What Are Employee Wellness Programs?

Employee Wellness in your Company

Employee wellness programs are designed to nurture employee health and happiness (regardless of their role or tenure) by developing healthier and more productive workforce and community through education and coaching programs.

Many organizations offer some type of wellness program, but the actual services and activities can vary wildly. Some companies offer weight loss challenges, while others provide nutritional counseling, healthy snack options, or afternoon yoga.

Countless case studies illustrate how employees who participate in wellness programs contribute to lower healthcare costs, decreased attrition, and higher productivity.

But gym memberships and and nutrition classes aren’t enough.

To be successful, you must first align your program with your mission. True wellness starts by understanding your employees and their needs.

Below we’ll walk you through the benefits of a few different wellness programs, why they can be good (or bad), how they impact employee motivation, and the key to improving company culture.

How They Work

Employee wellness programs work in a few different ways and there are a number of initiatives you can test. Here are some of our favorite wellness program ideas…

Food Wellness Initiatives—Good health starts with good nutrition, and a food-based initiative is relatively low-cost and easy to implement. Replace unhealthy office food with wholesome options like fruit and veggies. Encourage a real lunch break so employees can unwind and take their time (it’s better for digestion!). You could even offer a “lunch-n-learn” speaker series to discuss healthy eating habits at work.

Gym Memberships—Subsidized gym memberships make fitness easier and more affordable. To identify the best membership option for your employees, consider sending out a survey to ask about their favorite classes, fitness equipment, or local gym options. Many gyms offer corporate discounts or gym credits, so ask around to find a great deal.

Fitness Gamification—Apps like Welbe, Hotseat, Digifit and FitBit are designed to make fitness fun and social. And don’t forget brain games or trivia nights! Mental fitness is just as important as physical wellbeing.

Walking Meetings—Encourage team members (and their managers) to take their meetings and phone calls outside. A change in scenery improves our thinking, helping us become more energized, alert and creative. Plus, fresh air is great for brainstorming.

Office Classes—Host a weekly yoga class in the office to give your employees a moment of Zen. Not only is yoga a great workout, but it helps employees practice mindfulness and manage stress.

There are many, many more fun and healthy activities you can incorporate into your wellness program. But wellness isn’t just about physical health, but a more holistic approach to life—physical, mental, family, social, financial… Anything you can do to help your employees stress less about daily burdens gives them more energy and time to do quality work. In turn, these employees will feel more committed to your organization.  

No matter which type of program you choose, the key is to get employees excited to participate. Choose activities that feel like a fun break and less like a chore.

How They Can Improve Job Performance

Wellness programs can improve job performance and overall employee happiness. The right program, one that furthers your mission and is appreciated by employees helps you…

Increase Productivity—Not only does wellness at work help employees achieve their personal goals, but it also can have a positive impact on overall productivity. Recent research found that employees wearing wearables (FitBits and the like) became 8.5% more productive!

Save Money on HealthcareThe American Heart Association found that for every $1 invested in workplace wellness, companies can receive up to $3 in return. Leaders at Johnson & Johnson estimate that their wellness programs have saved the company $250 million on health care costs over the past decade. Plus, with tax incentives and grants, American companies can use wellness programs to chip away at increasing healthcare costs.

Decreased Turnover—Healthy employees stay at your company longer. Organizations with effective wellness programs reported lower voluntary attrition than those with less effective programs (9% vs. 15%), according to a study by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health.

Reduced Absenteeism—Company wellness programs reduce absenteeism simply by encouraging healthy habits. One study found that people who regularly exercise miss 18% fewer workdays (people who regularly get strenuous exercisers miss 32% fewer workdays).

Positive and Engaged Employees—When employees feel in control of their health, their overall wellbeing is generally more optimistic. Happy employees aren’t just pleasant to be around, but they’re also more productive. The University of Warwick found that happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity. Unhappy workers proved 10% less productive. Positivity is infectious, too. So even if only half your employees take advantage of your programs, they’re new enthusiasm will rub off on everyone.

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Their Role in a Company's Culture

We’ve established that healthy people are happier, more productive and engaged, but this qualities are crucial to a healthy and happy organizational culture. An employee wellness program can be core to a company’s culture.

At CultureIQ, we spent spent years pouring through research to identifying the culture qualities that fuel the world’s most high-performing organizations. We identified 10 qualities present in each of these organizations. “Wellness” was at the top of their list. Because when an organization takes care of its employees, their employees take care of the company.

Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin HealthMiles, polled nearly 10,000 employees on their wellness programs. A whopping 70% said that these programs “positively influence the culture at work.”

We spend most of lives at work, so it’s crucial that each and every team member feels part of your corporate community (especially if that community encourages them to to meet their personal and wellness goals).

How to Set Up an Employee Wellness Program

There is no perfect program that works for everyone. So if you want to set up an employee wellness program, you have to start by talking to your employees. Your wellness program should match your company culture and support employees in making healthy behavior changes. So don’t tell them how to act, ask them first.

Send a survey to identify how you can improve your wellness efforts. Are employees frustrated with the types of snacks provided? Do people feel like they lack the time for physical exercise because they’re at work until 8pm? You’ll uncover a slew of invaluable data if you just take the time to listen.

Remember, passes to fitness clubs and nutrition information isn’t enough. You will always have employees who can’t, or won’t, participate in your program. Some employees have their own personal programs that don’t fit with your options. Others just don’t like exercises, while still others think they don’t have time.

Your wellness program should be engaging, social, fun and part of everyone’s day-to-day. The best way to start is to send out a survey, collect feedback (you’ll also give employees the added bonus of feeling heard once you take their suggestions to heart.

Don’t be afraid to experiment either. It’s not unusual for an organization to start with a bang, only to watch their program fizzle. Start them, then iterate from there. Like anything, creating a good employee wellness program takes time, but the results are well worth it.

How CultureIQ Can Help Get Feedback On Your Program

At CultureIQ, our benchmarked survey, culture software and seasoned strategy team shows you what’s happening in your organization and provides guidance on where to focus next.

Pulse surveys collect ongoing feedback so you can immediately evaluate your latest initiative. Pinpoint problems, measure successes, and gain the flexibility to course correct on everything from your new benefits program to recent wellness program.

Our custom surveys will help you set up your wellness program and can be used during the planning stages or to get feedback once it’s implemented.

Interested in learning more about how to motivate your employees? Read more on Employee Motivation Tools tactics here.

How CultureIQ can help you understand your employees and their needs

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