If you're stressed out from your work environment, you're not alone.
Globally, 42% of people with desk jobs reported burnout at the dawn of 2023, according to a Future Forum survey. That's the highest percentage since May 2021, when the research consortium began measuring burnout.
It's understandable that employees are feeling anxious and overwhelmed. And that's on top of escalating workplace challenges, like insufficient staffing, remote working pushback, job insecurity, and having too much on one's plate.
Fortunately, HR leaders can help alleviate team members' struggles by creating workplace wellness programs, also known as employee wellness programs.
In this post, we'll cover:
- What are Employee Wellness Programs?
- Why Employee Wellness Programs Matter
- Examples of Employee Wellness Programs
- 4 Steps to Implement an Employee Wellness Program
What are Employee Wellness Programs?
Employee wellness programs consist of initiatives that strengthen team members' physical, mental, financial and social well-being. Innovative companies launch these wellness initiatives to promote healthy lifestyles, encourage work-life balance, and nurture a supportive company culture.
Guided support programs are all the rage in corporate America. In 2022, 85% of large firms (those with 200 or more employees) and 54% of small firms offered an employee wellness program in at least one of these areas: smoking cessation, weight management, and behavioral or lifestyle coaching, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's annual survey.
Even companies that are committed to fully remote work have established an employee wellness program to push for healthy behaviors, such as consistent physical activity, healthy eating, and other wellness efforts. Reimbursing employees for wellness program participation or offering cash incentives for goal completion is how most organizations operate.
These benefits don't necessarily come at a low cost for employers, but when you consider the long-term cost savings of having healthy employees, the investment is worth it.
Examples of Employee Wellness Programs
Physical wellness programs
These workplace wellness programs address physical health, such as weight, cardiovascular conditioning, strength, and chronic diseases. Common benefits include health and wellness stipends, gym memberships and admission to local health clubs, on-site or virtual fitness classes and yoga classes, and even massage therapy sessions. To motivate team members to commit to healthy behaviors, these guided support programs often feature physical wellness challenges with cash incentives for reaching fitness goals.
Flexible working schedules tend to bolster healthy lifestyles. Instead of rushing through the drive-thru and relying upon fast food, employees with the benefit of remote work can devote themselves to healthy eating because they have more time to make a healthy homemade lunch.
As for those in the office, perhaps the company can stock up on fruit, vegetables, and other healthy snacks to offer workers a burst of renewed energy rather than having them flock to the vending machine for a sugar rush. Wellness initiatives can also include nutritional health coaching and meal plans for those with food allergies and dietary restrictions.
In addition to advocating for healthy food, a physical wellness program may also encourage employees to eliminate poor health behaviors, such as smoking and vaping. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that smoking comes with health risks like lung disease, cardiovascular disease, and all types of cancer. In fact, cigarettes claim nearly half a million American lives each year.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires most health insurance providers in the U.S. to include some degree of coverage of smoking cessation programs, which are treatment plans designed to help people quit smoking.
Smoking cessation programs are certainly worth the investment because each employee who smokes costs employers an average of $5,816 more than a nonsmoker per year, according to researchers from The Ohio State University and law firm Tsibouris & Associates. Tallying up the costs of healthcare expenses, absenteeism and lost productivity due to smoke breaks, companies can pay anywhere from nearly $3,000 to more than $10,000 per year extra for employing smokers.
Mental wellness programs
These workplace wellness programs focus on mental health, which includes psychological, emotional, and social well-being. Such programs have been on the rise, with nearly 23% of U.S. employees saying their employer introduced new mental health services during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Harris Poll survey conducted on behalf of Fortune.
Such services may include free counseling sessions, subscriptions to meditation apps, and other self-care resources. Meanwhile, yoga classes and massage therapy can not only better physical health, but also relieve stress and transmit renewed energy. And you may find this hard to believe, but corporate juggernauts like Proctor & Gamble, Facebook, and Nike have all built specialized nap rooms for employees.
Snoozing on the job used to get you fired (and still will in most organizations), but some employers see the value in encouraging team members to catch some z's. Science defends this notion, as several studies have suggested that power naps ranging from 20 to 30 minutes during the workday can improve employee health, boosting one's mood, productivity, concentration, and creativity.
