Wellness programs that will improve employee engagement can often be inexpensive and easy to implement.

While no one likes the idea of burnout, employers — who invest thousands of dollars hiring, training and onboarding each team member — are especially wary of it among their employees. To prevent this dreaded issue, employee wellness programs are rising in popularity.

But how do you pick the ones that are worth the cost? Do you really "get what you pay for"? Not always. But with thoughtful planning and committed execution, you don't have to break the bank.

Discovering Which Employee Wellness Programs Will Be Most Appreciated

When deciding on wellness and health-incentive programs, it's crucial to determine what the majority of your workforce would actually benefit from. The best initiatives for a young, mostly childless workforce that makes frequent use of remote work are not likely to be the same as those for an older, more family-oriented team that works on-site consistently.

As usual, the best place to start is with the goals and desired outcomes of your wellness initiative, which will help guide you through the many possibilities you may be considering. Match each goal with a few appealing options and then compare their appeal with the characteristics of your workforce. Selecting the right programs may take some amount of experimentation, so make sure to ask for feedback and monitor buy-in rates.

Changing Habits Doesn't Have to Be Expensive

In order for a wellness program to be effective, it needs to change bad habits common among your employees. Finding the root of those habits is key to discovering the solution — and more often than not, an expensive initiative isn't the best one for doing this. In the long run, a change in culture will do much more than a fancy new gadget will.

In order to see a change throughout your organization, set the groundwork with executive participation. Start with the habits that are most common and causing the most problems. Are long workdays driving down productivity and employee health? Or have you noticed employees struggling to resist the urge to work on nights and weekends? It may be something else entirely. Pinpoint what's causing this behavior and how a wellness initiative can help you change it.

Inexpensive Wellness Programs to Consider

There are many wellness initiatives and programs that are as effective as they are budget-friendly. Without requiring your organization to shell out a hefty investment, each of the following options fixes a problem by changing something about your culture.

Flextime — Offering flexible work schedules may be the most impactful change you can make on your workplace. While this won't work for every business, if you can offer it, you may be able to greatly reduce many of the key stressors on your employees while spending very little. Your organization will soon see the benefit of higher attendance, healthier employees and even greater retention — especially among working parents.

Telecommuting — Your business may actually save money by offering this benefit. According to Global Workplace Analytics, you could recuperate thousands per employee simply in maintenance costs. Offering the option of working from home can also cut down on absences, improve productivity and increase the size of your talent pool to include those who are unable to commute or relocate to your office.

Workplace Clubs and Competitions — A third low-cost wellness initiative to consider is starting clubs around healthy habits and offering competitions with prizes for those who stick to new, healthy habits. While they should be led by executives, these changes can be essentially free. It costs nothing, for example, to start a walking or running club one day a week. Health-focused competitions can be effective, too, even if you spend just a mere $100 on the prize. You can also consider offering other perks for winners, like extra vacation days.

Policy Changes — While policy changes may seem to be the least exciting, they may be the most effective. Consider instituting walking meetings, encourage physical activity breaks every hour or have your executive team all leave on time every day, asking employees who are still working if they need help and encouraging them to leave the task that's holding them up until the next day.

Wellness programs that root out bad habits and encourage productivity and engagement don't have to cost a fortune. Whatever time you spend developing new health initiatives is likely to be time well spent.

Tags: Trends and Innovation Midsize Business Large Business Research & Insights Articles Employee Engagement and Productivity Wellness HR