What Is An Employee Wellness Program?
An employee wellness program forms part of your total compensation package, including salary, health insurance, and various other benefits and perks. The aim is to improve employee wellbeing, both individually and collectively. There's no official definition of a workplace wellness program, but that's their beauty. They're entirely customizable, encompassing different initiatives focusing on improving physical and mental health, reducing stress, and promoting work-life balance.
What Does An Employee Wellness Program Include?
Your corporate wellness program could cover the following areas of employee wellbeing:
Obesity is a major health issue, with a prevalence of 41.9% in the US. Similarly, 60% of Americans do not engage in the recommended amount of physical activity, while 25% of adults are not active at all.
With this in mind, your wellness program could focus on measures that encourage employees to be more active and improve their overall physical health. You might also motivate your employees to make healthy food choices, get enough sleep, and avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits like smoking or substance abuse.
Around 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental health issue—the equivalent of 57.8 million people. Mental health programs support employees experiencing specific mental health conditions but also take a proactive approach by providing all employees with the resources to remain mentally balanced.
Nectar’s survey of 800 US employees revealed that 77.63% considered workplace connections important or very important in creating a strong company culture. Social wellness programs promote a sense of community within the workplace by offering team-building activities and social events that encourage employees to get to know one another inside and outside work.
MetLife reports a 28% gap between the 83% of employers who believe their employees are financially healthy and the 55% who confirm they are. This is an enormous disconnect which highlights that employers aren't considering significant causes of financial stress, including inflation, layoffs, a higher cost of living, and difficulty paying off debt. When workers are distracted by their personal finances, they'll be less productive at work, making it essential for employers to offer support.
Occupational wellbeing refers to the quality of an employee's work environment and job satisfaction. Your program could include initiatives such as ergonomic evaluations, flexible work arrangements, or incentives like app reminders to encourage regular breaks between meetings.
Intellectual wellbeing focuses on mental stimulation and learning opportunities for employees. Your program could include professional development courses, mentorship programs, or book clubs to encourage continuous learning and growth.
Employees who feel that their work is meaningful are more likely to feel happier and more satisfied. MetLife confirms that 58% of people consider purpose a key factor when considering whether to stay in a role or accept a job offer elsewhere. Similarly, only 30% of employees who lack purpose in their work plan to be with the organization a year from now.
Your program could include initiatives that connect employees to a larger purpose, such as community service projects or sustainability programs.
Why Should Companies Invest In A Corporate Wellness Program?
46% of employers rank wellness benefits as very or extremely important in 2022, according to SHRM. Here are four top reasons why:
1. Improves Employee Retention
Hanging onto your best workers is challenging, as job hopping has become the norm for employees. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that US workers will hold an average of 12.7 jobs before age 55, which is bad news for organizations struggling with external recruitment costs.
MetLife research finds that corporate wellness programs are considered a must-have for employees, which has dramatically risen since the COVID-19 pandemic. If you want to use wellness to entice and retain employees, you’ll be pleased to hear there’s little variation when it comes to generational attitudes. For example:
- 56% of Generation X employees considered wellness programs essential in 2019, compared to 78% in 2023.
- 56% of boomers felt the same in 2019, compared to 79% in 2023.
2. Demonstrates Employee Care
Workers want to know that their employer is invested in their wellbeing, not just as an employee but also as a person. This concept starts with offering fair compensation and a safe environment to work in but extends to promoting positive lifestyles that reduce the risk of chronic health problems or unhealthy stress levels.
3. Boosts Motivation And Productivity
A reasonable level of employee care demonstrates that the company is willing to invest in employees’ personal and professional growth, strengthening loyalty and engagement. As an unnamed employee told MetLife, "If you treat me well, then I want to show up and do a good job. I'll be more motivated to keep this job because I'm satisfied with it."
4. Builds A Healthy Workforce
McKinsey estimates that poor health costs the US economy $3.2 trillion each year from premature deaths and the lost productive potential associated with chronic disease. Employees' most common issues are musculoskeletal disorders, mental disorders, neurological disorders, substance use disorders, diabetes, and kidney disease.
Wellness programs can lower the impacts of these issues, preventing health risks from developing further. This leads to a healthier, well-rounded workforce with access to the resources they need to live full lives and perform well at work.
11 Steps To Employee Wellness Program Success
The following steps are useful whether you're introducing an entirely new employee wellness program into your organization or revamping your current wellbeing strategy.
