November 15, 2023
March 1, 2024

Creating an Employee Health and Wellness Program

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Everyone knows the stereotype surrounding New Year’s resolutions. You create one with the best intentions (or simply because you feel obligated to—no judgements here), you ride a wave of optimism for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, and then the new habit disappears from your life faster than Christmas dinner leftovers from your fridge. In fact, only 9% of people who set resolutions say that they keep them throughout the year!

But what if your resolution as a business could help your employees stick to their resolutions? The stereotype is a funny and relatable phenomenon that everyone has experienced, but, in reality, health and wellness aren’t laughing matters. And employee health and wellness is even more vital because they spend the vast majority of their days sitting at your office. That’s where health and wellness programs can come into play.

What Is Employee Health and Wellness?

Put simply, employee wellness encompasses physical and mental practices that help a person attain better health outcomes. As an employer, you have a responsibility to try and assist your employees in their wellness goals, and that means more than just offering decent health insurance. Wellness programs, or additional health initiatives, are icing on the wellness cake that you can customize to fit your budget, your industry, and your employee needs.

A quick history lesson: employer-sponsored health insurance has been popular since the 1940s when companies needed to attract workers during WWII because of a massive labor shortage. But we’re not only talking about the standard benefits most companies offer now. Wellness programs are additional initiatives that promote health for employees, and these didn’t really appear until the 1970s. These were mostly focused on physical activity and fitness. It wasn’t until the 1990s when employers started creating programs for mental health. 

In today’s society, we’ve seen a boom in mental health care and support. We understand that mental, emotional, and physical health are all equally important for an employee’s wellness, and this is what we want to help you figure out today. How can you make sure that your employees are as happy and healthy as possible while at work? How can you encourage them to build healthy habits that can improve all aspects of their lives?

Wellness programs are your best bet.

What Are Employee Wellness Programs?

As we mentioned before, an employee wellness plan is any plan or system put in place that is designed to support healthy behavior. Some of the more common ideas for these are a gym reimbursement program or offering healthy snacks in the break room. These types of programs are designed to help employees live their best life, but you don’t have to settle for cookie-cutter programs for your unique business.

If you’re struggling to think of better ideas that would fit with your people and your company culture, don’t stress! Read on to see some great ideas of wellness programs for physical AND mental health (remember, you don’t want to neglect one or the other).

How Can You Improve Health and Wellness in the Workplace?

Office wellness programs can be your health bread and well being butter. You can introduce programs, activities, and changes that make life in your office more health-conscious and double as enticing benefits for employees. Let’s break down the two aspects of wellness that we’ve mentioned so far: physical and mental.

Physical Wellness Programs

The aforementioned gym membership reimbursement is a good starting point for physical health, but you can—and should—do so much more. If you have the room for it, on-site fitness centers can be a step up because you allow employees to exercise right at the office for free. 

You may also consider offering yoga classes once a week. Yoga is great for flexibility, strength, and fitness, and giving your employees a chance for some light exercise during the workday could really boost their mood and productivity. Plus, yoga, especially when combined with meditation, is great for boosting mental health wellness and lowering stress levels (more on that later!).

Even if yoga classes aren’t your thing, any sort of physical activity at work can improve overall productivity, reduce absenteeism, and increase morale. Try to brainstorm programs for both fitness buffs and those who are just starting their fitness journey. And make them fun! Set up a step contest to see who walks the most or takes the most stairs. Sponsor fitness groups (tennis, running, basketball, etc.) for enthusiasts to meet and play with each other. It’s exciting to think about all of the options you have!

Physical health encompasses more than just fitness, though. Think about offering cessation programs of some sort. The most popular option is for tobacco cessation, but you can twist your program to fit any habit that your employees want to quit, such as bad sleeping or eating habits.

Diet is another great option for physical health. Offer healthy options for snacking and make sure that your employees have a long enough lunch to have time to grab something healthy instead of settling for fast food.

With the lingering effects of the pandemic still hanging around, you could even offer free vaccinations (COVID-19 or other vaccines) throughout the year.

