Without a proper maintenance process, even the most magnificent buildings would collapse over time.
Your employees are the same. They can only remain productive and perform at the highest levels when they’re at the top of their game.
However, even the most dedicated workers need “maintenance.”
According to a survey from Spring Health, over 76% of employed Americans experience work-related burnout. Another study from Deloitte shows that 70% of employees feel their employers are not doing enough to remove or reduce burnout in their organization.
So what can you, as an HR leader or executive, do to improve the health of your employees? You need a wellness program.
This article will consider all you need to know about employee wellness, like its advantages and how to establish and design a wellness program your employees will love. We will also reveal some of the best employee wellness ideas and examples from successful organizations that can help you jumpstart your company’s wellness program.
What is Employee Wellness?
There was a time the term ‘wellness’ did not exist. Most researchers agree that Halbert Dunn coined the term ‘wellness’ in 1961 when he first answered the ‘what is wellness?’ question by saying, “Wellness, There’s a word you don’t hear every day.”
Since then, the word’s use has exploded, and well over 5000 companies in the United States alone have it as part of their trademark.
Today, wellness professionals have university training and certifications designed to help organizations develop wellness programs.
According to the W.H.O, the term wellness is more than just being free from sickness. Instead, it’s a dynamic process of change and growth. It is a state of total physical, mental and social well-being. With that definition in mind, what then is employee wellness?
Within the context of occupational wellness, employee wellness is a worksite health promotion activity that promotes and encourages healthy behavior in employees and improves the general health of the workforce. It contributes to the emotional, physical, and mental wellness of each worker.
While wellness might be a tad challenging to define, this hasn’t stopped it from being a billion-dollar industry. According to Allied Market Research, the worldwide corporate wellness industry is primed to have a valuation of more than $60 billion by 2027. Therefore, there is a massive demand for well-being and wellness solutions for the workplace.
Employee wellness programs are offered to employees as a preventive means of avoiding illness while enhancing the general health of employees. Some of the benefits included in such a program include quitting smoking, weight loss, time and stress management, recreation programs, accident prevention programs, cancer prevention, etc.
Although companies are not mandated to provide these programs, many companies are discovering that the advantages of such a program far outweigh any discomfort it might cause to the company’s budget.
Advantages of Employee Wellness Programs
There are apparent benefits to employee wellness programs, right?
It promotes general well-being, health, happiness… and what else? On the surface, it seems easy to pick out the benefits. Still, it can be surprisingly difficult to articulate the concrete benefits of an employee wellness program — especially from a financial and business standpoint.
However, knowing the concrete benefits of an employee wellness program (other than intangibles like well-being and happiness) can help you make a solid case for an employee wellness program. If you are an HR leader, these concrete benefits will make it easier to pitch your ideas to your company’s executives.
Increases Healthy Behavior
When properly executed, a wellness program can lead to healthier employees now and well into the future. A report by Rand Health Quarterly reveals that including lifestyle management interventions as part of a wellness program can help reduce risk factors like smoking while increasing healthy activities like exercise.
This study confirms that workplace wellness activities can reduce lifestyle-related diseases in the workplace, reducing healthcare costs.
While health behavior change is one of the most challenging things to accomplish, employee wellness programs have the power to induce long-term health behavior changes in participants. Thus, it is far more potent than traditional health interventions that focus on sheer willpower.
Increases Employee Engagement
There are several ways to increase employee engagement. And luckily, evidence indicates that wellness programs have the power to enhance employee engagement at your organization — ensuring that your organization enjoys all the massive benefits that come from better engagement, like productivity and improved retention.
According to the EIU research, “employees are more likely to see their wellness as being linked with professional success.”
Some wellness ideas engage and offer benefits to the staff outside of the workplace, which will have a knock-on effect on how they view the workplace. When the benefits start to show even outside of the workplace, they will feel that their work positively impacts their lives in general, thus encouraging them to stay longer.
With the right wellness program in place, your organization might not need to spend so many resources on hiring, training, or recruiting new people.
Fulfills Employee Needs and Wants
The John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health carried out surveys to determine what people think about wellness programs for employees. The statistics reveal that more than half of correspondents believe that their employers should improve the workforce’s health.