1. Create A Wellness Team
Start by assembling a dedicated team or committee responsible for overseeing your wellness program. They'll be involved in obtaining leadership buy-in, liaising with wellness vendors, and communicating the finer details of your program to employees. The people involved in this role will likely undertake a lot of pre-launch prep work, but they must also be available to handle employee queries and monitor participation in your wellness program.
Your wellness team could include:
- General HR team members
- Benefits administration team members
- Senior leadership
- Employee representatives
2. Assess Organizational Needs
Decide why your organization requires a wellness program and the problems it could help you tackle. For example, you may be losing talented staff to competitors, or absenteeism is an issue in your organization.
Go beyond gut feelings and dig into your data to understand what your business requires. Some sources of data might include:
- Employee turnover figures
- Sick days
- Exit interviews
- Pulse survey responses
- 1:1 meeting records
- Wellness program participation
3. Design Organizational Objectives
Based on these needs, establish wellness goals and objectives that cater to your organization's challenges. Use the SMART framework to ensure your objectives are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
- Example 1: Increase employee participation in the wellness program by 25% within the next year.
- Example 2: Reduce absenteeism by 15% over the next six months through targeted wellness initiatives.
- Example 3: Reduce the cost of health insurance by 10% over the next year by reporting employee wellness activity to your provider.
4. Set A Budget
Few companies can pack everything into their wellbeing program. Even big brands like Meta reportedly slashed $1,000 off its health and wellness budget due to the impact of the economic climate.
Companies serious about building an effective wellness program should allocate an initial budget before making any decisions. The amount to set aside, of course, depends on your industry, your bottom line, the size of your employee base, and many other factors specific to your business.
As a starting point, consider using industry benchmarking data to reveal how much other companies in your sector spend on wellness programs. This will help you remain competitive as an employer brand.
Nectar Tip: Remember that your budget should cover everything from employee incentives to vendor contracts and resources like internal marketing materials.
5. Decide What To Include
With your budget set aside, the fun part of creating your bespoke employee wellness program is figuring out what to offer. It's worth noting that the number of benefits you choose affects employee satisfaction. MetLife reports that employees who feel cared for receive an average of 8.7 benefits through their employers, while those who don't feel cared for receive 6.7.
It's also important to consider what benefits your employees will actually use. Gaby Israel Grinberg, Chief Experience Officer at Proofpoint Marketing, had to learn this when putting together her company's yearly benefits package. After wasting money on an interesting resource that employees never used, Grinberg realized she had to make a change, "Let's do fewer things, but do the big things really, really well."
Here are some options you might incorporate into your wellness plan:
Telemedicine, sometimes called telehealth or virtual care, is a service that connects employees to healthcare providers remotely. Staff can consult via phone, video conference, live chat, and more, rather than visiting a doctor in person. SHRM data reveals that this benefit has skyrocketed in popularity since the pandemic. In 2019, 73% of organizations offered telemedicine access, which has grown to 93% by 2022, signaling our reliance on 24/7 healthcare.
Mental health coverage has increased slightly since the pandemic, from 85% of companies offering this benefit to 91%. 1 in 5 employers also provides mental health days, according to SHRM. Mental health services might include counseling and therapy, mental health training for managers, and employee assistance programs.
Biometric tests check for risk factors like blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body mass index. Health coaches or medical professionals, usually from third-party suppliers, conduct these tests on-site or through a telemedicine service. The screening results might highlight employees who are at risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease and pinpoint lifestyle areas where they could make some improvements.
Fitness Classes And Gym Membership
Organizations can offer employees subsidized gym memberships or host regular workplace fitness classes like HIIT or yoga that cater to different interests and abilities. You might also encourage staff to get involved with local sports clubs or team building events, such as charity runs, bike rides, and hikes.
Wellness days or retreats give employees the chance to relax and recharge in a peaceful environment away from work. These wellness experiences may include spa treatments, mindfulness sessions, nutrition workshops, and time for self-reflection.
There's no shortage of options for promoting healthy eating habits in the workplace. Free fruit in communal areas is fairly standard but also prone to waste. An alternative is to offer healthy snack boxes with pre-portioned nutritious snacks delivered directly to the office or homes for remote workers.
Organizations can offer financial coaching as part of their wellness program to help employees manage their finances and avoid financial stress. Your wellness program could include seminars or workshops on budgeting, saving for retirement, or paying off debt.
Preventative care, such as annual health checkups and flu vaccinations, can be incorporated into your wellness program to help employees stay healthy and catch potential health issues before they become more serious.
