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Every business wants its employees to be happy and healthy. That’s why so many small businesses and large corporations these days are starting to think about how they can contribute to employee health and wellness.

Since people spend so much of their lives at work, this is a very vital concern for employers. But let’s be honest - there are plenty of poorly-designed health and wellbeing programs for employees out there.

So how can you be sure you’re creating one that your employees will actually thank you for? After all, workplace wellbeing programs only work well when employees participate often and enthusiastically.

No need to fear - we’re here to guide you through everything you need to know about creating a wellbeing program your employees will love.

Let’s get started!‍

What is an employee wellbeing program?

Employee wellbeing programs focus on improving the physical health of employees at your company.

They look a little different at every organization, but many of them include features like smoking cessation programs, gym membership discounts, healthy office snacks, step competitions, and more.

Many wellbeing programs are also now beginning to focus on mental health as well as physical. By implementing programs like EAP (Employee Assistance Programs), stress reduction programs, meditation programs, and more.

It’s all about improving employee health by making it easier and cheaper to live a healthy lifestyle.

The benefits of employee wellbeing programs

Why do employers invest in these programs? They can be fairly costly, depending on which programs your organization picks.

But despite the cost and the effort needed to implement them, they’re often very effective and have a big return on investment.

That’s because happy, healthy employees are much more productive and engaged than employees who are tired, stressed, worried, or sick.

On a basic level, keeping employees healthy means they don’t miss work as often, and that’s obviously great for the success of your business. Plus, rapidly rising healthcare costs in places like the US mean employees getting sick can be a huge drain on company resources.

But being productive and engaged means employees need to have lower levels of worry and stress in their lives too, and many more advanced employee wellbeing programs address that as well.

The World Health Organization says that mental illness is now the leading cause of disability and illness. High levels of chronic stress caused by unhealthy workplace cultures have a real impact on employee engagement and productivity. 

No one does their best work when surrounded by stressful conditions. But as sad as that sounds, well-designed employee health and wellness programs can help alleviate many of those problems.

Not only will your employees be healthier and more productive, but they’ll also feel supported and happier to work at an organization that takes such thoughtful care of them. That means less turnover and higher job satisfaction too!

How not to establish a workplace wellbeing program?

While these benefits are all possible if you pick the right wellbeing programs, they go out the window if you select the wrong one. What does that mean?

Isn’t anything that is meant to help your employees be healthy a good choice? Won’t they be grateful?

Well, not always. You’ve probably done your work well and hired some really smart people - they’ll see through efforts that benefit your company more than them.

If your wellbeing programs are mostly designed to lower insurance premiums by punishing employees for unhealthy behaviors, they’re not going to be happy - and they’re not going to participate as actively as you might like.

As Deloitte has found, there’s actually often a huge gap between what employers think their people need, and what employees actually want. That’s why doing your research properly is vital before you commit to an expensive and unpopular wellbeing program.

And SHRM notes that focusing exclusively on physical wellness is pretty ineffective for most organizations, so it’s better to think holistically about wellbeing.

How to create effective employee wellbeing programs?

So where do you start creating employee wellbeing programs that your employees will actually use and enjoy?

It begins by being in touch with what employees really value. And the best way to do that isn’t by guessing or assuming - you should ask employees directly what they think.

Doing this using a survey system like Empuls will help you narrow your focus on what employees truly want.

Then, it’s time to start designing your programs. SHRM has a great guide to creating a wellbeing program from beginning to end, including how to effectively communicate the benefits and features of this exciting new program.

Feel free to customize your programs to the unique needs of your business and your employees - it will be more effective that way!

The best employee wellbeing programs

Now that you know the perks - and the pitfalls - of employee wellbeing programs, which ones should you actually consider?

Here are a few of the best wellbeing programs that your employees will actually thank you for implementing. These aren’t just our ideas - they’re backed by what employees across the world really want (but don’t forget to check with your own employees too!).

🕜 Flexible work schedules

This might not strike you as a well-being benefit - but truly, employees are happier and healthier when they have more control over where and when they work.

With so many options for designing flexible work schedules that work for your business, you can provide flexibility and autonomy for your employees so they better balance their work and life together. In fact, Harvard Business Review says that employees thrive when they’re offered these options.

🥪 Healthy office snacks

Many employers think they’re doing a great service to employees by providing cookies and candy for people to snack on in the workplace. While this might be satisfying in the short term, employees actually want more healthy options provided.

Google provides low-cost healthy snacking options in all of its offices, which employees love. And healthy snacks prevent the mid-afternoon sugar crash from sapping productivity out of your employees too.

👩‍⚕️ Wellness counseling

Being healthy and well can be challenging in our fast-paced, fast-food-filled world. Employees who want to be healthy might find it hard to know exactly what steps to take.

That’s why wellness counseling has become so popular as a workplace wellbeing program - employees can get custom guidance and help to live healthier lives on their own terms.

🧘‍♀️ Mental health counseling

Getting help when your mental health suffers is often difficult in many places. But poor mental health can lead to serious problems in both work and personal life.

Helping your employees access mental health counseling is both very popular with employees and also a compassionate thing to do - so it’s a great idea to think about how this is something you could offer.

👪 Parental support

Being a working parent is hard for both mothers and fathers. It can be a big challenge to balance work and childcare every day. In fact, US employers lose about $13 billion a year due to lost productivity and earnings due to inadequate childcare.

Offering support, like generous paid parental leave, childcare supplements, back-up childcare options, and more can make a big difference in the lives of the parents who work for you, and they tend to be very loyal employees in response.

🧘🏾 Destressing programs

Workplace stress is a large and growing issue at many - maybe even most - companies. Even if you’ve made significant efforts to create a healthy and supportive workplace culture, stress can still creep in at times during busy seasons or around big projects.

Managing that stress can be hard alone, so implementing programs that help employees learn how to deal with stress can be a big benefit. This could be yoga classes, tai chi, meditation lessons, or other relaxation techniques - Wegman’s offers customized yoga plans for employees, for example.

🤝🏽 Community involvement

It’s true - employees really value being able to contribute to their communities! Giving them paid time off to volunteer or organizing volunteer days with your teams go a long way to making your employees feel happy and supported.

Plus, it benefits the larger community and the image of your business as well. Liberty Mutual Insurance offers annual days of service called Serve with Liberty, which half of their employees across the globe participate in.

📈 Bring a boost to the employee experience

Providing an all-around great employee experience has many facets. From promoting health and wellbeing in a thoughtful way, supporting employees through challenges like COVID and as they become parents, and growing a supportive and compassionate workplace culture, there are many factors that help employees feel happy and engaged at work.

Offering recognition for a job well done and asking employees for frequent feedback on how they’re feeling about work are also important components of a great place to work.

Download the Guide to Ace Employee Perks & Benefits to Build an Engaged Workforce.
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Kathleen O'Donnell

Kathleen O'Donnell LinkedIn

Kathleen is a freelance writer and employee communications and culture expert, with 6+ years of experience in corporate internal communications.