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GuidesEmployee experienceWhat is an employee wellness program, and how does it help?

What is an employee wellness program, and how does it help?

Last updated

23 November 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Shawnna Johnson

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The world has changed in the wake of COVID-19, with many people in the workforce emphasizing work–life balance and overall health, including mental and physical. Employees don't just want to work and go home. Indeed, more people than ever are working from home, making it harder to draw distinct lines between work and personal life and making it vital for companies to show their employees that they care.

Employee wellness programs are a way for companies to show people they genuinely care about the health and well-being of those who work for them. These programs can promote work–life balance, encourage healthy lifestyles, and offer advice on self-care habits that can last a lifetime.

There are benefits for the company too. Employee wellness programs can increase retention, improve productivity, and build greater goodwill within an organization, leading to employees happily staying on for the long term, rather than seeking greener pastures.

What is an employee wellness program?

An employee wellness program is a set of initiatives offered by a company. This program is designed to encourage a healthy lifestyle (physical, mental, financial, and spiritual) amongst its employees and their extended families. There's no set structure for employee wellness programs, allowing companies to experiment with various activities, programs, and benefits that can address multiple dimensions of care.

Why is an employee wellness program important?

There are many reasons why employee wellness programs can be a boon to large and small companies.

Employee wellness programs can lead to greater productivity since healthy employees are likely to take fewer sick days and be more motivated to show up to work.

Healthy employees are less distracted by stressors and other issues that affect productivity. These programs can also boost employee morale. Not only will employees feel better about their health and well-being, but they'll also be excited about working for a company that cares about them.

Employee wellness programs can improve retention. Healthcare is a powerful influence within a workplace and many employees decide whether to stay or leave depending on the health-based programs on offer. Employee wellness programs are an excellent promotional tool, attracting the best and brightest talent to your organization and proving that the company wants to do right by its people. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, employee wellness programs breed satisfied employees. Data indicates that the vast majority of employees need and expect sustainable and mentally healthy workplaces, led by employers who connect with the workforce.

How to measure employee well-being

Employee wellness programs are only effective if they work. To find out whether your program is working, measure employee well-being over time using established research methods.

Measure progress by evaluating your employees’ physical, mental, and emotional health. Monitor the number of sick days taken overall after your wellness program has been put in place, along with productivity levels, since the way an employee feels physically and mentally can affect their productivity.

If your employee wellness program is working, you should see the number of sick days slowly decline. You should also see high levels of productivity, and employees who happily share feedback with you regarding initiatives they enjoy or didn't enjoy. Data from your benefits providers can also be an indicator of how well your wellness program is working.

If something doesn't seem to be resonating with your employees, don't be afraid to tweak it and let your employees know about those changes.

The eight dimensions of well-being

To be as effective as possible, your employee wellness program should address the eight dimensions of well-being. If your program can offer support for employees on a holistic level as well as a physical one, it is much more likely to resonate with them.

Physical

Physical fitness doesn't just refer to how fast someone can run a mile. Physical health includes everything from the digestive system to sleep health.

Most people are familiar with the concept of physical health, making this dimension one of the easiest for employers to tackle in their offerings. Nutrition classes, workout tips, gym subsidies, and coupons for massage and day spas are just a few ways you can nurture better physical health within your organization.

Emotional

Emotional wellness might not be as easy to promote as physical health, but it is no less important. Emotional wellness means that someone can effectively regulate their emotions and remain attentive to their thoughts and behaviors.

Mental health awareness plays a vital role in promoting better emotional health. Employers can consider wellness newsletters and on-site individual and group counseling as part of their approach to bettering employees' emotional wellness.

Financial

Everyone craves financial stability. Research shows that rising wages increase employee productivity. Even if a company isn't in a position to consistently offer pay raises, monetary gifts and education about financial literacy can boost employee satisfaction.

Many companies offer lunch-and-learn sessions on topics such as “Investing in your 401K” and “Planning for Retirement”. Depending on your workforce demographics, you may even offer classes on “Balancing your Checkbook” and “Budgeting 101.”

Occupational

Occupational wellness addresses how happy employees are with their professional development as well as their satisfaction with their work–life balance. Occupational wellness is closely linked to other dimensions of the employee experience, including emotional and physical health.

To keep your employees satisfied, provide opportunities for professional growth, including certifications and training that can help them advance to the next stage in their careers. Surveying your employees about their working environment can go a long way in developing trust and satisfaction.

Social

While many people are working remotely, there's still value in interpersonal connection. Humans crave social connections, and every employee wellness program should include avenues and opportunities for people to connect with their co-workers.

Even if in-person meetings aren't possible, virtual meetups and scheduled events, such as ballgames or potluck dinners, can go a long way toward building goodwill and establishing strong social connections.

A well-established onboarding program that pairs new hires with a seasoned “buddy” can help your new employee develop positive working relationships from the get-go.

Intellectual

Intellectual stimulation will keep your employees happy, curious, and creative. It can encourage a desire for lifelong learning and encourage greater success. Offering discounts on extended education courses, access to language learning software, or even passes to museums and galleries, can excite your employees and show them you’re dedicated to knowledge and education.

Allowing your more seasoned employees to share their knowledge as subject-matter experts will help improve engagement levels for employees across many levels in the organization.

Purpose

People feel driven to succeed in life due to a strong sense of purpose. This includes being able to see things from other perspectives and feel at peace with their belief system. While addressing purpose in employee wellness programs can be challenging, there are ways to do so.

Making employees aware that you value everyone's individual journey while raising awareness in literature and company newsletters can be effective. Ensuring that employees have well-crafted job descriptions that help establish their contribution to the organization will make them realize the importance of their role and purpose.

Environmental

Companies who want to show their employees they care about the planet foster goodwill and create a culture of sustainable living that can make a big impact on the community as well as the organization.

Focusing on the office environment is one way to show concern for environmental wellness. Creating cleaner air in the office and providing easy ways for employees to recycle can start a pattern of actionable steps to help the planet and its inhabitants.

Look for opportunities to get involved in Earth Day projects and other ways to give back to the environment.

Types of wellness programs

There are endless options for designing an employee wellness program. Not every option makes sense for every organization, while others might be the perfect fit. Here are a few ideas to inspire you:

  • Nutrition classes

  • Health and wellness screenings

  • Health coaching

  • Tobacco cessation programs

  • Flexible work schedules

  • Weight loss challenges

  • Healthy snacks and lunch options

After you've decided what makes sense for your company, consider asking employees for their thoughts. A survey or feedback form asking employees what they prefer can show you exactly what they would like to see implemented within the organization. Consider including an open-ended question at the end of the survey where employees can enter their ideas for programs and benefits that might not be included on the form.

Employee wellness programs are not a one-size-fits-all solution. They require planning, development, and a certain amount of flexibility.

FAQs

Why should companies care about employee wellness?

Companies should care about employee wellness because it can help keep their employees happy and healthy for years to come. Employee wellness programs can reduce the cost of training new employees and ensure your people feel comfortable and supported at work.

While employee wellness programs allow for a great deal of customization, they should be designed in a way that makes sense for your company's structure and the needs of your employees.

What are the most important elements of a wellness program?

There are many individual elements of an employee wellness program, but the most important component is that it addresses the needs of your employees. For example, if your company is structured in a way that allows most employees to work remotely, it doesn't make sense to funnel costs into hosting regular on-site clinics or events. Those resources would be better put to use designing virtual events or additional flex days for workers.

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