Employee Wellness Programs: Examples, Definition, Importance, and More
For a company to be successful, it must provide employees with a collaborative, motivational, and safe workplace. Regardless of if an employee base is fully in person, rully remote, or somewhere in between, one of the main methods you can use to improve such an environment is by using employee wellness programs.
But what is a workplace wellness program? Why is it important? How should you apply it? And how do you plan and formulate one?
This article will answer all of these questions and more.
Table of Contents
What is an employee wellness program?
Wellness programs are company initiatives that aim to improve or promote the health of the company employees. As noted by RAND Health, “Disease prevention programs aim either to prevent the onset of diseases (primary prevention) or to diagnose and treat disease at an early stage before complications occur (secondary prevention).”
These workplace wellness programs provide employees with various benefits to improve their overall lifestyle. Examples of such programs include programs that encourage healthy movement, provide health screenings, smoking cessation, diabetes control, and more. Some programs even include financial incentives for those who participate.
Why are wellness programs important?
Wellness programs were created to meet mutual goals that benefit both employers and employees. A strong employer will prioritize the mental and physical conditions of their employees, which, in return, will both boost productivity and provide substantial savings for your organization.
A company with a well-implemented wellness program will inevitably have a wider talent pool and give them a leg up on the competition, as 87% of employees factor in health and wellness offerings when deciding on an employer.
Plus, as we’ll see below, wellness programs that improve the employees’ quality of life will make them more likely to be productive and less likely to leave.
What impact do wellness programs have on businesses and employees?
Employee wellness programs can provide benefits in the following categories:
1. Physical impact
Healthy employees are likely to be more productive than those experiencing poor health. Poor health behaviors may lead to increased health risks and chronic diseases and result in lower levels of productivity. By promoting healthy habits such as movement and a balanced diet, employers can ensure their employees stay healthy and be more productive at work.
Employee wellness programs often include initiatives that encourage exercise, healthy eating habits, and regular medical checkups. As a result, employees participating in wellness programs may experience improved physical health, reduced risk of chronic diseases, and reduced absenteeism due to illness.
2. Emotional and mental impact
Employee wellness programs can positively impact employees’ emotional and mental health. Such programs make employees feel appreciated and valued, increasing their overall morale and connection to the business.
These programs often include wellness initiatives that promote stress reduction, mindfulness, and mental health awareness. To improve employee morale, employers can offer various wellness programs, such as gym memberships, yoga classes, smoking cessation programs, or guided meditation sessions.
Employees participating in workplace wellness programs may experience improved emotional well-being, reduced stress, and increased job satisfaction, when done correctly.
3. Intellectual impact
Corporate wellness programs boost learning and personal development. As a result, employees who participate in wellness programs may experience improved cognitive function, increased creativity, and enhanced problem-solving skills, benefitting the business and their own lives outside of work.
4. Environmental impact
Employee wellness programs do not – and should not – only focus on getting 10,000 steps a day or losing weight. Consider implementing initiatives that promote sustainable practices and reduce waste. Employees participating in these programs may experience a sense of environmental responsibility and an increased awareness of their environmental impact.
5. Social impact
Corporate wellness programs encourage team building and social interaction, which works to improve relationships between colleagues. Such programs also instill a sense of community within the workplace.
6. Occupational impact
A comprehensive wellness program not only helps improve morale and job satisfaction but also helps the employee focus on professional development, leading to increased job performance.
7. Financial impact
Another aspect of wellness to include could be around financial wellbeing. Financial literacy is an important aspect of an employee’s life and should be part of an employer’s responsibility to employees. Through these programs, employees experience increased financial wellness, security, and reduced financial stress which will help them to save more money as they grow.
8. Life purpose
Content employees are naturally inclined to reach their personal and professional goals. Participating in wellness programs may help employees experience a sense of purpose and find meaning in their work. Such programs encourage personal development and goal setting.
According to Zippia’s workplace wellness statistics, 52% of the companies in the United States offer wellness programs. In addition, approximately 72% of employers noticed a considerable reduction in absenteeism and health care costs of their employees.
As for the employee statistics, 80% of employees at such companies say that they enjoy work, 85% say that they intend to stay, 60% say that they are more productive, and 30% say that they had some diseases detected by these programs.
