Sometimes known as corporate wellness or workplace wellness, employee wellness is becoming more and more important in the workplace. Over 80% of U.S companies now incorporate some sort of employee wellness program into their working routines. In the UK, however, this number is lower – with studies showing this figure is closer to 45%. These numbers are continuing to rise as the significant benefits of implementing employee wellness programs are becoming increasingly apparent.
What is an Employee Wellness Program?
Employee wellness programs are a relatively new concept, and although they do date back to the early 1980s, they’ve taken off rapidly in recent years and have now become an industry worth roughly $8 billion. A growing number of companies are creating and improving on their own strategies to better employee wellbeing in the workplace as these initiatives help to increase corporate wellness and this, in turn, increases productivity throughout the company. Employee Health and Wellness Programs can range from creating gyms or ‘nap areas’ in the workplace to giving employees longer lunch breaks, mental and physical health check-ups and financial advising.
In recent years, employee wellness has started to take a slightly different route, generally speaking. Talking about mental health and the importance of making it a priority has been a popular topic, where it had been a taboo subject in the past. Because of this, many employers have chosen to go down the route of focusing more on mental wellbeing than physical or adding mental health initiatives to their existing programs.
Corporate wellness has become such a prominent industry that there are now a large number of companies that specifically provide help in creating or adding to a corporation’s wellness strategy. One of the best employee wellness programs examples is Express Vending where they provide healthy snack boxes called ‘Wellness Boxes’ for employers to distribute in the workplace. Around thirty Fortune 500 companies also use Fitbits to create employee wellness programs in healthcare for employees to maintain a healthy lifestyle. BP, for example, has encouraged employees to take part in a ‘Million Step Challenge’, where if they can complete this in a year, they’re eligible for receiving a better, cheaper health plan from the company.
Benefits of Employee Wellness Programs
Reduction in Healthcare Costs
Studies show that employee wellness programs, when implemented properly, can reduce medical expenses and employee absenteeism and employers can make a significant return on the investments they make. On average, for every dollar spent on wellness initiatives by US companies, medical expenses fell by $3.27 and expenses created by absenteeism fell by $2.73. The Rand Wellness Programs Study also showed that disease management generated a saving of $136, per member, per month. Corporate wellness programs generate a substantial return on the investment made by employers, which can sometimes be hefty and a little overwhelming if they are unsure. If implemented successfully though, it’s possible to generate a long-term ROI up to ten times the initial investment when it comes to employee wellness programs.
Reduction in Employee Absenteeism
As previously mentioned, a large number of companies are now working to combat mental health issues among their employees alongside physical health, leading to improved mental wellbeing all around. When this happens, employees are more likely to be able to work better and take fewer days off for mental or physical health reasons. Making healthy living a part of an employee wellness program can help set up healthy habits for the employee and make them more efficient, which benefits the employer as well. One of the best things about implementing a corporate wellness strategy is that healthier employees are much less likely to need to take sick days and the company will end up losing less money to this.
Happier and More Engaged Employees
Not all benefits are just monetary, however, and there is also a range of non-financial positives for the company that comes from creating a good corporate wellness plan.
Happier employees are unlikely to look to change jobs if they’re satisfied with their current situation and also feel that their employer cares about their wellbeing, and consequently increasing employee retention.
Happy employees are more likely to recommend a workplace to others, which makes a company’s reputation better and attracts more employees. Google is largely regarded as one of the best places to work globally, as they have one of the most extensive employee wellness programs out there. They offer their workers a range of benefits such as free onsite courses in subjects from coding to cooking, available financial advisors and onsite physicians, personal trainers and massage therapists, as well as many more, an extensive list of which can be found here.
Improved Holistic Employee Wellness
Obviously, some of the most important benefits are for the employees themselves. 60% of employees believe that their employers should implement some sort of strategy to benefit the workforce and improve employee wellbeing. Corporate wellness programs encourage employees to develop their own healthy habits that they can keep for life. The most obvious benefits are with leading a healthy lifestyle – learning to exercise regularly and eat well, but others can include setting up financial stability and taking away some healthcare expenses.
Employee Wellness Challenges
As mentioned previously, many companies are adding to their employee wellness programs with mental health help, and 97% of American companies with more than 5,000 employees now offer programs that allow workers to get support from a mental health professional, counsellor or therapist. These initiatives are arguably much more important than free yoga classes or salad lunches from the campaign, however, less than 7% of employees take advantage of them.
Charlotte Lieberman, writing for the Harvard Business Review, suggests that this may be down to the lack of sincerity behind certain initiatives. HR departments can ‘check the box’ with mental health help by providing help, but that is not always genuinely tailored to those who need it most. While talking about mental health is certainly becoming more normalised, many people are still unsure about how to take the first step in combating their own struggles and therefore just providing someone to speak to is not enough. While many are not educated about their options when it comes to mental health, these initiatives aren’t successful.
She also suggests that a number of employers themselves aren’t aware of what the best course of action would be, and in this case are unable to apply the most effective plans. In any case, when employee wellness programs aren’t implemented successfully, or not in a way that is suited to the majority of employees, companies are essentially throwing away money. If employees aren’t using the services provided by these initiatives, for whatever reason, they’re not getting the benefits they could, and therefore won’t be making changes to the way they work.
When implemented properly, there’s no real reason why employee wellness programs shouldn’t work well and make a significant difference to the way people feel and work in their companies. The importance of corporate wellness should never be underestimated – it is so important to make sure that everyone in a workplace is being provided for and given every opportunity they deserve to work to the best of their ability. Employers who care for their employees well are likely to have a better relationship with the workforce and encourage healthy communication and feedback, which obviously leads to a good working environment where everyone can feel comfortable and thrive.
