Employees are the most valuable asset a company has. Without productive employees, work is neglected, and companies flounder.
According to a study by the Health, Productivity, and Performance Study Committee, 90% of employers see a strong connection between promoting wellness and employee productivity and performance. Our State of Work-Life Wellness 2022 report also shows that 78% of US workers believe their wellbeing at work is just as important as their salary. Essentially, employers know that happier and healthier employees perform better and are more productive. Since employees are a company’s most valuable resource, taking time to promote wellness and health is worth the return. One way many companies work toward healthier and happier employees is with an employee wellness program.
What Is an Employee Wellness Program?
Employee wellness programs are initiatives employers put into place to encourage, aid, and improve overall employee health and wellbeing. Wellness programs can also be tailored for employees to overcome specific health challenges or problems they face. These workplace wellness programs can include mandatory training or seminars, incentivized in-house programs, or even partner programs via a third party provider. However the program takes shape, the goal is always to improve employee health and wellbeing.
What Does Wellbeing Consist Of?
When discussing health, most people think purely of the physical aspects of being healthy, but, of course, there is much more to health than just physical wellness. That’s why many employers craft their wellness programs around the idea of wellbeing. Wellbeing is a holistic approach to wellness that incorporates eight pillars or eight different aspects. Developing and caring for each of the eight aspects of wellbeing can help people not only be healthier but live life more fully. These eight facets of wellbeing are also interdependent—each one needs attention to maintain a healthy wellbeing.
Emotional wellness is the ability to regulate emotion, adapt to new situations, and persevere through challenges and hard times. The National Institutes of Health has recommended six ways to improve emotional wellbeing:
- Practice mindfulness
- Work to cope with loss however is necessary
- Develop and maintain social connections with friends, family, and more
- Maintain a positive outlook on life
- Get enough sleep
- Learn healthy ways to cope with stress—and reduce it when possible
Many people forget about financial wellbeing, but financial stability affects how well someone is able to maintain their emotional, intellectual, and social health along with all other pillars of wellness. Financial wellbeing includes living within the means available, making smart money choices, preparing for both emergencies and long term goals, and being aware of the entire household’s financial needs.
The areas people live in, work in, and play in all can affect their wellbeing. Environmental wellness is creating safe and productive spaces to live in and work in. The National Institutes of Health offers these ideas for focusing on environmental wellbeing:
- Clear out potentially harmful substances from the home
- Test for toxic gasses in the home
- Avoid air pollution as much as possible by staying indoors when quality is low
- Dress appropriately for the weather—layers in the winter and sunscreen in the summer
Knowledge is power, but it’s also a way to maintain a healthy wellbeing. Expanding one’s knowledge and learning new skills can be a valuable way to contribute to society, but it’s also important to maintain healthy intellectual wellness. Intellectual wellbeing is about using “thought-provoking mental activities” for brain health, stimulation and growth. Whether it’s Sudoku puzzles in the evening, taking cooking classes, or reading regularly, intellectual wellness is an important part of employee wellness.
Spiritual wellness is about finding purpose and meaning in life. While spiritual wellbeing can be maintained through organized religion, it can also be developed outside of organized religion. Some activities that can help facilitate spiritual wellness include meditation, yoga, spending time alone pondering, journaling, spending time in nature, and appreciating art and music.
Humans are innately social beings, so to achieve a healthy wellbeing, it’s important to develop social wellness. Social wellness includes developing new relationships, strengthening existing relationships, and caring for others. The National Institutes of Health provide these tips for social wellness:
- Make connections—familial, friendship or romantic connections via participating in the community or in hobbies
- Work on communication skills to strengthen relationships
- Spend time every day with family and friends
- Stay active with other people
Occupational wellness is how someone finds satisfaction, purpose and fulfillment in their job and career as a whole. Someone who enjoys their job, feels as though they are making a difference in the company, and finds their job in alignment with their moral values will experience occupational wellness. While jobs can be tedious or arduous at times, occupational wellness is focused on the overall satisfaction of working a particular job or pursuing a certain career.