These numbers are remarkably positive, and clearly show the importance of such programs as an employer, even if they are going to be costly initially.
How do COVID-19, remote work, and other events impact the importance of employee wellness?
COVID-19 and the changes that have since ensued have forced more employees to stay home than before the pandemic, potentially disrupting employee wellness.
Such events have affected the employed in both the short and long term.
For many, working remotely for the first time led to a sense of loneliness. Working at home, without the possibility of bumping into a co-worker, has led to a sense of isolation and detachment from colleagues and the business, in some cases. Those little human interactions that we often take for granted at work actually go a long way in promoting mental health.
Additionally, with all the distractions at home, some workers have found focusing on tasks became a lot more challenging once they were working from home.
Fortunately, the expected long-term effects aren’t as negative as the short-term ones. According to AKIXI’s research on employee wellbeing, remote working will eventually create a sense of trust between employers and employees. Additionally, despite having some distractions, working from home removes a decent amount of work stress that may arise from working in the office.
And for many groups of employees, the rise in remote work has led to greater opportunities. Working parents have been able to work more flexible hours. People with disabilities are entering the workforce at record rates, as working from home allows for greater accessibility.
In fact, a study conducted by the Economic Innovation Group reported that the employment rate for people with disabilities not only bounced back to pre-pandemic levels by the middle of 2022, but actually exceeded it, leading to the highest employment rate for the group in over a decade.
Examples of wellness programs
Now that we have an idea of wellness programs and their importance, it’s time to look at some examples. Here are 11 wellness program examples you can use in 2023:
1. Transportation options
Some organizations provide their employees with replacements for their typical commutes. For example, as an employer, providing your employees with public transportation incentives or reimbursing employees for their public transport costs can reduce their commute expenses and improve their wellness, not to mention that kind of perk shows employees both they and the environment are priorities for the business.
For an even more environmentally-friendly option, other companies provide bike programs that won’t only boost the physical activity of the employees but also reduce pollution in the air.
Facebook’s Palo Alto campus offers such a bike-sharing program, encouraging employees to use bikes instead of motorized vehicles to get to work.
2. Smoking prevention
Many people who smoke cigarettes want to quit, they just don’t know how to. From an employer’s view, helping employees quit smoking is an all-around win: it improves productivity (due to less smoke breaks), lowers employees’ insurance costs, and reduces absenteeism from smoking related issues.
Union Pacific, a railroad construction American company, implemented a non-mandatory smoking cessation program that relies on pharmacological therapy and life coaching.
Within just 17 years (from 1990 to 2007), UP managed to reduce the percentage of its smoking employees from 40% to 17%.
3. Paramedical services
Companies that prioritize employee wellness programs, like Google, offer paramedical services to their employees. Such services include but aren’t limited to: wound care, blood and urine tests, administering medications, and even massage therapy. Google’s program shows that even small changes can make a difference in employee wellness.
4. Financial education
Financial education and management is an underrated, yet mandatory, skill that most people don’t seem to grasp due to the complicated nature of it all. Managing your financials and avoiding unnecessary purchases can go a long way in boosting savings and future plans.
Unfortunately, such “education” is mostly absent from our education system, at least in the United States. However, Wegmans, a US-based market chain, believes otherwise.
The company’s employee wellness program provides financial education to its employees to teach them how to invest their income and formulate a retirement plan properly.
5. Employee assistance
Ensuring that mental and physical health is cared for is vital for overall wellbeing and can have a major impact on workplace performance. Accenture acknowledges this and offers confidential support to employees experiencing issues such as stress, anxiety, substance abuse, or depression.
The company provides a range of guided support programs, including financial aid for those who need it, that are accessible to all employees and specifically tailored toward helping them manage any work-related stress. Moreover, Accenture motivates employees to set and achieve wellness goals within the programs.
Recognizing that employee wellbeing is not limited to the workplace, Accenture goes the extra mile to provide further assistance to those who require it. This kind of care and empathy toward employees fosters a strong connection between the employer and employees, leading to higher levels of satisfaction and employee loyalty.