So what does this mean for your organization? It means that most folks love the idea that the corporate powers are involved in helping them live a better quality of life and enjoy better health. Smart organizations listen to the people, and as they adopt these employee wellness programs, more people will look to work for companies with such programs.
So don’t wait until your workforce starts complaining about how your competitors have such wellness programs in place. Be proactive and develop wellness methodologies right now.
When you have healthy workers, you will drastically reduce healthcare costs for your workers.
Research by Rucker states that “workplace wellness helping reduce a company’s cost is not a new thing. Many employers have pumped loads of resources into providing preventive healthcare services to workers.”
And it’s vital to have these in place considering that nearly a third of adults in the US are obese while up to 23% don’t get the needed exercise. These contribute to increased risk of chronic diseases ranging from cancer to heart issues, resulting in billions of dollars in costs. When your programs help your staff work at being healthier, your organization will cut down on these potential costs.
A 2017 Career Builder Study revealed that about 61% of workers feel burnt out on their job. The study also revealed that a third of workers still work while on vacation by connecting via email. It is a no-brainer that burnt-out employees are detrimental to the health of your organization.
An Engagement Institute study reveals that disengaged employees cost up to $550 billion every year. By reducing burnout and increasing employee wellness, you can reduce the impact of disengaged employees on your company’s bottom line. Employees that feel healthy are more likely to be engaged at work, especially if their workplace has shown an active interest in increasing their wellness.
Increases Employee Morale
When a company has a wellness program in place, employees feel closer to the organization because it shows employees that their company truly values them as people, not just for the work that they do. Many organizations take wellness programs a step further by offering financial rewards to employees that engage in such programs. Many wellness programs also have the option for office competitions, which encourages your employees to interact with each other. This will also boost morale and can foster positive co-worker relationships when handled properly.
Elevates Work Culture
A study by Virgin Pulse reveals that an excellent employee wellness program can enhance your company culture, which can be crucial, as more employees are looking for their organizations to make improvements. According to the study, a whopping 85% of employers think that a wellness program will positively affect company culture.
Since company culture has so many variables, many of which are challenging to identify, it’s a good thing that something as specific as a wellness program can improve company culture. The important thing is to introduce the wellness program wholeheartedly and to encourage employees to take advantage of it. Just like any other company culture element, if you only pay lip service, it could cause more problems than otherwise.
Builds Unity Among Employees
Since most wellness programs involve social interaction between employees, it’s no surprise that it helps bring employees together and improves bonds of unity within the workforce. Depending on the wellness program, team members have the opportunity to overcome struggles together. As they work together to get healthier, bonding will occur.
With wellness programs in place, you might observe better communication in the workplace. Having a good wellness program will have employees work together outside work situations, thus improving their health and communication.
Corporate wellness programs might help to reduce absenteeism in the workplace. Why? Because employees who work at companies that are invested in their well-being are less likely to get sick, overwhelmed, or feel unappreciated. They are also better equipped to handle stressful periods at work, and they are less likely to call in sick at the last minute because of health reasons.
Improves Employee Retention
A good wellness program can help your employees feel cared about and feel seen at your company. If your staff see that you are invested in helping them achieve personal and health goals, they are more likely to develop an attachment to your company and to be personally invested in helping it be successful. We all know the benefits that come from such employee recognition. And by putting this program in place, you are saying, “You are valued.”
Facets of Wellness
Wellness isn’t just about your physical well-being. Instead, it has several dimensions, and effective employee wellness programs can address several of these dimensions at once. Let’s examine some of the facets of well-being that an excellent wellness program can address.
This facet is concerned with the ability to function physically and maintain a healthy quality of life. It goes beyond looking fit but also includes being able to go through day-to-day activities without too much fatigue or bodily stress. This facet is the most common facet targeted by wellness programs due to its familiarity. In addition to exercising, it often includes nutrition, hydration, and sleep components.
This facet refers to the person’s ability to manage their emotions and deal with life's challenges. While most commonly thought of as dealing with stress levels, it also deals with resilience, being present in the moment, and handling both work and personal relationships in a healthy manner.
