What Is an Employee Wellness Program? (+How to Implement One)

Nissar Ahamed
Nissar Ahamed  |  June 28, 2019

Given the rising costs of hiring, increased competition for talent and rising employee benefits costs (alongside recent data that shows that most of today’s workforce is disengaged at work), the outlook doesn’t look encouraging for employers.

What can be done about it?

One relatively low-cost and an effective strategy that you can use to boost employee morale, improve engagement and to recruit top talent is to implement an employee wellness program.

In this article, we will look at what an employee wellness program is, why it’s important for employers to pay attention to, few examples of companies having had success with it, and finally actionable tips to launch a program at your company.

What are employee wellness programs?

In simple terms, they are programs or policies aimed at improving the physical, emotional, and financial health of your employees.

The primary purpose of these programs is to improve employee morale and engagement.

The more engaged your workforce, the more productive they will be - which definitely has a direct impact on your company’s success. We will cover more about the benefits and the impact to your organization in one of the sections below.

One key thing to keep in mind is that employee wellness programs should not be confused with employee health benefits or insurance.

Health insurance typically cost an annual premium for both the employer and the employee. On the other hand, employee wellness programs could be a one-time program, or a seasonal or many times a perpetual program; and the costs are relatively low.

Thought most employee wellness programs are focused on health aspects, many companies offer different programs that focus on other areas.

We can group the programs into a few different areas:

  1. Health-focused programs → weight loss coaching, providing healthy snacks, disease prevention, and so on.
  2. Social/Community-focused programs → group volunteering, paid time off for volunteering, and more.
  3. Education-focused programs → providing individual/group training programs, courses, seminars, and so on.
  4. Personal finance-focused programs → educating employees on personal finance through seminars, or providing financial incentives, perks, and more.

There is no cookie-cutter approach to having an employee wellness initiative at your company. Every company does it differently based on their location, culture, budget, or number of employees. 

Why should your company implement a wellness program?

Now that you know what an employee wellness program looks like, let’s look at some reasons why your team should consider investing in one for your company. 

1. Improving employee engagement

This is the most obvious and immediate benefit of implementing an employee wellness program. The more engaged your employees are at work, the more likely they would want to come back to work each and every day.

They are happier as they see more intrinsic value from working for your company. They see more reasons than just their salaries to be part of your organization. This improves workplace performance. There is evidence to prove that companies that have higher employee engagement tend to experience higher business productivity. 

The direct benefit to your team could be one of many things: 

  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Improved productivity levels
  • A more happy and collaborative workplace
  • Reduced employee turnover

TIP: Use employee engagement software to amplify the success of your efforts! 

See the Easiest-to-Use Employee Engagement Software →

Attracting new (and the right) talent

With unemployment at historic lows the balance has shifted. It is a candidate’s market and they have more options to choose from. It has become increasingly difficult for employers to attract and retain the right talent. A more likely scenario? Most of the qualified candidates are in a position where they will be entertaining multiple job offers.

With all things being equal: salary, benefits, commute time, candidates will most likely choose a company with a solid company culture.

Having an attractive employee wellness program helps boost your employer brand which then has a direct bearing on your talent acquisition.  You can make it easier and more compelling for candidates to choose your company over others in your area or industry.

Reducing healthcare costs (and improving ROI)

According to an extensive study conducted by the RAND Corporation, employers who have implemented an employee wellness program have seen an ROI benefit of $1.50, i.e a return of $1.50 for every $1.00 they have invested in a program.

The study also reports that ROI could be higher in certain cases. For instance, ROI for certain programs (disease prevention programs) provided an ROI benefit of $3.80. 

Los Alamos National Laboratory, which employees more than 10,000 employees, has saved $21 million in the 3 years since implementing a company-wide wellness program. Los Alamos estimated a $100,000 per year employee healthcare cost avoidance.

After starting a corporate wellness program, one major hospital benefited from 80% reduction of days lost to illness and injury, and a 64% decline in modified duty days. As a result they have saved $1.5 million.

3 examples of employee wellness programs in action 

By now you have an understanding of what a wellness program looks like and why your company needs to adopt one. To inspire and to help you draw some inspiration, we wanted to share a few examples from different industries to prove that wellness programs can be effective in any market.

1. Zappos

Zappos is one of the largest online shoe retailers and a subsidiary of Amazon. With more than 1500 employees, they have established themselves as a highly sought-out company to work for. 

Zappos provides its employees an on-campus fitness center, a weight management program, free food, monthly outings, and more. To top it off, they now have a nap room, which can be seen in the video below.  

2. El Mejor Trato

A loan and insurance broker based in Argentina, El Mejor Trato launched a financial wellness program (and this is very fitting as they are in the FinServ industry themselves).

