What Is Employee Wellness, Why Is It Important and How To Set It Up

employee-wellness-featured-image

Chances are that you’ve heard about employee wellness programs. With 85% of large employers offering wellness programs, it’s hard not to know about them! Employee wellness programs are more popular than ever. In 2020, 44% of employers added or enhanced wellness programs. Employee wellness programs can prevent employee illness or lessen the effects of existing ones. They increase productivity while lowering health care costs for employers and employees alike. They also lower retention rates and attract top talent. Companies thrive and employees live healthier lives. Employee wellness programs are a win-win for employers and employees.

Table of Contents

What Is Employee Wellness And Why Is It Important?

What Is An Employee Wellness Program?

What Is The Goal Of An Employee Wellness Program?

How Do Employee Wellness Programs Benefit Employers?

How To Create An Employee Wellness Program Or Plan — 8 Tips

10 Employee Wellness Program Ideas

What Is Employee Wellness And Why Is It Important?

Employee wellness is a term that refers only to the physical health of an employee. It is one of the three elements of employee well-being, along with emotional and mental health. 

The physical health of their employees is one of the greatest challenges facing employers today. A Rand study revealed that over 150 million American adults have at least one chronic disease which can cause an employee’s productivity to suffer. 

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans Workplace Wellness 2017 Survey Report found that among employers that offered some form of wellness incentives 66% reported increased productivity, 63% experienced company growth and financial stability, and more than 50% had a decrease in absenteeism

Given these statistics, employee health and wellness should be a priority for employers.

Employers who want to proactively address these concerns should develop an employee wellness program that gives employees access to tools that help lower the risks of becoming ill.

What Is An Employee Wellness Program?

The Harvard Business Review definition of an employee wellness program is

 “an organized, employer-sponsored program that is designed to support employees (and, sometimes, their families) as they adopt and sustain behaviors that reduce health risks, improve quality of life, enhance personal effectiveness, and benefit the organization’s bottom line.”

Not to be confused with employee well-being programs, like flexible work schedules, job sharing, and paid time off, employee wellness programs focus solely on improving the physical health of employees. 

Employee wellness programs typically include weight loss assistance, gym membership discounts or on-site exercise facilities, preventative health screenings, classes in nutrition and healthy living, and smoking cessation programs.

woman-stretching-desk-smile

What Is The Goal Of An Employee Wellness Program?

The main goal of an employee wellness program is to help employees attain a healthier lifestyle. By preventing employees from developing chronic illnesses and helping others manage existing ones, both employers and employees will reap many benefits of employee wellness programs.

How Do Employees Benefit From Employee Wellness Programs 

Employee wellness programs benefit employees in several significant ways. People want to be healthy for both personal and professional reasons. If individuals aren’t taking care of their health outside of the workplace, having an employee wellness program at work may make them more aware of health risks and more inclined to address those risks before health problems occur.

Reduces Stress

An underlying issue of many chronic illnesses is stress. Stress increases the risk of health conditions like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, asthma, and Alzheimer’s disease. A study showed that workplace stress costs the U.S. $190 billion in health costs every year. 

Employees who have access to a wellness program are less likely to be stressed. A good employee wellness program should include stress-reducing activities such as yoga classes or nature walks. 

Lowers Health Risks

Employee wellness programs guide and encourage employees to live healthier lives. Engaging in exercise, adopting a nutritious and healthy diet, losing weight if necessary, and monitoring one’s health regularly through health screenings, reduce the risks of serious illness. Exercising also contributes to better quality sleep. Rested employees perform better than those who are constantly tired at work.

Increases Productivity 

Higher productivity isn’t just a good thing for employers. Healthy employees are more productive, focused, and take fewer sick days. This means they can stay on top of their workload without spending late nights at the office and have more time to spend with family or on personal interests. Productivity and fewer or no sick days will get an employee noticed by their employer. This could result in a promotion and/or a salary increase!

Saves Money

Even with a good insurance plan, employees can incur significant costs in treating illnesses. Being healthy and staying that way lowers medical expenses. Also, employees can save money on gym membership and other employee wellness activities, if such things are included in their company’s employee wellness program.

Fosters Bonds Between Colleagues

When employees participate as a group in non-work-related activities, like taking walks or fitness classes together, they get to know each other better. Having fun through team building activities that get people moving, like scavenger hunts, strengthens bonds. Bonding improves collaboration and communication among team members which can make work less stressful. Less stress means better health.


Get Your Free Game

The 3-Minute Non-Cringey Ice Breaker for Your Next Meeting

A ready-set-go game to run at your next fully remote or hybrid meeting without the hassle or added pressure of developing a team-building exercise yourself. Get it here →




team-members-stretching-workers-remote-home-desk-1

How Do Employee Wellness Programs Benefit Employers?