Employee assistance programs and support groups can provide valuable support for employees struggling with addiction. Tobacco cessation programs are a popular inclusion, but you could also add initiatives to tackle gambling, alcohol, or drugs.
Organizations help their employees maintain a healthy weight by offering resources such as nutrition counseling, weight loss programs, and fitness challenges.
Paid Time Off To Volunteer
Organizations can offer paid time off for volunteer work as part of their wellness program, providing opportunities for employees to connect with others, feel fulfilled, and contribute to a greater cause.
6. Choose Your Wellness Partners
Your corporate wellness platform is as good as the vendors you partner with. These may include healthcare providers, insurance companies, wellness suppliers, and mental health professionals. One option is to handpick multiple vendors to create a diverse wellness program that suits your workforce. Alternatively, you might opt for an all-in-one solution that offers various services. In either case, keep the following in mind when choosing partners:
- Reputation and reliability
- Compatibility with your company culture and values
- Cost-effectiveness and return on investment
- Potential for customization
- Integration with existing HR systems and processes
7. Determine Eligibility For Your Employee Wellness Program
Establish the guidelines for who can participate in your wellness program, such as:
- Full-time employees
- Part-time employees
- Contract workers
- Remote workers
- Employee dependents
It's important to consider any legal requirements and ensure that the program is inclusive for all eligible employees. Always seek professional guidance before you launch.
8. Create A Wellness Calendar
Wellness isn't something your employees will achieve overnight—it takes time. Organizations can recognize this by adding recurring challenges, events, or activities to a calendar that encourages wellness throughout the year. For example, you might host a mental health workshop on the last Friday of each month or arrange an office triathlon.
Nectar Tip: Give employees access to your wellness calendar, then schedule reminders through email and company chat channels to ensure participation and establish fantastic team bonding among employees.
9. Communicate Your Employee Wellness Program
Sadly, Ameritas highlights that 85% of employees feel confused about their benefits and what they cover. But your wellness program will only ever be a roaring success if your employees know about it, understand what's involved, and how they can benefit from it.
This communication begins by educating managers and leaders on the ins and outs of your wellness strategy. Starting at the top of your organization enables effective communication with their teams, which promotes participation.
Some communication options include:
- Creating an internal wellness campaign using email newsletters, posters, and social media posts to inform employees about upcoming events
- Sharing success stories from existing program participants
- Offering challenges for feedback and suggestions so your employees feel involved in shaping the wellness program
- Providing contact details for your wellness committee to direct any queries to
- Sharing technical information such as log-in details to a wellness platform
- Hosting office hours to answer any questions that pop up as the program is getting started.
10. Launch Your Program
Get your wellness program off to a flying start by hosting a launch highlighting the importance of employee wellbeing and the fantastic buffet of resources you're making available to your teams.
Your launch is a great chance to share resources so employees can learn more about caring for their physical and mental wellbeing. These resources may include:
- Educational materials on nutrition, exercise, stress management, and other wellness topics
- Mental health support hotlines or online resources
- Access to fitness trackers or apps
- Referrals to community resources for addiction support or weight management programs
11. Track And Adjust Your Wellness Program
The final step is to check in and measure the success of your program regularly, for example, monthly or quarterly. Revisit the SMART goals you set in Step 3, and select relevant metrics to track your progress towards achieving them.
Example: If your goal is to reduce absenteeism, track the number of sick days taken before and after implementing your wellness program.
Using these metrics, you can coursecorrect your wellness program as required, perhaps switching to a new supplier or swapping one benefit with another until you find a mix that gets results.
How To Ensure Corporate Wellness Program Participation
It can be disheartening to plunge time, energy, and resources into a stellar employee wellness program only for participation to flop. Try the following tips, backed by people experts, to ensure your employees interact regularly with your program and achieve personal wellbeing results that your company will also benefit from.
1. Consider Individual Employees
Off-the-shelf wellness programs won't always hit the mark with your employees. Some workers may prefer a program focused on mental health benefits, while others may be keen to enjoy more social wellness opportunities. Fuel Cycle's People Operations Manager, Therese Abalo, explains that organizations must treat employees as individuals to ensure participation:
“The disconnect I see continually is that there’s no individualized engagement attempt, leaving the initiative to fall on the employee. Innovation and listening have been key to engaging employees to use these benefits. We take extra time during onboarding to have that personalized conversation, send surveys to ensure employees have a say in what's offered, and check utilization to make data-informed strategic decisions on our wellness offerings. Partnership and trust with employees will always create sustainable, lasting engagement.”