Their CEO noticed that their employees were struggling with debt. This financial burden was affecting their personal lives and also their work performance. So they did something unique. The company decided to introduce a debt repayment/elimination program for its employees. They decided to help employees who have been there for more than a year to pay down their debt load.

This program not only helped improve employee morale and overall productivity, but their employee retention rate has gone from 61% to 88%.

3. General Mills

A 150+ year old company with more than 40,000 employees, General Mills is one of the most successful and long-standing consumer goods manufacturers in the world. Having had a wellness program for more than 25 years, General Mills has established itself as a leader and champion of employee wellness.

Their program promotes healthy habits and also enriches their employees’ lives by empowering them to make decisions and providing a support system. Using the program employees have successfully stopped smoking, changed their diets, and more.

How can you implement an employee wellness program at your company?

Regardless of the type of program you choose to implement, here are some tips to implement a wellness program at your company. 

Get management buy-in

It's important that your entire leadership team is totally bought into this before you launch or involve the rest of your employees. Most corporate wellness programs fail because it is not often viewed as a priority from the C-Suite.

Help your leadership team understand all the benefits that your company will experience in terms of morale, productivity, reduced turnover, talent attraction, proven ROI increase, and so on. This has to be a top-down approach. 

Once your staff sees that this is not just an HR or an individual initiative but a company-wide initiative, they will be more likely to participate to make this program a success.

Set goals for the company and the team

Gain clarity on why you are doing this. Is it to boost morale? Is it to reduce absenteeism? Is it to make your company an attractive talent magnet? Is it to help your employees lead a better life? It could be all of these reasons and more.

Studies have proven over and over again that any new initiative with clear objectives and KPIs tend to be more successful. It could be something as simple as get X employees to sign up for the weight loss challenge or find two vendors for the healthy snack program by X date. 

Create a team to implement the program

This does not have to be a single person or solely an HR team initiative. You will need a team from various departments who can participate to help get this program off the ground.

Create a committee and help them implement the processes. Get participants or advocates from each department if possible. Get their input on roll out, strategy, and assign tasks and projects for them to help you with. 

Get employee input

Before you spend all your effort, resources, and time launching a few initiatives, listen to your employees and get their feedback. Your employees are your customers for this program. Perhaps some of the initiatives that you hoped to launch are not even of interest and would receive minimal participation. Maybe some ideas are more appealing to the majority.

Many employee wellness programs struggle to gain traction with getting their employees to participate, and that’s normal. Ensuring that you complete this step will increase that odds.

Put an incentive plan in place

You are aware of the benefits that a program will provide your company. But all your employees may not be completely aware of the benefits for them. Educate and motivate them to participate. Studies have shown that companies that offer incentives to employees see a higher adoption and success rate.

The more people who participate in this new program, the more benefits you will see as an organization. This also helps your case when you back to report to your C-suite about the success of the program. 

The rollout

Now comes the fun part: getting your program off the ground. Here are a few things you can do to ensure that it goes smoothly. 

Set up launch meetings

Have multiple meetings over the course of the launch with different groups (ideally small size meetings with 10-15 attendees). Avoid rolling this out your company-wide town hall; you can use the town hall to make an announcement, but its effectiveness might be lost on such a large scale. 

Internal website/intranet 

If you have a knowledge base, electronic bulletin board, or a company intranet, make sure to share detailed information here. Give details on who can participate, benefits, and any other relevant information. Keep promoting the program and make sure to share success stories as well. 

Email newsletters or email blast

Send out a company-wide email blast announcing the launch of your program. Some people prefer electronic communication as opposed to face-to-face meetings. This will ensure that you have all your bases covered. 

Marketing materials

Create brochures, flyers and distribute them to your employees. Put them on display in the common areas such as kitchen, rec rooms, meeting rooms, etc.

Also include these in your new employee onboarding program so they can get started right away. Make sure to also add this information to your website’s career section.

Your employees are your number one asset

Numerous global employers have some type of wellness program. This number is relatively lower with small and medium-sized companies, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't implement one for your company! 

Invest in wellness programs to see the results of your investment return to you. A happy and engaged workforce will ensure better customer satisfaction, improved productivity, and an increase to your bottom line. 

After you implement your employee wellness program, make sure to send out employee satisfaction surveys to see how your employees are benefiting! Download our free employee satisfaction questions for some guidelines! 

Get free employee satisfaction survey questions Download Now, FREE →

Nissar Ahamed
Author

Nissar Ahamed

Nissar Ahamed is the Founder and CEO of CareerMetis, a publication dedicated to helping jobseekers and freelancers with actionable advice and resources. He is also the host of The Career Insider Podcast and the co-host of The C.A.R.E. Podcast.