When done properly, an effective employee wellness program can be the difference between a company with an engaged, resilient workforce and an organization that has unproductive, unhappy employees.
As the founder of HEAL a corporate wellness company whose clients include Google, KPMG, Unilever and Seaspan, we hear firsthand how valuable employee wellness programs are. If you are thinking of implementing an employee wellness program or updating your existing one, use these best practices to get started.
What Is An Employee Wellness Program?
An employee wellness program is an initiative that is designed to support the wellbeing of the employee from a mental, physical, financial and emotional perspective. It benefits both the employee and the employer, as a healthy individual is more productive and more engaged at work.
Every organization’s wellbeing program will differ slightly, but initiatives can include lunch and learns or webinars, wellness challenges, on-site fitness programs, wellness newsletters, health screening, healthy food or snacks in the office and wellness fairs.
Why Is Employee Wellness Important?
Hopefully, you work at an organization that values employee wellness for the sake of it. Happy and healthy employees create cultures and companies that others want to work at or with. There are also tangible benefits that organizations can measure when launching a wellness program. These metrics include:
- Employee engagement
Let’s look at each in more detail.
The main reason that employee wellness programs are important is due to engagement, or the actual commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals. An engaged employee is more likely to invest in their work and go the extra mile to produce results. In fact, an engaged team experiences a 41% reduction in absenteeism and a 17% increase in productivity and are more likely to stay with the organization.
When employees feel that the company values their health and wellbeing, they are on average 38% more engaged and 17% more likely to still be working at the organization in a year’s time.
Employee wellness is also a crucial factor for a productive work environment. To understand this, it’s easy to simply reflect on how productive your workday was if you were feeling burnt out or tired, stressed or anxious or generally unwell. Chances are you weren’t as productive. Research has shown that an employee wellness program can increase productivity up to 1 day a month.
More specifically, employee wellness can reduce absenteeism - when an employee is absent from work - by 27%, and presenteeism - when an employee is present at work but not productive. For example, a smoker is 28% more likely to have high presenteeism than a non-smoker. Specific to the fitness side of wellbeing, employees who did not exercise were 50% more likely to have high presenteeism than those who did exercise.
It’s estimated that replacing an employee who leaves the business can cost anywhere from 20% to 213% of their salary in replacement costs. While the occasional employee will leave for reasons out of your control, it often comes back to how engaged the employee is in the company.
Another reason that employees will leave the organization is a lack of work-life balance and burnout. A wellness program can proactively educate employees on daily practices that prevent burnout and help address mental stress they might be experiencing so that it doesn’t reach the point that the employee quits their job.
Check out our blog on calculating the cost of employee turnover and learn more about how to change it.
5 Things You Need To Know Before Starting Your Employee Wellness Program
If you’re starting an employee wellness program, that’s great! The upside is huge, but there are nuances to running an effective program. To make sure you’re prepared before planning your program, here are 5 best practices to keep in mind.
Survey Your Employees
One of the most important factors in a successful employee wellness program is that you have high participation. A great way to ensure this is to survey your employees about what they are struggling with and what resources would be most beneficial to them. That way, when they are offered, you know the programs are relevant and will have good participation.
When we are planning our wellness programs for clients, if it hasn’t already been done, we will create a survey for the organization to send out in advance so that we can factor in employees’ feedback into our planning.
For example, prior to Unilever running our wellness challenge in January, we surveyed the organization asking where employees were struggling. Upon hearing burnout and work-life balance were common themes, we were able to tailor the content accordingly. When surveyed after the program, 93% of participants felt they had better energy.
Get Leadership Involved
Getting managers and senior leadership involved in the wellness program is critical.
Firstly, it sends the message that it’s ok for the employee to take some time for themselves during work hours, be it a webinar or a lunchtime workout.
Secondly, it helps ingrain wellness into the corporate culture. When someone’s manager or boss is participating in a wellness program, the direct report is much more likely to.
Offer Continuous Programming
Sometimes companies offer a wellness program to check a box. While a ‘one and done’ approach to wellness does allow a company to check a box, it doesn’t actually move the needle in terms of employees’ health. It’s obvious that going to the gym once doesn’t really do much for someone’s overall health; rather, it’s the consistency that pays off. The same goes for employee wellness programs.
We recommend a combination of different offerings so that you have something for everyone. For example, when we were planning a wellness program for EA Sport’s interns across North America, we made sure to offer a combination of webinars, live cooking classes and wellness challenges so that wellness was top of mind throughout their entire internship.
Create A Robust Promotional Strategy
When we are about to launch a new employee wellness program with a client, we always make sure every single employee knows about it. To do this, we need to have a plan too effectively promote the wellbeing program.
For example, when we were launching our mental wellness challenge with East Side Games, not only did we have an email campaign to let employees know about it, we also spoke at their all-hands company-wide monthly meeting to describe the program and what benefits participants could expect by joining.
By speaking at the all-hands, we more than doubled participation from the previous challenge they had run.
Ensure You Have Incentives For Participation
Last but certainly not least, we always suggest providing incentives for participation. With our lunch and learns, this involves a swag bag of goodies for those who attend in person, and with our wellness challenges, we provide online gift cards for the individuals and teams with the highest scores weekly. If you want to maximize your incentives' impact, Max Benz from hoerbuchheld.de suggests that "you should speak to some of your employees about their motivation first. This way, you'll be in a much better situation to find the ideal incentives.
To learn more about HEAL’s employee wellness programs, please click here.