2. Introduce Wellness Assessments
Part of customizing your wellness program is meeting your employees where they are. Some of your team members might be marathon runners, or take part in team sport, while others may be struggling with a sleep disorder or managing their blood sugar levels due to pre-diabetes.
“It's important to introduce wellness assessments to help employees identify their specific needs and goals. This enables you to provide tailored recommendations and resources, making the program more relevant and effective for each individual.”
3. Incentivize Participation
Even with a range of top-notch wellness initiatives, it can be hard for employees to break lifestyle habits and get involved. We get stuck in a rut; we tell ourselves we don't have time to commit to healthy living; we're self-conscious about exercising in public.
That’s where incentivization is a powerful motivational tool that persuades employees to work towards a wellbeing goal in exchange for some type of reward. People Operations Manager Sarah Prose explains how and why Wordbank US tempts employees to commit to wellness:
“We've incentivized participation by offering monthly rewards, recognition, and organizing friendly competitions that foster a strong sense of community among employees. In the current economic climate, it's essential to think creatively and explore unconventional solutions beyond what traditional benefits providers offer.”
4. Gain Leadership Buy-in
Employees are more likely to get involved in the company's wellness program if they see senior leadership setting a positive example. When everyone, including C-suite executives, prioritizes wellness, this becomes embedded in your company culture—your employees feel permitted to join them. Janelle Owens, Human Resources Director at Guide2Fluency, agrees:
"One method we've found to be successful in getting staff members to take our health and wellness programs seriously is ensuring that our leadership team buys in and actively promotes the various programs during meetings and team events. This helps remove some of the stigma around wellness programs and makes employees feel more comfortable participating."
5. Make Feedback A Two-Way Street
Communication is paramount in creating an effective wellness experience. You'll need to regularly check in with employees to inform them about upcoming wellness activities and any updates to their program. However, rather than simply prescribing wellness, it's essential to collect employee feedback to understand how they find the program and what features or initiatives they want.
“Our team recently reported that our mental health program just wasn't working. We'd signed up for counseling/mindfulness sessions for those who wanted it, but we learned that each time, they would speak with a different expert, essentially having to start the program over each time. We're working on finding a better program that benefits through building relationships.”
6. Ensure Your Program Is Truly Holistic
It's easy to throw a few physical and mental health initiatives together and assume you've created a well-rounded wellness program. But modern wellbeing is holistic; it's about so much more than mind and body, as Bayu Prihandito, Certified Psychology Expert, Life Coach, and Founder of Life Architekture, explains:
"True wellbeing covers our mind, emotions, and even financial stability. That's why sessions on stress management and emotional intelligence were added into the wellness program.
For instance, we hosted workshops where employees could learn about the triggers of stress, how to manage them, and the importance of emotional self-awareness. Sessions on financial health, budgeting, and planning were also introduced.
This holistic approach made the program more appealing and addressed many of the factors that can contribute to an employee's overall wellbeing. This way, employees felt more seen and understood, viewing the program as a comprehensive resource that can truly benefit their work-life balance."
7. Celebrate Wellness Achievements
Maintain engagement in your program by celebrating milestones and accomplishments. This is especially important in wellness programs, where progress can be slow, and motivation may dwindle if employees don’t feel like they’re making a significant impact on their health. Companies can create opportunities for celebrations by promoting wellness challenges. For example:
- Walk 10,000 steps every day for a month
- Drink 2 liters of water every day for a week
- Complete 30 minutes of physical activity three times a week
- Take a meditation class once a week
Offer praise and recognition for those who participate and achieve their goals, along with a selection of tangible rewards that will entice them to remain committed to wellness.
Incentivize Employee Wellness With Nectar
Nectar offers an intuitive platform to give your employees the boost they need to prioritize wellness. The following features are the perfect complement to your corporate wellness program:
- Challenges: Create fun and exciting wellness challenges for your employees to participate in. Your employees can self-report when they’ve completed a challenge, which might include adding a photo as evidence.
- Recognition: Celebrate employee achievements by offering social shoutouts in the Nectar feed for all to see. Attach messages and recognition points to each shoutout.
- Rewards: Employees can redeem their points for a variety of rewards, including Amazon products, gift cards, charity donations, company swag, and custom rewards.
Book a free demo today to learn more about how to incentivize employee wellness with Nectar.