Physical wellness is what most people think of when considering wellness. Physical wellbeing is focused on the body and keeping the body healthy. Keeping the body healthy can include exercise and nutrition, as most people know, but it can also include disease prevention, reducing tobacco use, and other lifestyle adjustments that promote physical health.
Because overall wellness relies on a healthy balance between each of the eight dimensions of wellbeing, creating and implementing a wellness program for employees that supports all of them can seem overwhelming. However, Gympass has dedicated their resources to building a complete and comprehensive wellness program for companies looking to provide their employees with connections to 50,000 fitness partners, 1,300 on demand health and fitness classes, 2,000 hours of meditation, 1,000 healthy recipes, and weekly 1:1 therapy sessions.
Different Types of Wellness Programs
To help promote a healthy and holistic wellbeing, companies implement wellness programs. Some employers wonder what to include in a wellness program for employees, and while there are federal laws—like ERISA, ADA, and GINA—that regulate wellness programs, most companies are free to shape their programs in a way that suits their employees and fits with their business goals. There are many different types of company wellness programs to choose from and each one can be beneficial.
Disease management programs can take a variety of different shapes, but the essence of the program is to create structured plans for managing chronic conditions, improving quality of life, and maintaining health. Some of these programs involve regular doctor consultations, home visits, counseling, and additional support for employees. These types of programs work best for companies with many employees who may suffer from chronic illnesses or are high-risk for certain conditions.
Employee Success Celebrations
Occupational wellbeing is important for employees, and one way to help employees to feel appreciated and valued in the workplace is to celebrate their successes. When employees or the company as a whole reaches milestones or completes goals, it can be beneficial to have programs in place to celebrate successes. The celebrations can be done with newsletter shout-outs, in-office parties, gift baskets, gift cards, or local outings or trips. Companies can shape these celebrations to suit their workplace culture, but celebrating employees regularly is a beneficial way to improve their wellbeing.
Financial Counseling and Planning
Financial wellbeing is important, and companies can help their employees find more fulfillment financially. A great way to offer financial wellness support is to include financial counseling and planning. This type of program can involve one-on-one sessions with financial planners, or it can be done on a larger scale with group seminars for employees. Many companies may find it beneficial to partner with financial experts to regularly offer counseling and planning sessions for the employees who are interested.
Flexible Work Schedules
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown many companies that flexibility in both schedules and working locations is feasible. More than that, research over the past few years on remote work has shown that working remotely can improve productivity. In a study, researchers found that working from home can improve productivity by 13% and reduce employee attrition. Another survey found that most employees are more likely to stay at their job or choose to work for a company if that company offers flexibility in scheduling and where employees can work. Flexible work schedules can help reduce time consuming activities (like lunch breaks) while helping employees manage their time and personal lives better.
Some companies allow employees to work remotely while some let employees work out of office a set amount of time per week. Other companies have implemented 4-day work weeks or allowed employees to shift their start times to a later time that works for them. However a flexible work schedule looks, it can help employees balance work and life better.
The flu costs America $10.5 billion a year in hospitalizations and out-patient visits, but it can also cost individual companies. When an employee gets the flu, it can cost them 3.7-5.9 working days after a diagnosis. To help reduce this loss in productivity and to keep employees healthy, many companies implement a flu shot program. Nurses will often come on-site to offer flu shots, or smaller companies sometimes work out an arrangement with a nearby clinic.
Free Healthy Snacks
Many companies provide their employees with lunches, snacks, and other free food. This is a good start, but it’s important that companies ensure the food being provided is healthy – since nutrition plays a big role in a person’s physical health. Providing whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein can be a great way to offer healthy snacks and meals for employees.