Physical wellness is a multi-faceted idea that you can tackle from a variety of angles. And if you’re worried about participation, incentivize people! Offer extra PTO for hitting a step goal, provide free lunch after yoga, or reward points through Awardco’s Earn platform for employees who participate in wellness programs to choose their own prizes.

Mental Wellness Programs

Physical fitness is only half of the equation when it comes to employee health and well being. As we mentioned, yoga and meditation are great to help employees get in the right headspace while at work. Offering massages is another fantastic way to improve physical comfort while lowering stress and increasing happiness. 

Don’t stop there! You can also choose from a variety of employee assistance programs, such as confidential therapy support, to help employees with stress or anxiety. Free or low-cost counseling can be instrumental in helping employees get the support they need to live their best lives (and give work their best efforts).

If you have the space for it, you could provide a few rooms in the office for employees to go and relax and get away from work for a bit. You could even designate a room or two for power naps! On the flip side, if you don’t have a lot of space, let your employees get outside for a short walk each day. Nothing does more for mental wellness than good old-fashion sunshine.

Let’s be honest, sometimes the best thing for your mental health is staying as far away from the office as possible (in person and in your thoughts). To that end, think about offering flex-time to allow employees to really customize their schedules to fit their needs. You could even copy BambooHR and offer paid-paid vacations (that looks like a typo, but it’s not!). This program covers things like hotel and flight expenses for employees who use their PTO to travel. Encourage your employees to take mental health breaks away from the office!

What Can You Do for Employees Outside the Office?

There’s not much you can control outside of your office, especially when it comes to employee wellness. However, you can provide a few different health and wellness programs that improve aspects of your employees’ personal lives:

  • Transit options. Offer bike sharing or public transit incentives to improve physical wellness or reduce financial stressors.
  • Flexible working conditions. Flexible hours and locations allow your employees to work when and where they are most comfortable and productive.
  • PTO. Time off is vital for employee wellness. Offering unlimited PTO or flex-time, or simply encouraging the use of PTO, can help employees get away from work to recharge.
  • WFH equipment. For those who have remote employees, you can outfit employees with the tools they need to work comfortably at home (one Awardco’s clients did this, and it was awesome! Through our platform, employees can choose the WFH equipment that’s best for them).

When you offer employee wellness programs that help people improve their lives both at and away from work, you help your employees stay engaged, motivated, productive, and happy.

How Do You Incentivize Wellness Programs?

The dreaded question. Nothing is worse than putting time and effort into a new initiative only to have employees ignore it or fail to take full advantage of it. So how do you avoid your new wellness programs from being dumped on the pile of other abandoned New Year’s resolutions?

One of the first things you can do is send out a survey or two. Evaluate your employees’ wellness interests and goals and start gathering ideas for wellness programs that will actually excite your workers. Once you have data to go off of, create a team or committee of enthusiastic people to help you carry out your master plan. The more people who can help plan and promote your programs, the better.

You should also establish a budget to ensure that you can afford your programs. As we listed above, you can implement all sorts of wellness programs for various budgets. Choose what best fits your needs.

Finally, incentivize your employees with rewards for achieving their personal health or wellness goals. With Awardco’s Reward program, you can allocate points to employees for accomplishing certain health goals or participating in wellness programs. And the best part is, your employees can then use their points to get items that they actually want! Improved health plus free stuff equals happy employees (math class did have its use!).

Why Worry About Wellness Programs?

We’ve come full circle. We’ve learned more about wellness, wellness programs, and options you can implement. But what about the why of wellness? Some of the employee benefits of wellness programs include:

  • Improves employee health (duh!)
  • Increases employee productivity
  • Improves employee engagement
  • Enhances employee morale

Don’t think we’ve forgotten about you. Employers can enjoy plenty of benefits from a comprehensive wellness plan too, including:

  • Reduce health risks for your employees (and yourself!)
  • Lower healthcare costs
  • Increase productivity—this one’s a win-win for everyone
  • Reduces absenteeism
  • Attracts new talent

Don’t let your wellness program be another good intention that falls by the wayside (you know what they say about roads paved with good intentions…). Take the initiative and find a handful of wellness programs that are right for you.