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What is employee well-being, and how can you improve it?

Last updated

26 June 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Lara Leganger

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No doubt you’re prioritizing certain aspects of your business model, such as products, services, operations, and supplies. But none of these matters if you don't have the staff to manage and facilitate your business.

This concept drives today's companies to improve their cultures. And boosting employees' well-being translates into improved morale, reduced overhead costs, robust productivity, and more.

In this article, we'll share insights into the well-being and experience of employees, and strategies for improving your well-being programs. Here's the how and why behind your decision to implement a successful employee well-being initiative.

What is employee well-being?

Employee well-being is more than just employee health or wellness. Wellness is connected more directly to physical health, whereas well-being encompasses the mental, physical, economic, and emotional health of a person. It also takes into account the individual's unique experiences and perceptions.

For employers, employee well-being is the big-picture objective for overall success. It's about thriving, not just surviving, in the workplace and beyond.

Why does well-being at work matter?

Well-being at work matters because if your team isn’t in full health, they can’t perform at their best. Healthier employees take fewer days off. They also perform at their peak capabilities. And when everyone among your ranks enjoys high rates of well-being and satisfaction, they'll be more loyal to your organization through achieving their career goals.

Employee well-being matters because if you can contribute to an employee's over-arching health, you're creating a win–win scenario. The employees rely on you to improve their lives. You rely on the employees to be the best versions of themselves on the job.

What is the current state of employee well-being?

Based on recent studies, only 16% of US employees are enjoying a high state of well-being, compared with 58% working for the current 100 Best Companies to Work For brands.

Well-being at work matters now more than ever. The latest data shows why leaders and business owners should be prioritizing well-being efforts:

  • Employee burnout is real. The costs associated with voluntary "burnout" turnover range between 15% and 20% of annual payroll budgets.

  • For every 10,000 workers, there is an estimated $20 million in lost opportunity due to poor well-being affecting work performance and productivity.

  • Companies with recognition-led wellness and well-being programs say their employees are twice as likely to evaluate their futures and lives in a positive light.

  • Employee well-being programs lead to reduced burnout reporting, with 90% of employees less likely to respond as "always" or "very often" feeling overwhelmed or burned out at work.

  • Employees who express feeling on-the-job burnout are 63% more likely to not show up for their shifts at all.

  • Employees citing burnout are also twice as likely to be looking elsewhere for work.

  • Roughly 61% of employees agree they can make better lifestyle choices because of their employer's wellness programs.

The advantages of great employee health and well-being

There is a great deal of power associated with prioritizing employee health and well-being. For starters, it's your best method for retaining your most-valued team members. But other perks include job satisfaction, with 67% of employees saying they like their jobs more when there are wellness programs in place. And almost nine out of every ten candidates applying for a role will consider a job more seriously if there's a robust benefits-and-wellness initiative in place. 

Additionally, more than half of millennials and Gen Z candidates classify an employer's wellness program as "important" or "extremely important" when job searching.

Here's an additional shortlist of key company advantages for considering an employee well-being program:

  • Improves company-wide employee morale

  • Decreases absenteeism

  • Breaks the workplace monotony

  • Increases overall productivity

  • Strengthens employee loyalty

  • Brings employees together as a community

  • Reduces overall healthcare costs

  • Improves employee retention

  • Attracts new talent

  • Reduces on-the-job stress

  • Increases employee engagement

  • Reduces the general risk of diseases

  • Encourages healthy lifestyle behaviors

  • Improves teamwork and employee collaboration

  • Promotes an improved work–life balance

  • Provides a sense of accomplishment

  • Elevates the company culture

The challenges of today's wellness initiatives in the workplace

There will always be some challenges associated with developing well-being initiatives in the workplace. For instance, not all your programs will be enticing to all your staff. Because employees have unique health needs, it can be tough to cater to a companywide program that speaks to all those unique dynamics.

Another drawback is the backfire effect. If you're allowing too much time off, providing too many breaks, and approving too many health-related reimbursements, you could see a decline in productivity or an increase in company expenses.

There's also a metrics challenge to consider. It's nearly impossible to quantify exactly how helpful your wellness programs are in the individual lives of your employees. 

What makes a successful employee well-being program?

A successful employee well-being program is multi-faceted, addressing each unique health element. In your program, define health to include worker well-being, a supportive environment, prevention-focused health education, and rewards for those who embrace healthier choices. Include the following aspects of an employee's well-being:

Physical health 

To promote your workers' physical health, make sure your health and wellness programs include education and encouragement to embrace healthier lifestyles. These might feature gym memberships, insightful reminders about healthy eating habits, and encouragement for routine physician screenings.

Commit to making physical health a priority and make it easier and more convenient for your employees to participate.