Financial wellness considers your stability in monetary terms. A person is financially well when their spending and saving habits contribute to short and long-term goals. To be financially well, employees must be financially literate, and employers can incorporate financial literacy programs into a wellness program. It is commonplace for many companies to offer some kind of retirement benefits, but making sure your employees are educated on how to take advantage of these benefits is a part of employee financial wellness.
A person’s social network encompasses their social wellness. Humans are social animals, and our well-being is linked to our connections with other people. A wellness program should cover this facet by promoting positive social interactions, both at work through team-building experiences and company activities, but also through allowing them to spend time away from work with family and friends.
Employment or occupational wellness refers to how content or satisfied an individual is with the work they do. While financial compensation might play a vital part, other things can contribute to occupational wellness. This includes work-life balance and occupational development.
Employees who are discontent with their work are usually disengaged, affecting productivity, morale, and retention. Therefore, any wellness program put in place should address this facet as well.
Spiritual wellness refers to an individual being at peace and finding purpose in life. While this may not be a normal part of your wellness program, you can incorporate it by making space for employees to feel comfortable by not discriminating and by accommodating religious holidays. You can also promote mindfulness in whatever practice your employees may choose to use.
Intellectual wellness involves your staff increasing their knowledge and skill, making them feel more successful and content. Employees who are learning new things, both about their job and their interests and hobbies are happier and bring more value to your company. You can host seminars and workshops, create an LMS for industry education, and provide other educational opportunities for your employees.
How to Establish and Design an Employee Wellness Program
One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to developing a wellness program. You’ll need to create one tailored to the needs of your organization and employees. Rex Freiberger, the CEO of Discuss Diets, remarks, “people have different goals, fitness levels, and physical abilities. You need wellness goals that don't immediately exclude people.”
He continues by saying, “create wellness challenges that can be customized. Instead of walking 10,000 steps, make it a goal to engage in one aerobic activity this week. That way, you can account for people who may not be able to walk that many steps (or at all) and allow plenty of options.”
With this sound advice in mind, let’s consider how you can design a wellness program that fits your organization and its valuable members.
Conduct Important Assessments
Before you formulate any program, the first thing to do is to get information about the health of your employees and what they are looking for. The information you gather will assist you in designing programs or services that offer the best benefits to all parties involved. Some ways you can get this information include conducting:
Surveys are a simple way of evaluating the interests and needs of your workforce. It will directly assess the current condition and climate of the workplace and will indicate, to an extent, how your employees might receive the wellness program. The CDC offers sound guidance on how you can carry out a good employee health survey.
Health Risk Assessment
It’s also vital that you assess the health of your staff because that will determine the programs you can implement without any risks or hazards. Before you create any programs, ensure you have legal counsel to guide you on what you can do or not. Unless it is related to essential job duties, your employees are not required to disclose any personal medical information to you as their employer. Asking them to do so may make them feel uncomfortable. If the wellness program you have in mind is part of the company’s health plan, you must keep HIPAA in mind.
Get Management Support
If you are an HR leader, you certainly need to get approval and support from management before implementing any programs. Having management in your corner is essential for obvious reasons — budgeting, support throughout the company, and approval of processes involved with the program.
However, getting support from management is easier said than done. Management wants to see that employee wellness will help the business continue to achieve its objectives, without hurting the bottom line. When pitching this idea to management, use concrete benefits and statistics that show how this can benefit your company in particular.
When pitching an employee wellness program, think about the answer these questions:
- What are the organization’s short and long-term strategic priorities, and how does the wellness program support these objectives?
- What are the benefits from the program, and what value can it give to the company?
Answering these can help to get management to approve your wellness program.
Create a Wellness Committee
After you have management’s support and have carried out the crucial assessments, you need to create an employee-focused committee that’ll help build and sustain a wellness culture in the company. Some of the responsibilities of this committee might include:
- Evaluating current programs and services in use
- Periodically assessing needs of employees and their wants
- Developing a wellness plan, vision statement, and defining goals
- Implementing, monitoring, and evaluating wellness programs
Members of the committee should be volunteers from different departments as this will ensure cross-sectional representation.