6. Healthy food
We know our bodies need fuel to thrive, so it makes sense that a nutritious diet can help employees feel and perform better. Unfortunately, since most lunch breaks are usually around 30 minutes, employees may feel the need to rely on unhealthy or fast food to satisfy their hunger in a quick and easy way.
Bandwidth, a communication platform company, provides its 700 employees a 90-minute lunch break. It’s enough to eat without a rush, do any sort of activity, or even go back home for a healthy homemade lunch.
There are even dedicated companies like Natural Source that specialize in delivering healthy snacks. As an employer, you can use a service like this to keep the company cafe stocked with the best nutrition-packed brain-food possible, boosting the health, morale, and productivity of your employees.
Did you know that taking naps has been clinically proven to boost productivity? Companies like Zappos, Asana, and Facebook tend to have specialized nap rooms that allow employees to nap after lunch. With renewed energy and reinvigoration after a quick nap, employees can give their 100% at work.
8. Conducting yoga sessions
Yoga is a practice that combines breathing exercises, body movement, and meditation to promote overall health and wellbeing.
Regular yoga practice has numerous benefits, including increased flexibility, improved balance and posture, reduced stress and anxiety, increased strength and cardiovascular health, better sleep quality, and spiritual well-being. Additionally, studies have shown that yoga may positively affect conditions such as depression, chronic pain, and inflammation.
Because yoga is a low-impact exercise, it can be practiced by people of most ages and fitness levels, making it an accessible, effective, and enjoyable way to promote the physical and mental health of your employees.
9. On-site fitness
This particular example may not be suitable for all companies since it’s hard to dedicate a large area specifically for physical exercise. However, if possible, it’s a program worth investing in because of the potential physical and mental benefits achieved through fitness. As an employer, this will help you reduce absenteeism and improve productivity.
Chesapeake Energy is an example of a company that prioritizes the fitness of its employees. In addition to fitness devices, its training center contains a rock-climbing wall and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Furthermore, Chesapeake Energy provides cash incentives for employees who manage to participate and meet their goals within the assigned time.
10. Physical wellness challenges and adventures
Physical wellness activities, as useful as they can be for some, shouldn’t be forced on employees, as they may not be useful for others. That’s why it’s important to make wellness challenges fun and accessible for all employees who want to participate in such activities.
Much like on-site fitness programs, physical wellness challenges often take the approach of “reach a certain milestone to receive a reward.” RISE designed some healthy workplace fitness challenges that, should employees participate and win, will win a prize by the end of the month.
Zappos is another company that takes physical wellness into account by framing them as adventures. The team would schedule a non-work related random event to take the employees out of the work mood and have some fun. The events they organize can be as simple as a golf session or as thrilling as a laser tag game.
And by offering multiple activities during these programs employees with different preferences and abilities can all find something they will enjoy.
11. Celebrating employee success
The team should participate in a celebration whenever it completes its team-based task. Many companies make the mistake of recognizing only the managers and team leaders in their success. This doesn’t only create a sense of disconnection between the employers and their employees, but it will also yield less motivation when starting on a new project, as employees feel like their work is going unnoticed.
Cisco is one of the companies that acknowledged success on all levels. It allots teams a certain amount of money, known as the “fun fund.” Once the team meets a certain milestone, it uses its fun fund for parties and celebrations, motivating employees to reach that goal.
What makes for a good wellness program?
To make an effective wellness program, you need to focus on two main aspects; the components and the goals.
Components of a good wellness program
The best components vary between programs depending on the needs of a business, but there are three that are common in almost all of them:
1. Management commitment
A successful wellness program should have participants from all positions in the company, especially from upper-level management.
As an employer, you should prioritize the “do as I do” over the “do as I say”. In other words, employees may view such programs as a form of hypocrisy if there’s no commitment and participation from the management members themselves. To prevent this, its best to set up a wellness committee of employees from all tenures to track and improve the programs.
Wellness programs take time to plan, prepare for, and execute. Unfortunately, all efforts will be in vain if the program ends up having no participants.
Employers should not only put effort into creating a program, but also into delivering it effectively. Employees need a clear idea of what the program is, why it is there, and how it can benefit them. Otherwise, they’ll just view it as an optional or irrelevant side activity.