By preventing employees from developing health issues and helping employees manage their existing health problems, employee wellness programs benefit employers in several key ways.

Increased Employee Productivity 

The greatest benefit of incorporating an employee wellness program into the workplace is increased productivity. According to the CDC, employee wellness programs that aim to prevent, reduce, and control illness have an impact on an employee’s productivity.

  • In terms of the amount of productivity, a study showed that employees who participated in a wellness program recouped an average of 10.3 hours of productivity a year. The Hartford’s Future of Benefits Pulse Survey revealed that more than 60% of respondents felt that their health and wellness affect their work productivity. 
  • Cost-wise, the loss of productivity can cut into a company’s financial health. Estimates show that fatigue costs employers $136 billion a year in health-related lost productivity. Fatigue is caused by stress, in addition to physical and mental health issues. An employee wellness program that addresses stress and physical health can save a company a considerable amount of money. 
  • In a 2013 survey of nearly 100,000 workers, Gallup found that lost productivity due to workers being above normal weight or having a history of chronic conditions such as asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, cancer, diabetes, depression, and heart attacks costs up to $84 billion.

Lower Healthcare Costs 

  • A study by the University of Michigan showed that employers who made employee wellness a priority saved an average of $1,200 for every worker that lowered their high cholesterol levels to a healthy level.
  • In its review of the literature on savings related to employee wellness programs, the Health Affairs Journal found that medical costs fall by around $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs.

Reduced Absenteeism

Absenteeism is an employee’s intentional and habitual absence from work due to illness. Absenteeism costs related to chronic diseases and health risk factors can be substantial. 

  • One survey revealed that approximately 69 million workers missed workdays due to illness, resulting in a total of 407 million days of work time lost. 
  • A Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey of nearly 110,000 full-time employees in the U.S. found that those who are overweight and have other chronic health problems missed an estimated 450 million additional days of work each year compared with healthy employees. 
  • According to the CDC, five chronic illnesses or health risk factors cost U.S. employers $36.4 billion a year due to absenteeism. 

These statistics indicate that companies who want to lower the costs due to absenteeism should begin an employee wellness program that encourages employees to stay healthy. By improving their diet and increasing the amount of exercise they perform, employees will have stronger immune systems and reduced risks of illness, resulting in fewer sick days.

Improved Retention and Recruitment

The Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary reports that turnover is at a historic high, as 4.5 million people quit their jobs in March 2022. More than ever, retention should be a major concern for employers. Employers risk losing their best employees and incurring the high cost of replacing them. According to The Society for Human Resource Management, it costs a company, on average, six to nine months of an employee’s salary to find and train a replacement.

Moreover, there is no guarantee that you will find replacements of the same caliber as your current employees. Employers with high turnover must find ways to stay competitive if they want to attract new employees. Launching an employee wellness program is an effective way to keep your best employees on board while attracting new top talent

Statistics show that employee wellness programs can slow or even stop attrition. A Forbes article describes one company’s success in lowering turnover after establishing a wellness program. Attrition dropped from 15% to zero.

  • The Harvard Business Review reviewed a study on the impact that employee wellness programs can have on attrition. The findings are impressive. One company with an effective employee wellness program reported a turnover rate of just 4%, and another organization saw its turnover rate drop from 19% to 9% after starting an employee wellness program.
  • When it comes to recruitment, employee wellness program benefits are of great interest to job seekers. A survey of nearly 4,000 employees conducted by Virgin HealthMiles Inc. and Workforce Management Magazine showed that approximately 87% of employees said that health and wellness benefits are a consideration when choosing an employer. 
  • According to Robert Half Talent Solutions, job seekers are increasingly looking at wellness-related perks in addition to compensation and health benefits. Savvy employers know this which is why 63% of employers offer employee wellness programs. 

Employers who have an employee wellness program are letting job seekers know that they will be valued as a person and not just another cog in the wheel. At a time when job seekers are looking for companies with a culture of appreciation, your employee wellness program will give you a leg up over other companies.

coworkers-high-five-yoga-mats.

How To Create An Employee Wellness Program Or Plan

Thorough planning of your employee wellness program can help you create a great program that your employees will enjoy participating in and that your company will benefit from. Putting time and effort into developing your employee wellness program will prevent any missteps and financial miscalculations. Below are tips on how to create your employee wellness program and employee wellness ideas. 

8 Tips For Building An Employee Wellness Program

1. Establish a Wellness Committee 

This committee is the force behind developing, implementing, and evaluating your program. Include individuals from all levels of your organization so you can get input and opinions from different perspectives. 

Recruit committee members from different departments such as human resources, legal, marketing, and general staff. Be sure to recruit someone from management to ensure a financial commitment from the top. Executive buy-in is crucial if you want your employee wellness program to succeed. 