Determine Goals and Objectives
With the information you have obtained from your assessments, it will be easier to create goals and objectives for the wellness program. For most companies, the aim is to enhance workers’ health and reduce the cost of healthcare.
However, you should also keep other goals in mind, like increasing employee retention, productivity, and reducing absenteeism.
No matter the goal, make sure it is something that is not only achievable but something that brings value to the employees as well as the company.
Have a Budget
Money makes the world go round, and it is oil that lubricates the moving parts of your wellness program. Without a budget, your program might falter.
To create a budget for the program, including the cost of marketing, design, and incentives. You can also get funding in some creative ways. For instance, you could check if employees would be open to paying for a part of the program.
You can also keep the cost lower by including activities that don’t have a cost, such as walking groups, mindfulness moments, and other similar things.
Design the Parts of the Wellness Program
The components of the program will depend on the needs and resources of the company. You can use the information you got from the assessments, goals, and budget to determine the wellness programs to be implemented. Some of the more common programs included in wellness programs include:
- Nutrition education
- Exercise for health and weight loss
- Stress reduction
- Mindfulness and meditation
Regardless of the program, you want to implement, ensure that you meet legal requirements and do not step on the rights of others.
Choose Incentives or Rewards
It’s a known fact that rewards and incentives can affect behavior. Use this to your advantage by offering rewards to participants. Prizes can take several forms, ranging from monetary, prizes, or simply bragging rights.
When choosing rewards, it’s recommended that the incentives be proportional to the effort required to practice the desired behavior.
Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate
Communication is essential if you want people to participate in the program. By effectively marketing the program to your employees, you can get them excited about the program. Some of the things you can do include:
- Creating a wellness program slogan or/and logo
- Use emails, flyers, and presentations
- Repeat the message
- Offer new information over time to keep the message fresh
With continued communication, you can keep engagement levels high.
Assess the Results
The final thing to do is to check out the effectiveness of the program. This is vital to sustaining support from management and employees.
Evaluating the metrics will help you determine whether to continue, tweak, or discontinue certain program parts.
19 Awesome Employee Wellness Challenge Ideas
Now that you know how to create a wellness program let’s see real-life examples and ideas from companies already reaping the benefits of wellness programs.
1. Trash Pickup Challenge
Trash pickup or a related activity not only helps to keep your employees active but can also serve as a team-building activity.
Melissa Kelly, general manager of Virtual Team Building, says, “A surprisingly effective employee wellness activity is the Trash Pickup. This activity is so good for employee wellness because it touches both physical and mental needs. The physical component is getting out in the fresh air, walking, and picking up the items. The mental component is perhaps even more important — your team will enjoy feeling like they are giving back to the community and helping out the planet. It's very win-win.”
2. Cooking Challenge/Pushup Challenge
“Something I've seen work very well when it comes to healthy eating is employee cooking challenges which have employees make a healthy meal once a week and then send in photos of the finished product that people then judge based on how appetizing it looks,” says Markus Albert, the managing director at EatFirst.
He goes on, “The winner gets a few hundred dollars to put towards their groceries for the month, and it also provides people with recipes they can use moving forward to cook healthy for themselves and their families.”
EatFirst also promotes a pushup wellness program. “We ask people to add one extra push-up per week to their total number because the goal is individual, and push-ups are a well-known indicator of heart health.”
3. Charity Challenges
Sometimes, you can improve your employees’ wellness by encouraging them to help others.
InVPN’s CEO, Timothy Robinson, says, “As a CEO, I believe that empowering your employees to support causes is more rewarding than offering them a bonus. As a result, I strongly believe that rewarding employees for charitable giving would increase their well-being and help them remain healthy while also helping others — it's a win-win situation!”
4. Recreation League
Sports are an excellent way to get employees together while keeping them active.
Ben Rose, the co-founder of Trainer Academy, suggests, “starting and promoting a rec league team for your company in the community for baseball, basketball, soccer, or another fun team sport is a perfect way to encourage workers to remain involved.”
He goes on, “you can launch a business project and have inter-company teams if there isn't a local rec league for adult sports. Accounting vs. sales in a basketball game might be a fun and entertaining way for the employees to keep fit.”
5. Walk-and-Talk Meetings
Looking for a low-cost wellness program that still delivers plenty of health benefits? Then consider the technique used at CameraGroove.