Since physical fitness is important to an employee’s physical wellness, many companies use gym programs to promote physical activity. Some companies offer on-site gyms while others offer reimbursement programs to local gyms. Still other companies partner with a local gym to give reduced membership fees to their employees. Finally, some companies partner with organizations to offer their employees unlimited access to gyms and studios throughout their area.
Health knowledge is an excellent way to empower employees to take control of their health and to make smart choices. Corporate wellness programs that focus on educating employees about health and wellness can be some of the simplest to implement since they can be scaled to any company size and any need. Companies use newsletters, online videos and content, webinars, brochures, or on-site seminars to educate and empower their employees with actionable strategies to enhance their health and wellness.
On-Site/ Near-Site Clinics
Some large companies are able to offer on-site clinics that employees can visit for health check-ups and other visits. Other companies provide similar physical health programs by partnering with near-site clinics to make sure their employees always have access to medical support and guidance.
Telemedicine is something that has grown in popularity over the last several years. This health option allows employees to visit with doctors and other medical professionals via video calls. These doctor’s visits can then be done from anywhere and at any time which makes them flexible and accessible for employees. Many telemedicine doctors make home visits when necessary to run tests. Using telemedicine is a way for employers to make sure their employees have access to medical support.
Tobacco usage used to be declining, but with the influx of e-cigarettes, the trends seem to be changing. According to a CDC study, 1 in 5 workers now use a type of tobacco product—and could benefit from a tobacco or smoking cessation program. These programs can be done through counseling, quit plans, nicotine replacement therapy, or other approaches, but the main goal is to help employees cease using tobacco.
Wellness challenges are simple programs most companies can implement to encourage their employees to be more wellness-minded. These challenges can be catered to focus on physical, emotional, financial, environmental, or social health—and adapted for most workplaces. Apps and fitness trackers are excellent ways to encourage employees to be physically active. Other apps can help employees focus on emotional facets of their health. However the program looks, wellness challenges can be affordable and simple to implement.
Yoga and Meditation Classes
Emotional health is also important to employee wellbeing. Yoga and meditation classes are great tools for companies to help employees relax. Employers can partner with yoga studios to come on-site and offer classes for employees or they might find it more beneficial to offer off-site courses in the evenings.
New Trends for Wellness Programs
Health and workplace wellness programs have shifted and evolved over time, and will continue to do so as employers are able to create programs that better support their employees. These are four of the new trends for wellness programs that more and more companies will be implementing in the upcoming years. These trends are all designed to help support holistic wellness for employees.
Mental Health Support
In one study, Shortlister found that corporations showed increased interest in mental health and behavioral health benefits in 2020. 2020 was a stressful year for many workers, and it affected their wellbeing at work. Since then, employers have rediscovered the value of supporting employee mental health, leading to more companies providing wellness programs that support mental health. From app subscriptions to mental health seminars to counseling, employers will be increasingly adding mental health programs over the coming years.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
A diverse workforce includes individuals from all walks of life, helping to build a more innovative and creative workforce. But many employees still pay an “emotional tax” when working in an environment where they feel they must constantly be “on guard”. This tax is one of the biggest threats to workplace wellbeing for many employees. To help improve employee wellness, companies are implementing measures to improve diversity, equity and inclusion. From seminars to webinars to counseling, companies will continue to add more diversity support as part of their wellness programs in the future.
As companies focus more and more on the holistic wellness of their employees, wellness programs are starting to include childcare support. More employers are offering programs including on-site childcare, childcare locators, and availability for back-up childcare. Additionally, some companies opt to provide their employees with flexible work schedules or the option to work remotely which can also help to support employees’ childcare needs.
Financial Wellness Programs
Financial wellbeing is important to an employee’s holistic wellbeing. Many companies already have financial counseling in place—but employees want more– specifically when it comes to reducing debt and living within their means. Companies will continue to add wellness programs that support these goals over time.