2. Collect Data 

The first step in building an employee wellness program is to collect data on the health of your workforce. A fantastic resource to collect data is the free Center for Disease Control (CDC) Worksite Health ScoreCard designed to help employers assess what promotion strategies to include in their employee wellness programs. 

The scorecard has 154 yes/no questions about health promotion and disease prevention strategies. Each question is about a specific strategy action an employer can incorporate into their employee wellness program. 

The scorecard can be easily answered online or with a downloadable pdf. The CDC recommends that a small team consisting of employees from different departments complete scorecards. Since your wellness committee is already diverse, have committee members complete scorecards, which will take about 60 minutes. 

3. Survey Employees

Anonymously ask employees about which employee wellness program activities would they prefer. For example, ask about their preference for onsite resources or reimbursement for external resources. See if they would like a weight management program, exercise classes, nutrition counseling, etc. Ask for their input with a short anonymous survey using Google Forms.

4. Review Your Financial Resources 

Once your wellness committee has made recommendations for activities and offerings that would be appropriate for your workforce based on the data gathered, look at the costs. Knowing your financial resources is fundamental to devising a program.

yoga-office-vector

5. Select Activities And Initiatives

Below we list 10 employee wellness ideas. You don’t need to adopt every suggested activity into your employee wellness programs. Instead, using your data, design a plan that addresses the health issues that exist in your workplace.

6. Write An Operating Plan

Here are key elements that should be addressed and memorialized in your operating plan. You can also use this straightforward employee wellness program template for guidance.

Mission Statement

This brief statement encapsulates what you hope to achieve with your program. Here is an example mission statement:

The mission of our employee wellness program is to improve the wellness of our employees by providing opportunities and activities that support healthy lifestyles, thereby increasing employee productivity, boosting morale, and lowering health care costs.

Goals

Goals are measurable long-term achievements that your program sets out to accomplish. Set time limits to meet your goals so you can see if your employee wellness program is working or if you need to make adjustments.

Budget

Having reviewed your financial resources and selected activities and initiatives that will be part of your employee wellness program, you can create a budget that includes all costs involved in setting up and running your program. Come evaluation time you can review your numbers and see if you have allotted the right amount of money for your program and where you can cut costs.

Communication Campaign

Your operating plan includes what means you will use to communicate with your employees about the employee wellness program. Gallup research shows that 40% of employees do not even know that their company offers a wellness program! If you want your plan to succeed, you have got to get the word out there!

Announce your program to new hires during the onboarding process and in training sessions. Spread the word through company newsletters, emails, texts, mail, phone calls, signs on bulletin boards, and apps like Slack, Google Chats, and Microsoft Teams

7. Evaluate Your Employee Wellness Program

Evaluate your program after the time limits you set to reach your goals. See if your goals have been met or not, and adjust your goals accordingly. Look back at your mission statement to see if you are accomplishing what you set out to. 

8. Check The Legality Of Your Program

Take care to ensure that your employee wellness program is aligned with federal, state, and local laws. Three federal statutes regulate workplace wellness programs: the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), as amended by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA); Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). Here is an article that covers the basics of employee wellness program regulation.

dumbells-coworkers-office

10 Employee Wellness Program Ideas

There is no set formula for what is best to offer as part of your employee wellness program. Below we list the most common employee wellness program ideas. Many of these apply to both onsite, remote, and hybrid workers. Here are some employee wellness program examples to take a look at for other ideas: Goodwill, Draper, Lincoln Industries, Zappos, and SAS.

1. Provide Optional Health Risk Assessments And Screenings

Offer onsite health risk assessments during work hours. Wegmans supermarket chain offers onsite health and wellness screenings as part of their successful employee wellness plan. Regular screenings can help employees detect health conditions that they may not have otherwise known about. The most common screenings are biometric screenings and health risk assessments (HRAs). 

AN HRA is a questionnaire about an employee’s medical history, current health, and lifestyle. A biometric screening is an in-­person health examination that checks risk areas such as body mass index (BMI) for weight risks and nutrition, cholesterol and blood pressure, and stress. You can offer incentives like gift cards for employees to take advantage of these screenings since some may be reluctant to do so. 

2. Offer Financial Incentives 

To encourage employee participation, you can offer financial incentives. Examples of employee wellness financial incentives are gift cards, cash, contributions to employee health savings accounts (HSAs), and discounts on health insurance premiums

Employees like financial incentives because they offer some discretionary control of how that incentive is spent, especially gift cards and cash. Employers find financial incentives to be a simple and effective way to get employees to participate in an employee wellness program. 

3. Create A Culture Of Appreciation

A Limeade Institute found that only 31% of employees strongly agree that their employers care about them as a person. Your decision to create an employee wellness program is the first step in showing your employees that you do care about them and their health. Go a step further by recognizing their efforts to achieve healthy lifestyles. Celebrate with office parties, fun team outings, or shout-outs in a company monthly newsletter. Pencil in activities for June each year to celebrate National Employee Wellness Month!