Tony Kelly, the founder of CameraGroove, remarks, “You can engage with your employees by holding enjoyable walk-and-talk meetings, which have become increasingly popular in recent years. It's the most effective way to get the workers to leave their normal comfort zone.”
6. New Recipes
Do you want your staff to eat healthier? Then consider this wellness program Amber Moland’s WinCope uses.
She says, “Repetition is one of the most difficult aspects of following a balanced diet of fresh-cooked foods. If you only know a few healthy recipes, you can become bored with them and turn to fast food too frequently as a result. When a participant completes this task, you can award points for trying a new recipe for a home-cooked meal.”
What is the benefit? She goes on, “It is less likely that those participating in the challenge will opt for unhealthy restaurant options if they are proactive about trying new foods at home.”
Arno Markus, CEO and Founder of iCareerSolutions, also encourages companies to ask their employees to “say no to fast-food chains.” He goes further by saying, “In this way, they will keep in mind only to eat home-cooked meals or healthy meals, which keeps them healthy and saves their money.”
7. Start a New Hobby
“Encourage workers to take up a hobby they've always wanted to try, such as learning to play an instrument or enrolling in an art class,” says Brian Chung, Alabaster’s CEO.
He continues, “ You can motivate them by assisting with the expense or by linking them with other employees at your company who have a similar hobby and encouraging them to compete with one another.”
8. Water Drinking Challenge
Since drinking water offers loads of health benefits, how can you get your employees to drink more water?
Spreadsheet Planet seems to have hacked this, as their CEO Steve Scott says, “ One of the most successful employee wellness challenges is the water drinking challenge. The kitchen is still only a few steps away from remote workers. Plus, no one would judge you if you take a dozen bathroom breaks per day.”
He continues, “ We've started a water drinking challenge for our virtual employees to keep them hydrated. We've also created a dedicated Slack channel where we request them to drink at various times during the day.”
Water drinking also gets another vote as a good staff wellness idea from Vinpit’s Miranda Yan, who says, ”We’re aware that drinking the prescribed amount of water for our bodies is necessary. Employees with hectic schedules are more than likely to skip consuming enough water every day. This challenge keeps them on board with their water consumption goals. Simply educate workers about the water challenge and inspire them to drink more and more water as their bodies need. Keeping track of each employee's water use during working hours and awarding points accordingly. That is all! The easy competition concludes with a good employer being rewarded with company goodies.”
9. Meditation and Mindfulness Challenge
This challenge is a personal favorite for Force by Mojio’s Director of Operations, Daivat Dholakia. He remarks, “We had everyone get the 7-day free trial of Headspace, a meditation app. Headspace has several different categories of mindfulness exercises, including Sleep, Meditate, and Move. We challenged each other to log 20 or minutes of mindfulness activities per day for a week.”
What was the result? He continues, “Our employees enjoyed it! Most finished the challenge period, and a couple even purchased a Headspace subscription so they could keep using it after.”
10. Spending Journal
Part of wellness is helping your employees manage their income.
“Working on improved money management is also applicable to a health challenge because wellness is also linked to financial security. The assignment is straightforward: have participants hold a spending journal. They don't have to share the numbers with anyone else, so keeping a close eye on their expenses is a perfect way to cut down on waste,” says Nuttifox’s CEO, Chris Nutbeen.
11. Book Club and Book Reading Challenge
“We hosted a book club and a book reading challenge for our employees because reading is a solitary activity, and people often want to share in the experience and learn about other people's perspectives on books,” says John Bertino, the CEO of The Agency Guy.
“We select an initial book (each person takes a turn), set a reading deadline, and have a book club discussion at the end of each month. Reading will enrich and even teach you, while social conversations will help you bond with your coworkers and improve your company's culture.”
12. Walking Challenge
“Run an 'Office Hop' program, for example, if your company has several locations,” advises Stewart McGrenary of Freedom Mobiles. “Employees will win a prize by walking the distance between various office locations. This is also a wonderful workplace wellness exercise that can bring together workers who are geographically isolated by providing interesting information about other places!”
