well-being) does the term encompass?
  • Linking Health to Business Strategies and Priorities - Is your company, including its business units, prepared to promote and advance health in material (e.g., payment) and intangible ways (e.g., communication champions, executive leadership) in order to make health a key element of the organizational brand?
  • Timing and Goal Setting - What internal corporate drivers will determine the timeframe for global wellness at your organization? Is the timeframe personnel-driven, data-driven, calendar-based, project outcome-based, health outcome-based or driven by some combination of these factors? How can larger, overarching corporate employee health goals be broken down into achievable subgoals?

Do the corporate values and organizational structure support global wellness? How a company is organized globally – in both formal structures and informal channels or impressions – influences how corporate wellness efforts can realistically be organized by defining their scope, focus, limitations and resources.

Recognizing Health as a Corporate Asset - Is employee health framed and/or recognized as a corporate/business asset (e.g., evaluation of human capital, talent attraction or retention)?

  • Channels and Obstacles to Wellness - Does your company’s global organizational structure create inherent facilitators and/or barriers to health promotion? What leverage points (e.g., required benefit structure, funding towards benefits) do you have at the corporate and local levels to impact employee health?
  • Stakeholders and Roles - Who within your company is a stakeholder for improved employee health (e.g., corporate, regional benefits, occupational health and safety, country-level compensation and benefits)? Are these stakeholders organizational decision-makers? How engaged or committed are they? How can these various stakeholders partner to drive a global corporate wellness, well-being and/or health promotion agenda?
  • Accountability - Does/can your company make internal stakeholders responsible for meeting or driving corporate wellness objectives?
  • Health Champions - Who will actively champion health and health messaging at both the corporate and local levels? Have these champions fully bought into the concept and importance of employee wellness and well-being? What does the company do to promote the long-term sustainability of these champions?

Has your company created effective feedback loops for sharing information? Regular information-sharing is key to promoting, maintaining and sustaining corporate health promotion globally.

  • Data and Measurement - How data-driven is your company when developing employee health programs? What data types resonate within your organization (e.g., cost, health status, absenteeism)? While setting corporate global wellness and well-being strategy, which data collection points, policies, processes and systems are necessary to sustain initiatives for the long-term?
  • Evaluation and Feedback - Is the need for evaluation established in your organization’s culture? Are evaluation data critically assessed? What training or guidance would help employees who are tasked with wellness and well-being become more comfortable with incorporating quantitative or qualitative feedback into program development and partner/stakeholder assessment? Incentives for Involvement - What tangible and intangible incentives can your company leverage to encourage consistent and persistent promotion of wellness and well-being at all levels in the organization around the world? Can the results be tracked, and can people and programs be rewarded?
  • Communication Systems - How will wellness-related information be communicated regularly and effectively in all organizational directions (top-down and bottomup, between and across regions) and with stakeholder partners? What systems (formal or informal) are necessary to drive that communication?
  • Partner Identification - What resources can your organization leverage to support its wellness and well-being promotion ambitions and initiatives (e.g., existing health plan or vendor partners, local advocacy organizations)?

There is no ideal order for addressing the issues identified in step two. Because topics are often interrelated, they likely demand simultaneous action. Regardless, when developing a corporate approach to global wellness and well-being, a company should contemplate these questions to better understand a) company culture; b) organizational influences on the success of global wellness; c) complicating issues that may derail the strategy and/or demand time, attention and patience; and d) the variety of cultural influences in countries with existing or future corporate operations.

Step Three: Define the Distribution of Responsibility

As an organization begins to offer employee wellness and well-being programs globally, it should define what it can contribute to corporate and local initiatives. A key point that cannot be emphasized enough is that for corporate initiatives to be successful they must realistically balance corporate and local aims, demands and costs. Organizations must delineate their unique blend of these inputs. Although corporate health goals may drive wellness and well-being initiatives globally at first, they need to become local ambitions. Similarly, although corporate may support or staff initial wellness and well-being initiatives, programs won’t survive for long until they become valuable to individual units and/or facilities. An indication of value is a willingness to assume responsibility and contribute funding, staffing, space and energy.


When developing a global wellness and/or well-being strategy, leading companies identify clear goals and objectives for programs offered, and they have a way to track whether those goals are being met. Additionally, they focus on creating an organizational structure to promote workforce health. That structure’s objective is to formalize in the organizational culture the value of having healthy employees and dependents. Additionally, it highlights the importance of taking an integrated approach to impacting employee health. As experience has shown, the value of leveraging all available resources, including those that are employer sponsored (e.g., occupational health and safety, medical care, employee assistance programs), and those assets available locally (e.g., country health ministry, advocacy organizations) is incalculable.

Although companies may see consistent employee health problems around the world, it is important to differentiate between what can or should be done at the corporate level versus the regional, country or local levels. Different populations have varying health needs and diverse health associations – e.g., their preferred health communication mechanisms, terms, philosophies and assumptions – and demand tailored intervention. A wellness program or initiative that is effective in one setting or with one group of employees may not be as successful in other locations or with other people. While it is possible to develop a strategic global approach to promoting health as a corporate priority, programming needs to be tailored to the specific health needs of the local workforce in order to positively impact employee wellness and the bottom line.

Remember, there is no single solution to improving employee health around the world.

The long-term sustainability of corporate efforts to impact employee health globally requires realistic expectations about what global wellness initiatives can feasibly accomplish. Similarly, consideration should be given to how wellness and well-being programs can be built effectively in organic and incremental ways. Stakeholders have skills and capacities which are based on situational circumstances (e.g., location, interests, experiences, understandings). These talents should be deployed to support a cohesive approach and create maximum value. Without a solid organizational support system in place to sustain health promotion long-term, health care passions – and ultimately health enterprises - may wane. It’s better to take the time and energy needed to build that strong foundation, knowing that company culture is truly changing to value employee health and human capital, than to lose momentum entirely.

Answers to the questions outlined above will help employers create a productive path and process for developing global wellness initiatives that are specific to their own organizations and employee populations. These questions support the notion that time spent thinking through and developing an effective wellness program can be as critical to success as the program itself.

More Topics

Articles & Guides icon_right_chevron_dark Culture and Strategy icon_right_chevron_dark
More in Global


  1. Step One: Understand the Desired Corporate End Goals
  2. Step Two: Manage the Corporate Path to Global Wellness
  3. Step Three: Define the Distribution of Responsibility
  4. Conclusion