In a previous post, we discussed what employers should do as they wait for the courts to rule on the challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), otherwise known as health care reform. With so much out of their control on the issue, companies can instead focus on controlling their health care costs. One of the most effective ways to do that is through wellness programs.

You don't have to be a Fortune 500 company with a million dollar budget to take steps to improve the wellness of your workforce. For example, many hospitals are attempting to serve as role models for wellness and most have some sort employee wellness program in place. A January 2011 study of 876 hospitals conducted by the American Hospital Association found hospitals that measured the return on their wellness investment at least broke even. More specifically, 41 percent had an ROI between 1:1 to 2:1 (a return of $1 to $2 for each $1 invested), 35 percent had an ROI of 2:1 to 3:1 and 24 percent reported a return of more than 3:1.

Wellness remains all the rage and has been for years. The rationale, of course, is companies that encourage employees to lose weight, stop smoking, start exercising, and generally lead healthier lives can have a positive impact on their health benefit costs.

Simply asking employees to fill out a health risk assessment (HRA), which gathers insight into current and potential health risks based on behaviors, family history and other factors, can be a good first step. Working with a vendor to ensure confidentiality, companies can use HRA results to identify wellness efforts that will likely have the most impact. If HRA results indicate a significant number of employees have high blood pressure, the company is likely to reap a higher return by focusing wellness investments in on-site blood pressure monitoring and other initiatives designed to ensure these individuals are managing their condition. For example, because having a relationship with a primary care physician (PCP) has been shown to lead to better outcomes, including fewer emergency room visits, companies can run contests or campaigns to reward individuals who sign up with a PCP.

There is no shortage of online tools and other means to bring wellness into the workplace. However, if these efforts are not tailored to the company culture and employee needs, they will not make much difference. Because so much of wellness success relies on employees engaging with the program and taking steps to change, these programs must find the right approach to spur action. For some employees, this might be a monetary incentive. For others, peer pressure to participate or the social opportunities of, say, lunchtime or after-hours exercise programs are enough to get employees involved.

The key is to identify what the company wants to accomplish, how it will measure progress against those goals and how to get employees excited about these programs.