Benefits of an Employee Wellness Program
In general, most employers and employees know that wellness programs are beneficial. But there are specific wellness program benefits that are worth understanding when planning to implement a new employee wellness program. These are some of the key benefits of implementing wellness programs in the workplace:
- Reduce risk of disease. In a study published by Rand Health Quarterly, researchers found that corporate wellness programs can reduce the risk of “lifestyle” diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Specifically, these wellness programs can help combat the main causes of morbidity and mortality in the United States. As companies continue to implement health and wellness programs, they can continue to reduce the risk of lifestyle disease among their employees.
- Improve employee engagement. Workplace engagement is important because it improves the health, safety, happiness, satisfaction and loyalty of employees. Creating a wellness program can improve employee engagement—both with the company’s goals and with their own work success.
- Improve employee productivity. Productivity isn’t just beneficial for employees, but it can actually save companies money. A study from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine shows that implementing wellness programs can increase employee productivity and save companies about $353 per employee per year. For a company with 100 employees, these kinds of savings can add up: $3,530 a year. Improving employee health can improve productivity.
- Reduce stress. 80% of workers feel stress on the job. Workplace stress can affect employees negatively and cause them to consider leaving their current positions. But there is a general solution to reducing stress: meditation. Studies show that meditation programs do have a meaningful effect on reducing stress in the workplace. Implementing a meditation wellness program can then help employees reduce stress and feel better at work.
- Increase morale. One benefit that employers may overlook is that employees actually want wellness programs. About 59.4% of employees think that employers should implement wellness programs. Another study shows that employees appreciate the wellness programs provided by their workplaces. Overall, implementing workplace wellness programs can increase the morale of employees because they’re actively appreciating and looking for these wellness benefits.
- Increase retention. It costs employers a significant amount of time and money to replace an employee that leaves an organization. In fact, employers end up losing about 6–9 months of an employee’s salary to replace that employee. Luckily, wellness programs can actually help keep employees at a company. With a highly effective employee wellness program, there’s only about a 4% voluntary turnover rate for employees. Ultimately employees who are healthier and happier will want to stay.
How Do You Start a Wellness Program?
Employers and employees benefit from having a well-designed wellness program. However, with the many options for wellness programs, it can be hard to know where to start when implementing one. As companies look to start, these are the basic first steps to take to get a wellness program started::
- Determine Employee Needs
Before starting a wellness program, it’s important to understand what the employees may actually need from such a benefit. After all, there’s no reason to spend time and money crafting a perfect tobacco cessation program only to realize that the program would only help one or two employees—and the rest will continue to need a different approach.
To determine employee needs, employers can create surveys, perform risk assessments, review the health plan and perform environmental audits. From these surveys and assessments, employers should evaluate where the greatest areas of risk lie and what areas of holistic wellbeing aren’t being fostered. For example, an employee survey might reveal that employees want more mental health support. In this case, a company might move forward with plans to meet their employees’ mental and emotional support needs. It’s best to begin by determining what employees really want and need before implementing a program.
- Craft Goals
Once a company determines the needs of their employees, it’s important to then craft goals that are designed to meet those needs. For example, in the case of a need for mental health support, a company may also want to improve employee retention. This company will want to create a goal to improve retention by a certain percentage and date by creating a specific mental health program. The goals for wellness programs should be as specific as possible—with clear dates and benchmarks to hit. The components of employee wellness programs can then be designed with these goals in mind..
- Obtain Support
No program can fully get off the ground without management support and backing. After establishing goals to meet specific needs, plans should be presented to upper management to gain feedback and support moving forward. Management teams can also set budgetary guidelines and help delegate tasks and roles throughout the wellness program planning and implementation process.
To fully get management support, presenting teams must make a strong case on how wellness programs can help benefit the company as a whole. Explaining the benefits—like improved retention, productivity, and engagement—can help a management team see how wellness programs can benefit the company.
