By CAROL NOEL MICHAELS, MPH, MCHES, Director, Health Promotion and Wellness – BeneFIT Corporate Wellness.

Despite rising health care costs, more employers are choosing to provide employees with value-added services aimed at supporting health and well-being.

The goal: to mitigate risk so that employees stay well and health care costs stay down.

A recent Harvard research study showed medical costs fall by about $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs and that absenteeism costs fall by about $2.73 for every dollar spent. However, one critical piece to seeing a return on this investment is ensuring employees also are willing to invest time and attention to managing their personal health risk-factors.

That’s where health coaching can assist, when a person may achieve desired goals related to health, fitness and wellness – all with confidential, one-to-one interactions with a growing breed of professionals called health and wellness coaches.

The first step in developing any workplace wellness plan is to define a baseline and to identify priority focus areas. Often, this is done by reviewing aggregate data from employee health risk assessments and biometric screenings.

The importance of educating employees about their results is sometimes underemphasized. An interpretation session with a health and wellness coach ensures that the employee’s perception of their health status is accurate.

Health and wellness coaches use these sessions to gauge the employee’s knowledge about his or her health risks, provide evidence-based resources and begin discussing how to take action.

While your company may be prepared to make an investment in walking workstations or to revise your corporate smoking policy, true behavior change requires that your employees are ready to take action, as well.

Assessing an individual’s readiness to change is one of the most important factors in crafting a health and wellness coaching approach. While many of your employees may be open to adopting a healthier lifestyle, others may feel powerless against their health problems, not believe they are susceptible to risk, or say they just don’t have the time.

Health and wellness coaches work through these barriers by opening the floor to a deeper conversation about the employee’s fears and motivations. They hand the reigns to your employees by asking what they think they can handle, how long they think it will take, how often they want to check in and what will keep them motivated.

The individual largely writes the action plan, but the coach is there to encourage and hold him or her accountable along the way.

Employer motivations for workplace wellness may differ.

Some employers will look to metrics of success such as risk trends, claims data and workplace productivity levels. A majority of employers, however, equate the value of their program to their employees’ quality of life.

It can be difficult to define the impact health coaching has at the individual level; however, it is possible to track whether your employees have met their goals or made progress toward them. Health and wellness coaches facilitate this by ensuring that employees set goals that are specific, measurable, action-based, realistic and timely.

For instance, if a physically inactive employee wants to run a marathon, a coach may suggest a revised short-term goal of walking 20 minutes each day. Choosing accountable goals not only sets your employee up for more immediate progress, but also provides you with a measurement framework that is reflective of the evolving needs and abilities of your workforce.

Everyone, even your most fit employees, has an opportunity to improve or maintain their health status.

According to a survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit, 26 percent of employees are not happy with their health and wellness and have defined health goals for themselves. Surprisingly, 58 percent are happy with their health and wellness – but also have goals to achieve.

Education programs, corporate policies and on-site resources are key components to supporting your employees’ well-being.

But nothing equates to putting someone in their corner, to listen, to encourage and to remind them that workplace wellness is one bit of work they should be taking home each and every day.