You must find ways to motivate your employees to join the wellness programs. Such ways can include incentives and rewards upon reaching certain milestones.
Before transitioning wellness programs from paper to reality, you need to plan ahead for them. Start by understanding the actual needs of your employees so you can create a program that they’ll be interested in.
Furthermore, you cannot execute any program at any given time. You need to consider your company’s assets and available funds and decide the rollout of possible programs accordingly.
Goals of wellness programs
Here’s a list of health and wellness programs goals:
1. Reducing healthcare cost
Wellness programs that focus on improving good habits like mindfulness and preventing bad ones like smoking will improve the employees’ overall health.
Overall better health leads to fewer medical expenses as the employees won’t need their medical insurance as often.
2. Attracting new employees and reducing absenteeism
The best example of how wellness programs can make a company highly desirable is Google. According to Fortune, Google has consistently ranked the top as the best company to work for.
One of the major contributing factors to such a rank is the highly desired and skillfully applied overall wellness programs. As a result, Google employees hardly leave, and the number of applications is constantly increasing.
3. Increasing productivity and morale
Productivity and morale go hand in hand, especially if there’s more morale to gain by being more productive.
A wellness program will provide your employees with more motivation to be productive. The more productive they are, the more milestones they will meet.
The more goals they achieve, the even greater morale they have, and the more you, as an employer, will benefit.
4. Increasing retention rate
The hire-and-fire cycle is an inevitable obstacle that all employers struggle with. Regardless of how ideal the job is, some employees are just bound to leave at one point.
Using these wellness programs will almost always contribute to reducing the number of quitting employees. Not only that, but they will also encourage employees to perform better and potentially move internally on the company ladder.
This further reduces the re-hiring expenses and provides the company with already trustworthy employees.
What do you need to develop a wellness program?
While there are many types of employee wellness programs, here are some of the things you should consider when developing a wellness plan:
Assess the state of wellness
The very first thing you should do is know what your employees think, feel, want, need, like, and dislike. You should also do your best to collect such information anonymously and on a regular basis.
Assessing the state of wellness will provide valuable insight into the currently existing issues in the workplace and work hours. These issues should be the core upon which you build your wellness program.
Advice for implementing a wellness program
To correctly implement a wellness program, you’ll need to focus on three main aspects:
Wellness programs aren’t cheap, especially if you apply them to a large number of employees. The wellness budget will vary depending on the nature of your program and the scale you’re applying it on.
Once you have the budget figured out, you need to allocate a timeframe and an expected goal within that timeframe.
The program’s success will depend on the percentage of employees participating during that period and whether or not they have reached their milestones.
Before writing a proposal for a wellness program, you need to make sure that you’ve researched and planned enough for it.
The proposal should contain all the benefits that the program can offer. It should also be open to suggestions, modifications, and updates.
Finally, the program should call to action and necessitate the importance of implementing the program as soon as possible.
Legal considerations for wellness programs
Much like everything, there are some legal considerations that a wellness initiative should include.
For example, a marathon runner and an employee with a broken leg shouldn’t have the same goals, nor should employees with disabilities have the same milestones/goals as the marathon runner, to avoid putting them at a disadvantage. The program should allow employees of all abilities and physical fitness levels to participate, enjoy, and even win.
Additionally, if program-related injuries happen, the injured person should receive compensation if it is proved the injury did actually happen because of a certain program activity.
Promoting wellness includes providing mental and physical support as well as health and entertainment benefits.
To implement a wellness program, you need to start by surveying your workplace. Understand the weakness and gaps among your employees, then formulate your program to remove or reduce these weaknesses.
Examples of wellness programs are health education, miles-stone-based physical activities, and team-based games.
Employees want a wellness program that will provide progression in one of their life aspects without hurting the efficiency of their workday. That’s why a corporate wellness program that’s perfect for a certain company may not be suitable for another company.
A healthier workforce can be the bread and butter of a successful company. The trick is understanding the importance of such a program and how it can improve employee well-being and productivity despite the initial cost.
Workplace wellness is all about making employees want to go to work instead of having to. For that to happen, the program should be formulated and focused on the actual needs of the employees.
For that to happen, assessing the current workplace using constant surveys is essential.
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