Mental health

Supporting your teams' mental health might include:

  • Availability for counseling or therapy services

  • Support groups

  • Treatment programs

It could also involve more mainstream support in the way of "mental health" days added to an approved time-off roster. Be mindful of what stresses and anxieties your teams might be facing, then offer support and relief efforts that are confidential and easy to leverage when they need them.

Financial health

Consider your employees' financial health with your well-being programs. You can provide resources and support to coach team members on savvy spending and saving habits. Teach them how to invest and prepare for retirement.

Additionally, you could provide in-house programs for flex-spending and other financial resources to help in financial emergencies. Recognize what contributions you can make to ease any financial burdens your employees might be facing.

Social well-being

Be mindful of your workplace culture and how it might contribute to your teams' social well-being. Some ways you could improve social well-being are:

  • Introduce policies and missions that aim to eliminate workplace tension and promote collaboration and camaraderie

  • Create safe spaces for reporting toxic behaviors and suggesting change

  • Host company outings and seasonal celebrations that bring various departments and workers together for non-job-related connections

Ultimately, you'll want your employees to enjoy their workplace, colleagues, and social aspects of the job. Whatever efforts you can put forward, assisting individuals in forming positive connections with others will contribute to the social well-being of your collective teams.

Occupational well-being

Connect your workers to the company in a way that helps them envision a long-term career path for success. Occupational well-being is the sense of belonging and contribution to the group, as well as the pursuit of personal goals and achievements.

Make sure your employee well-being initiatives include methods for carving clear paths for advancement, proper recognition, and opportunities for continued growth and learning. These might include paid education or certifications. They might also include:

  • Channeling communication about leadership training

  • Skills training

  • Lateral opportunities for advancement

Steps for launching and managing a successful employee well-being program 

With those well-being pillars and concepts in mind, you can begin to lay out the to-do list of action items for creating, establishing, and implementing a successful employee well-being program. 

1. Get executives' buy-in and support

Present your plans and intended benefits to all key stakeholders and executives to secure their support for your employee wellness program. Share what may already be inadequate with your current health and wellness offerings. Use stats to demonstrate the need for a more robust approach to employee well-being through a lens of bottom-line results.

2. Send a companywide well-being survey

With executive approvals in place, extend surveys to your entire staff, asking for their feedback on what well-being initiatives are important to them. Keep it anonymous and ask how they feel about the various health aspects of their lives. Be mindful to include health, finances, career, community, mental/physical, and social questions. Here are some survey question examples to consider:

  • How does your job affect your overall health?

  • Are there any specific ways your job has a negative impact on your health?

  • How do the company benefits contribute to your health?

  • What are some ways the company could help improve your overall health?

  • Do you believe your job helps support your overall health?

  • What are factors that positively impact your well-being in the workplace?

  • How do you think you contribute to the well-being of your coworkers?

  • How would you describe your well-being when you are in the workplace?

  • If you could change one thing about your workplace to improve your well-being, what would it be, and how would it positively impact you in the workplace?

  • Do you believe your workload matches your current salary/compensation?

  • Are you interested in a different-sized workload? Bigger or smaller?

  • How would you describe your current workload?

  • Do you feel the workload is spread fairly among your team members?

  • What are strategies you use to care for your mental health at work?

  • What are ways the company could better support employees' mental health?

  • How do you deal with workplace stress?

  • Do you think your job positively impacts your mental health? Why or why not?

  • Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your current work-life balance?

  • Are there ways in which the company negatively affects your work-life balance?

  • How would you describe your current work-life balance?

  • What are ways you want to improve your work-life balance? Are there ways for the company to support you in those areas?

  • How would you describe your relationship with other members of your team?

  • Have you ever felt isolated at work? Are you still experiencing isolation from any employees of the company?

  • What are ways in which the company can facilitate more team building between coworkers?

  • How important is it to you to get along well with your coworkers? Why or why not?

3. Create a well-being program based on your employees' feedback

Using your collected feedback, outline the various initiatives that will be part of your program. Recognize where you might need more support. For example, if you have a department full of smokers, you know a smoking cessation initiative is in order.

Flesh out which elements will need to be properly managed and facilitate each of your program layers. You'll want to track who's participating in a particular support program as well as the intended benefits.

4. Define the goals

Create a definitive list of employee well-being goals that will serve as your primary objective. These might include improved retention, improved hiring, and improved productivity. Depending on your company size and dynamics, you might try to focus on one core objective and corresponding program effort at a time. Larger companies can create more comprehensive programs at once and will have the resources to facilitate and manage them effectively.

Work at your own company pace and be methodical about choosing a goal and implementing benefits for attaining that goal once you have the resources to properly oversee it. You can then establish a timeline and frequency with which you'll evaluate results. And you can determine which methods you'll rely on to gather those insights and metrics. You can always add or change your goals as your employees’ needs change. Just be realistic with your goals and resources for the best results.