Although a 2021 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health stopped short of recommending sleeping at work as a strategy for preventing lethargy and inefficiency, the study did indicate that afternoon naps enhance cognitive performance and alertness up to two hours after waking up. With nearly a quarter (22%) of American workers reportedly taking naps during business hours, according to the Better Sleep Council, more employers should adjust their policies and add specialized nap rooms as part of their workplace wellness program.
Perhaps the most popular benefit to arise from the pandemic has been flexible work schedules. Many organizations transitioned to remote work for the first time in 2020, enabling team members to achieve greater work-life balance. The newfound freedom let workers spend more time with their family and devote more attention to their well-being.
It's also a perk that employees have no intention of giving up. Flexible work schedules trailed only higher pay when Bankrate recently asked job seekers what's most important to them when considering employment.
Financial wellness programs
As America contends with high inflation, climbing interest rates, banking collapses, and recession fears, it's no surprise that team members are increasingly concerned about their money. Financial stress can definitely take a toll on employee well-being, which is why more companies are incorporating financial wellness into their corporate wellness programs.
The purpose of a financial wellness program is to educate team members on financial literacy, which is the ability to understand budgeting, investing, banking, credit, and debt. Most Americans were never taught these critical skills in school, so unless their families explained these concepts, they've entered the workforce without the financial knowledge necessary to thrive.
Therefore, HR leaders can truly make an impact by encouraging employees to participate in a financial wellness program with resources like a health savings account (HSA) and flexible spending account (FSA), finance management, retirement planning, student loan assistance, insurance options, commuter benefits and even financial health coaching on how to build emergency funds.
Social wellness programs
Social wellness programs focus on forming and maintaining relationships with others, particularly, colleagues and managers. In this age of remote working, social wellness initiatives are vital to ensuring team members' remained connected to their peers, as well as the company culture.
The goal of such programs is to have employees participate in team-building activities, which could be virtual events like Zoom happy hours and weekly ice breakers or some type of physical activity, such as a 5k run, yoga classes or other fitness classes.
Additionally, HR leaders can foster camaraderie by celebrating team members' birthdays, work anniversaries, promotions, or even accomplishments in their personal lives. Recognition goes a long way in boosting employee well-being.
Volunteering is another component of social wellness programs. Many employers often designate one day a year for team members to take off (while still being paid) to give back to their community. A few popular places to volunteer are at a local food bank, homeless shelter, nursing home, and nature conservancy, where they can plant trees, clean up trash, and learn about environmental responsibility.
Employee resource groups (ERGs) are usually part of a social wellness program. ERGs consist of team members who often volunteer their time and effort to champion an inclusive workplace. As part of a company's diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy, ERGs are comprised of employees of a similar background, such as race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. ERGs can also unite team members going through a shared experience, like caregiving, recovering from substance abuse, or living with chronic diseases.
Why Employee Wellness Programs Matter
Less than a quarter (24%) of U.S. employees feel that their organization cares about their overall well-being, which is the lowest percentage in nearly a decade, according to a 2022 Gallup survey.
HR leaders should be alarmed because distraught and disgruntled team members are more likely to underperform, experience burnout, hunt for a new job, or straight up quit. Plus, they could negatively influence colleagues, potential coworkers, and customers.
That's why launching and overseeing an employee wellness program is so important. Such programs demonstrate that your company actually cares about team members' well-being. These workplace wellness programs provide employees with health benefits that enrich their lives inside and outside the office. After all, a truly comprehensive wellness program goes beyond an employee's professional development.
Wellness initiatives also reinforce that even though your remote work team members aren't in the office on a daily basis, they're highly valued and haven't been forgotten.
In order to boost employee engagement and job satisfaction, while lowering your attrition rate, you have to develop a work environment in which employees feel appreciated. The 2022 State of Work-Life Wellness, conducted by Gympass, indicates that 85% of employees from around the world say they're more likely to stay in their current role if their employer focuses more on well-being.
The bare minimum, such as standard health benefits like dental and vision, simply isn't enough anymore. Team members expect employers to invest in them holistically, offering guided support programs for their physical, mental, financial, and social needs. As a result, companies will improve employee health, leading to increases in recruitment, retention, morale, and productivity.