- Establish a Budget
With management support, it’s time to set a budget. How much money does the company have to spend on wellness programs? How many programs will exist, and which programs will get what amount of money? Some programs might be free—like a weekly walk to lunch—while others may need equipment—like apps or pedometers. Partnering with third parties can cost money, so it’s important to set a budget in advance.
- Design Programs
The next step is to design the actual programs. Most employers will choose some of the common wellness programs described above and adapt them specifically to their company’s—and their employee’s–needs and goals. For example, if a company wants to promote all aspects of wellness, a partnership with an organization like Gympass — the world’s largest employee fitness and wellbeing platform — can give employees access to fitness studios, apps that promote health and nutrition, health and wellness education, mental health support, personal trainers, meditation platforms, and so much more. Programs should be designed to adhere to ADA, GINA and HIPAA guidelines.
- Create a Way to Measure Success
Before starting a program, employees must design how they will measure the success of a program. Too many companies create programs with no way to determine their success and end up pouring resources into programs that may not be effective. Depending on the program, certain performance indicators will make more sense than others. For example, if a company implements a gym program, they can measure success by measuring participation in the program. Other ways to build in measurement include:
- Program completion rates
- Reduction in costs to the health program
- Percentage of employees who stopped smoking
Implementing Wellness Programs
With a plan designed, it’s time to implement the programs. These are the basic steps to implementing programs and getting started with improving wellness:
Incentives can encourage employees to participate in programs, which can help make the programs more successful overall. Specifically, incentives can increase employee participation in a wellness program by 20%. Incentives should reflect the level of effort participation requires. For example, a lunch seminar incentive should be smaller than the incentive for participating in a 12-week financial counseling course. Some incentives could include:
- Points that can be exchanged for goods
- Access to better health plans
- Monetary rewards
- Vacations or vacation days
- Gifts (such as water bottles, T-shirts, laptops, mobile phones and more)
Established rewards will be important for employees to understand because they have potential to increase participation.
Communicate the Wellness Plan
The next step is to communicate the wellness plan to the entire company and to make sure each employee understands what the program could do for them. After all, employees can’t participate in programs they don’t know about or understand. These are the basic steps to rolling out the program and communicating it to the employees:
- Announce the program somewhere where all the employees will see or hear about it—in a company meeting, on a Slack channel for announcements, in a monthly newsletter, on a poster for the break room, or anywhere else people will hear about the program.
- Show visible endorsement and participation from management. Employees who can see that the top level employees support a program and are participating may be more interested in participating themselves. In addition, management will help make sure all employees know about the opportunity.
- Use multiple communication channels. Even after the initial announcement, it is important to make sure to communicate about the new wellness program—and to do so through many channels. Send out emails or Slack messages , keep posters in the break room, and announce it in meetings. Both the repetition and multiple channels will help reach more employees.
- Explain how the program can benefit employees. Discuss the benefits and incentives to encourage employees to participate. Using a hypothetical example could potentially help employees see the benefits of the program more clearly.
Measuring the Success of a Wellness Program
Once a program is in operation, it’s time to start measuring how well it is meeting the goals and needs established early on. Whatever measurement method was included in the original plan can be used to measure the success of the program. Use surveys, participation rates, improvement in productivity or retention, reduction in sick days, program completion rates and more to see how many employees are using the program and how it might be affecting them and the company.
If a program isn’t performing well, it should be re-evaluated and adjusted to fit employee needs better. For example, an in-office healthy eating program might be getting low participation rates because most employees are working remotely at the time. The program could be adjusted to provide healthy lunch options for those working remotely. However the program looks, it can only be improved when measured.
Overall, wellness programs are a way for companies to promote health and activity. Employers can use these programs to emphasize many different pillars of employee wellbeing—such as financial wellness, emotional wellness, and environmental wellness. Many wonder what makes a good wellness program, and at the end of the day, a good wellness program is one that meets the needs of the employees at a company and helps everyone focus more on their holistic health. Employees are a company’s most valuable resource, and wellness programs help employers take care of them.
The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.