5. Launch your well-being program and make a company-wide announcement

With all the operational steps configured, goals in place, and approvals secured, you're ready to launch your employee well-being program. Make it exciting and employee-centric with a series of company-wide announcements by email and internal mail, and verbally by department. 

6. Promote your well-being program and communicate its benefits to build internal awareness

Promote your program on an ongoing basis, as a reminder to existing staff and as part of your new hire onboarding. Focus on the benefits for the employees. They won't get excited about a discounted gym membership right away. But when you build up the enthusiasm and continuously reinforce the employee-level benefits, they'll start to get excited with you.

7. Get your managers on board

Coach your various managers about the countless advantages of implementing and encouraging opt-in for the program. When your managers support your program and are on board with promoting it, you'll have an added line of encouragement for individuals to subscribe. 

Your managers are also going to be an excellent resource for you in keeping an eye on employee opt-in and opt-out trends with your program. Make your managers your allies in your well-being efforts.

8. Continuously encourage employees to participate and share their ideas

A successful employee well-being program isn't a one-and-done effort. It requires ongoing encouragement and is susceptible to ongoing change. Get feedback from your employees about what they like best or dislike about the program. And be ready to implement changes to better suit your team's needs and preferences.

If your metrics indicate no one is taking advantage of a particular perk, it's worth surveying staff to find out why.

9. Measure the impact

Keep a constant eye on your goals for improved retention, onboarding, and productivity. Be diligent about measuring the impact of your wellness and well-being initiatives through those lenses.

Consider tracking the following employee well-being metrics:

  • Productivity metrics before and after implementing a program

  • Reported absenteeism before and after implementing a program

  • Employee turnover and retention metrics

  • New hire onboarding rates before and after implementing a program

Each data-driven improvement milestone is worth promoting. And any lackluster improvements might suggest you need better opt-in from your employees or a better strategy in promoting it.

Examples of well-being programs at different companies

When the stats show that 80% of companies that employ more than 50 people have wellness programs, it's easy to see the value in setting one up for your company. And what you include with yours can be creative and in line with your company culture and personality.

Here are some examples of well-being program perks at different companies to inspire your efforts.

  • On-site fitness centers with equipment

  • On-site healthy-eating options, shops, and meal preparation

  • Smoking cessation programs

  • Company-sponsored yoga classes

  • Company-sponsored massage days

  • Nap and lounge areas on the job

  • Complimentary meetings with on-site financial planners

  • Complimentary dietitian access

  • On-site childcare services

  • Company-sponsored transportation options

  • On-site gardening

Here are incentive examples that companies use to boost the adoption and participation of employee wellness programs:

  • "Health cash" for employees and their spouses not covered under company health plans

  • $500 gift card raffles for those who participate in the well-being program

  • $100 bonuses for employees who follow through on annual physician screenings or exams

  • Cash rewards for those who successfully quit smoking

  • Six months of paid Weight Watchers membership for those who participate in the company's well-being program

  • Prize draws for electronics and gifts for those who participate for one year

  • Ergonomic office equipment

  • Front row parking

  • Additional work-from-home days

  • Company-paid cruises or vacation draws for annual participants

In summary

Take a closer look at your company's current position on employee health and wellness. If it's not a comprehensive effort to address the total well-being of your teams, you're missing opportunities for improvement.

Consider developing a robust employee well-being program, complete with incredible incentives and mechanisms for monitoring results. And you'll see the difference, both in your employees' health and your bottom line.


How do you measure an employee's well-being?

By their very nature, some of the detailed nuances can’t be measured, but you can gather insights about your employees' well-being via surveys. Collect their opinions about their current social, community, physical, career, and financial positions. Ask them to rate each through a lens of suffering, average existence, or a thriving capacity.

Use those responses to decide in which areas your teams are the least and the most healthy. Those insights will help you build a well-being program that best suits their needs.

Do companies that treat employees well perform better than companies that don't?

Companies that prioritize employee well-being as an ongoing effort are more productive, experience less turnover, and generally perform better than companies that don't.

How does working from home affect employees' well-being and corporate work culture?

Most companies have recognized the increased well-being the work-from-home dynamic has provided employees in recent years. There is less stress from the physical demands of reporting to work. Employees can still meet objectives from their home offices and, in many cases, are more productive. Innovative technologies keep even the most remote teams connected, so camaraderie isn't compromised too much.

What are some goals to achieve when implementing an employee well-being program?

Be mindful of establishing clear goals for whatever wellness programs you set up. Some examples of measurable company goals might include:

  • Reducing overall healthcare costs

  • Reducing employee absenteeism

  • Improving employee retention

  • Attracting new hires

  • Boosting employee engagement

  • Increasing productivity

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