Examples of Successful Employee Wellness Programs
To get an idea of the best employee wellness programs out there, here are a few examples from both large and small companies, ranging from both relatively standard initiatives, to slightly more wacky ones that have all boosted morale and ROI throughout the company.
IT giant Cisco has created an initiative to celebrate its employee’s success and encourage employees to continue to work hard. Each employee has a ‘fun fund’ which, at the end of a difficult project, can be used for parties, projects or even holidays as well as other things. Showing employees that you care about them and recognise and appreciate their hard work can be a massive morale booster, and really help to create a positive and fun atmosphere in the workplace. It doesn’t always have to be monetary; simple things such as a shoutout in a newsletter or email can also show an employee they’re cared about and their work has been recognised.
Finish Line is a well-known athletic apparel retailer, and they’re not missing a trick by providing their own employees at a number of their offices with on-site gyms and sometimes even basketball courts. This has given their workers an opportunity they might not otherwise have of being able to work out – maybe during their lunch break or before/after they are in the office, and it has made it easier for them to be healthier and happier workers. While not everyone can build gyms in their offices, encouraging employees to take a run on their break, or even providing discounted gym memberships can help in providing a solid start-up in creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Clothes and outdoor apparel giant Timberland pays employees for their days off when they’re spent volunteering for the community. This volunteering time is completely separate from any other paid leave or vacation, and employees are allowed up to 40 hours each year, which can be spent in a range of areas ranging from working with the elderly to planting trees and crops. While this is a slightly more niche initiative, it really helps. Volunteering makes people feel good, it gives back to the community, and it creates a good mindset within the workplace. A lot of people are benefiting from this kind of employee wellness program, and it’s super easy to implement as well. It doesn’t take much planning or any building of new places, just offering employees productive, paid time to volunteer in a field they enjoy and care about, and you’ll likely see changes in the way people work.
I know we’ve already looked very briefly at Google, but their employee wellness programs are so inclusive that they had to be mentioned again. They’re so invested in employee wellbeing that they’ve now created a PiLab – a People and Innovation lab, where their HR teams research and develop new wellness activities designed to improve employee wellness. Some of their more bizarre instalments include; a slide in their Mountain View campus, just in case employees are tired of taking the stairs; ping pong tables, nap pods and even LEGO stations can be found in their East Coast offices and a number of other offices house massage parlours with professional masseuses, and even swimming pools in the buildings. While these (probably) aren’t viable for most companies, it goes to show that weird and wacky initiatives can work – their fun, boost morale and happiness in the workplace, and some aren’t hard to put in place. It wouldn’t be too hard to put a ping pong table in the breakroom!
How to Create the Best Employee Wellness Programs For Your Company?
With these in mind, how is it best to go about creating your own wellness strategy?
What wellness activities can be put in place?
It’s not always possible for companies to go above and beyond in the way that Google or Amazon might, but there’s always cost-friendly and effective ways to improve wellbeing in a workplace. Here are a few tips to get started.
Listen to Your Employees
The number one most important thing to take into consideration when creating a corporate wellness program is to listen to what your employees want to get out of it. While large companies like Google or Amazon might have extensive plans which cover almost all areas of wellness, all of these aren’t necessarily needed in smaller businesses, and some things will need to be prioritized over others.
Before you go about looking at creating employee wellness programs, the best thing to do is to survey your employees to find out what they feel would be the most beneficial course of action for them. Asking them what areas they wish they had more support in would enable your company to get the most out of their money when it comes to bringing in a new wellness initiative.
There’s little point in introducing aspects without assuring that they will be beneficial – such as the example of the mental health specialists used above. When they’re not used well, it’s a waste of money that could have been put to use elsewhere.
Start with Something Simple but Effective
Employee wellness programs don’t have to be extravagant, or cost loads to implement. One of the most effective strategies for improving employee productivity is one that sounds somewhat easy, and might not necessarily be the first port of call for making real change; extending the time allowed for lunch breaks. Research from TORK has shown that something as simple as extending lunch breaks from an hour to 90 minutes can lead to a more relaxed environment in the workplace and makes employees feel more refreshed and ready to get back to work afterwards. It has also shown that longer breaks lead to an increase in productivity in the afternoon as employees are less likely to ‘slump’ due to a lack of rest. Longer lunches combined with an on-site opportunity to exercise, health advisors or free/discounted healthy lunch options can also help employees be more healthy and develop long-term habits that can benefit them personally.
Explain Benefits of Employee Wellness Programs
It’s important to ensure that the breaks are being used productively and not encouraging laziness or bad health habits. Some employees, in particular, baby boomers or Gen X have the mentality that lunch breaks are a useless period of time, or just for slackers. To counter these sorts of attitudes, TORK recommends explaining the benefits of any wellness program a company has with an email blast to employees.
Lead by Example
Employees are more likely to do certain things if they see their management carry them out first. This means that the initiatives are seen as being legitimately useful and not just in place to tick the box of employee wellness. As humans, we follow the behaviour of those more successful than us, or in positions.
Make Initiatives Easy to Carry Out
Putting measures in place that make enabling corporate wellness program initiatives easier can also encourage workers to take advantage of them. For example, when it comes to implementing regular breaks, updating break rooms with comfortable furniture and places to eat and offering incentives for taking breaks throughout the day will make employees more likely to do it as it is much easier. There are also a number of products that work with employees to educate them.
To sum up, the most important things to consider when creating a corporate wellness strategy are:
- Is it increasing ROI for the company itself?
- Will employees genuinely benefit from it?
- And will it make the workplace a better environment to be in?
When these are achieved, a company can increase their income, help their employees develop healthy habits and be seen as a more desirable workplace. They can gain a credible reputation even among those who aren’t employed there.