Corporate wellness programs also lead to cost savings for employers. They're designed to serve as preventive strategy, mitigating health risks of your workforce. For example, healthcare costs are reduced by $3.27 for every dollar spent on employee wellness programs, and absenteeism costs drop by $2.73 for every dollar spent, according to a prominent Harvard study. Business leaders prioritizing employee wellness can't deny that return-on-investment (ROI).
4 Steps to Implement an Employee Wellness Program
If you want to implement employee wellness programs, your first step shouldn't be digging up the parking lot to install an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Sure, that shows ingenuity and dedication, but following these strategic steps will ensure that your employee wellness program comes to fruition.
1. Discover your team members' needs
As with any initiative, HR leaders should gauge employee interest before investing time, energy and resources into its creation. Send out a pulse survey asking team members what wellness challenges they're currently facing, what solutions would most benefit them, and if they'd participate in such programs targeting poor health behaviors. It's important to tailor employee wellness programs to the needs of your workforce.
For example, if running a marathon poses a health risk to most of your staff, then you should take a different approach to your physical wellness program, such as educating folks on dieting, nutrition, and the importance of healthy snacks.
2. Set your budget
After you learn how many team members will be participating in these workplace wellness programs, it's time to set your budget. Now, depending on what benefits you're offering, such programs won't be a low cost upfront.
Let's say you'll be reimbursing employees for gym memberships or access to local health clubs. Annual memberships to some of the most popular fitness chains in the U.S. cost hundreds of dollars. Multiply that by the number of participants in your workplace wellness program, and you're making quite a hefty investment.
But, as we covered above, the ROI is worth it. Encouraging employees to commit to wellness efforts will lead to cost savings in terms of healthcare coverage, productivity, and your attrition rate.
3. Organize a wellness committee
Although HR leaders typically oversee employee wellness programs, it's a massive undertaking that requires a dedicated team to truly be successful. With so many factors in play, it's best to have a diverse group of volunteers from different departments, backgrounds, and ages. This cornucopia of expertise and perspectives will help drive active participation throughout the company.
In addition to establishing a committee, employers may want to partner with an HR technology provider, such as Compt. The 100% IRS-compliant reimbursement platform helps companies offer inclusive, personalized, and flexible compensation and benefits programs, especially for employee wellness.
Because users can spend their dollars with any vendor of their choice, they're able to enjoy ultimate personalization unlike a gift card model or vendor marketplace with pre-set or limited choices. Compt's platform is also ideal for global teams because people in different parts of the world don’t have access to the same vendors.
4. Promote your employee wellness program
As with any new initiative, clear and consistent communication is vital for a successful launch. HR should explain how the workplace wellness programs will improve employee health by reducing physical health risks, supporting mental health, promoting financial literacy, and elevating overall well-being.
To encourage team members to take advantage of these employee wellness programs, HR must rely upon every communication channel available, including email blasts, Zoom meetings, intranet postings, webinars, flyers and posters around the office, etc.
Promotional products are another way to inform team members, especially those on a remote working schedule. You could ship a package of healthy snacks with either a branded towel for fitness classes or a mat for yoga classes to their front door. Another fun idea is to deliver a cookbook full of staff-contributed recipes for making a healthy homemade lunch. For those working in the office on a regular basis, you could place branded neck pillows on their desks to complement the specialized nap rooms.
Employee wellness is more important than ever following COVID-19. The pandemic fueled a rise in substance abuse, financial stress, mental health issues, and meals from fast-food drive-thrus. Employers should be increasingly concerned about their team members' poor health behaviors because every company needs healthy employees in order to stay in business.
As workplace challenges continue to evolve in the post-COVID world, innovative companies must offer a comprehensive wellness program strengthening team members' mental, financial, social and physical health. With renewed energy from these wellness initiatives, your workforce will be more determined and more able to meet objectives and deliver outstanding results.
Such services will not only make current employees feel appreciated, but also be highly sought after by top talent eager for job satisfaction, work-life balance, and a thriving company culture. Ultimately, an employee wellness program is a long-term investment in your most valuable asset: your people.
Setting up a wellness program for your employees? Schedule a customized demo with Compt to learn more about how you can do it in an inclusive, tax-compliant manner.