And if your entire team is still working remotely, you can borrow a leaf from Trust’s CEO, Carsten Schaefer, who sent out a few smartwatches to his employees so they could all track their goals together, including steps taken, time spent standing up, and more.
Carsten comments, “We have monthly challenges where the employee that gets the most steps walked that month gets one day of paid leave per month. That way, if you’re the best all the time, you can easily add another 12 days of vacation every year.”
“So far, it’s been a great experience, and people have been competitive about it — it’s a great prize to aim for! In an age where we all work remotely and staying in is easier than ever, it’s important to motivate your employees to get out more and be active rather than stay indoors all day.”
13. Socializing Challenge
“More people are operating remotely than ever before in the post-COVID era,” says April Maccario, AskApril’s Co-founder. “An employee fitness program can help in this situation. Also, when complying with relational distance protocols, team-based fitness challenges are a perfect way to foster a sense of teamwork and sustain employee involvement.”
She continues, “Employees will experience a sense of connection by team-based competitions like these without having to be in the same facility, state, or even region. You may let workers choose their teams, divide them by functional category, or even select teams at random to encourage exchanges that may otherwise go unnoticed.”
14. Positivity Challenge
“This is a challenge in which everyone writes down one or two things every day that they're grateful for or proud of. The idea behind this is that grateful people are much more likely to be happy, enjoy what they have, and even feel healthier on a physical level,” says Charlie Worrall, the Digital Marketing Executive at Imaginaire Digital.
Did it work? He goes on, “We all saw an increase in each other's mood, physical and mental health, and none of us expected it. We loved the idea that this works, and we've been doing it ever since.”
According to Shiv Gupta, CEO of Incrementors Web Solution, a positivity challenge also makes employees “feel fresher than other people.”
15. Online Zumba
“As a team working remotely, one of the best ideas I have thought of when it comes to our wellness activities would be our online Zumba. I play a video, and we will dance together in the comfort of our working areas, properly attired with our Zumba get up,” Says Sonya Schwartz, the founder of Her Norm.
She continues, “I believe this was effective because they requested for more Zumba activity once or twice a month.”
It’s a great idea to allow your team to practice yoga or some other kind of relaxing, low impact workout together before work.
Commenting on yoga’s effect on her team, Samantha Moss from Romantific notes that, “It helps us meditate to feel more relaxed and energized at work. Meditation helps to clear your mind from stress, allowing employees to make better decisions and execute effective strategies that will benefit them and the company because they will be more productive and efficient.”
17. Sleeping Challenge
Lack of sleep may hamper your employees’ creativity and efficiency, which will reflect poorly on the organization as a whole.
As Mark Condon from ShotKit highlights, the pandemic has forced many to disrupt their sleeping pattern.
“At the beginning (of the pandemic), some members had started to work night and day at the detriment of their health because of the looming fear of being laid off. Hence, we introduced the Traqq app to ensure everyone is working and none was overdoing it. We have a daily 7-hr sleep challenge for all the employees, and those who remain consistent for four weeks are rewarded with small gifts.”
18. Reading with Family
Your employees’ well-being is strongly connected to that of their families. Therefore, wellness programs that take this into account will be more widely accepted by your employees.
Eve Melon from Tidio says, “We gave our employees free access to the library with therapeutics storybooks. Written in a straightforward and engaging way, they became the perfect idea for spending time together with close ones.”
“By encouraging our employees to participate in those kinds of wellbeing-related challenges, we can positively influence overall job satisfaction, improve employees' mental health and productivity.”
19. Cycling/Hiking Competition
“Challenge your employees to cycle more — every month, the top three people with the most cycled miles get a gift card so they can buy new gadgets for their cycling activities,” says Pamela Ilieva from Shortlister.
She also recommends a hiking competition. “Create an all-day event where they must go on a hiking trail, and complete different activities, much like a scavenger hunt.”
You now have over 19 employee wellness challenge ideas and examples you can choose from.
When implemented correctly, these ideas can enhance company culture, curb absenteeism, attract the best talent and cut costs.
And on your employees’ part, it can help them manage stress better, live healthier lives, and feel happier at work.
PS If you're looking for ways to promote and incentivize different types of office challenges, check out Nectar!