4. Encourage Exercise With Programs and Incentives

Free or discounted memberships to gyms and fitness classes are the most common feature of any employee wellness program. They are popular among employees and relatively affordable to employers. Not everyone has the time to get to a gym outside of work hours, so if you can afford to, invest in an onsite employee wellness center and allow your employees to exercise during work hours. If your budget allows, offer reimbursement for home workout equipment. It can be as simple as a yoga mat and free weights or an inexpensive treadmill or exercise bike.

5. Hold Wellness Challenges 

These short-term competitions incentivize employees to adjust their health-related behavior to improve their health. Challenges can be between individuals, teams, departments, or any other way that makes sense for your company structure and size. Common challenges include walking marathons, steps competitions, and stair climbing challenges.

Hold an “8 glasses of water a day” challenge. Most people don’t consume nearly enough water, opting for coffee or soda instead. Nutritionists recommend drinking eight glasses of water. A water-drinking challenge is a simple contest that everyone in your office can participate in. Invest in a nice water cooler and keep ice cubes in your office’s refrigerator. For prizes, give out stainless steel water bottles! People will be filling their glasses in no time!

Be creative and come up with your own employee wellness ideas suited to a contest format. Be sure to include prizes and incentives like gift cards, company-wide recognition, paid massages or fitness classes, and tickets to a sporting event or concert.

vector-woman-stretching-desk

6. Use Technology

Smartphones have apps for health-related activities. Smartphones and Smartwatches include heart rate monitoring, step-counting, and even sleep-tracking. There is no shortage of activity tracking wearables such as Fitbit, many of which are fairly affordable. There are the Garmin Vivosmart 4 ($99), Amazon Halo View ($79), and ENGERWALL Fitness Tracker ($19.99). Encourage your employees to take advantage of apps that encourage good health, like Calm to lower stress, Headspace for better sleep and focus, and Noom or My Fitness Pal to help with fitness goals.

7. Educate Employees About Health And Wellness

Awareness is the first step in addressing health issues. Have a ‘lunch and learns’ for employees to watch webinars about healthy lifestyles or include health-related articles in company newsletters. You can also dedicate a Slack channel to health and fitness. 

8. Help Employees Develop Healthy Eating Habits

During weekdays, employees eat at least one meal a day at work. Some may even eat breakfast or dinner at work to catch up on work or meet deadlines. Meals eaten at work at one’s desk alone can lead to poor eating habits. Choosing fast-food or unhealthy meals, eating too quickly, and snacking throughout the day are not healthy. When workers dine together, they eat more slowly as they are also socializing. Communal dining lets colleagues help each other to make smarter food choices. Encourage workers who dine together to keep work-related discussions to a minimum. This can lower stress levels during the day while helping team members to get to know one another better.

If employees don’t organize healthy group lunches, schedule regular healthy potluck lunches in the office. Bring in nutritionists to give talks during lunch hour and provide healthy food for attendees. People don’t usually turn down a free lunch on the company tab! Stock the office kitchen with healthy snacks. Take a group cooking class that includes healthy recipes. Don’t forget to check with your company’s health insurance provider to see if they offer any weight-related programs, as this can help you minimize the costs of getting your crew healthier.

9. Make Your Office Wellness-Oriented

Purchase ergonomic chairs to prevent back pain, which is the second leading cause of absenteeism from work, after the common cold. Look into standing desks for employees who express interest. The Mayo Clinic links sitting for long periods with increased blood pressure, excess body fat around the waist, abnormal cholesterol levels, and cardiovascular disease. Provide ergonomic computer equipment including special keyboards, mice, and blue screen glasses.

10. Make Your Meetings Healthier 

Too many online meetings cause Zoom fatigue. Hold in-person meetings when possible. Make your meetings as effective as possible. Hold walking meetings outdoors. Your employees will be that much healthier for it.

For even more ideas, take a look at some of the best employee wellness programs. Google offers onsite healthcare access to fitness centers and fitness classes, and community bikes. They also serve nutritious meals. Microsoft has it all. They offer resources for weight management and smoking cessation, gym memberships and exercise equipment reimbursement, onsite walking and running tracks, health screenings, and healthy food options in their cafeteria. Asana has daily yoga classes, free gym memberships, an in-house culinary team serving nutritious meals, and a nap room to help employees de-stress and recharge.

Final Thoughts

A robust employee wellness program effectively keeps your employees healthy and free from chronic illness. Healthy employees are more productive and absent from work less. You’ll see your health care costs go down and your bottom line go up. A strong program encourages employees to stay with the company while also attracting new talent. All in all, implementing an employee wellness program is good for your employees and good for business!