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Employee wellness programs: What you need to know

The physical and mental health of employees plays a major role in their performance at work. Employees that are ill, stressed, or on the verge of burning out cannot be their most productive. As one of the most valuable assets of an organization, employees’ health and wellness directly impact the success of a company. Employers that understand this know that investing in employee wellness programs is a must. In this Pacific Prime article, we look at what you need to know about corporate wellness programs.

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What are employee wellness programs?

Employee wellness programs are programs initiated by an employer to improve the physical and mental health of employees. Along with health insurance, wellness plans are one of the most highly sought-after health benefits. The programs can vary from company to company, and work best when they’re tailored to the unique needs of the workforce.

For example, some wellness program ideas fulfill a certain purpose, such as smoking cessation or weight management. Similarly, gym memberships and onsite gyms are suitable for anyone while incentive programs are beneficial for those who participate.

While employers have to sign up for group health insurance every year at a minimum, employee wellness programs are much more flexible. Companies can choose to have a single event or activity, or an ongoing program. In addition, some companies hire other businesses to take care of their corporate wellness programs whereas others do it on their own. Since these programs are not a legal requirement, companies have the freedom to design them as they see fit.

Employee mental health has been a concern for some time now due to factors such as poor work-life balance, the “always-on” culture, and more. Needless to say, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many of these concerns due to work-from-home policies, lockdown and social distancing, and general uncertainty regarding health and economic matters. Employers clearly can’t ignore the issue and the data reflects that. 

According to the 2021 Employee Health Benefits Survey, amongst employers with 50 or more employees, 55% made changes to their health wellness program due to the pandemic, including 17% that added a new digital program and 43% that provided or expanded online counseling. What’s more, 31% expanded the ways through which enrollees could get mental health or substance abuse services, such as through telemedicine, and 16% developed new resources such as employee assistance programs.

When it comes to attracting and retaining good employees, companies that don’t offer employee wellness programs, or some type of wellness benefit, will be at a disadvantage against those that do. However, a common misconception is that only large employers are capable of offering these benefits. Even though larger companies can invest more in wellness programs, small and mid-sized businesses can still offer the benefit without spending more than they can afford.

Benefits of employee wellness programs

The benefits of an employee wellness program may not be immediately apparent, especially at the very start. However, employees who are physically and mentally healthy tend to bring many benefits to their colleagues and their employers. Some of the benefits of a corporate wellness program include:

  • Increased productivity
  • Enhanced employee morale and productivity
  • Improved recruitment and retention
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Lower health risks
  • Reduced workers’ compensation and disability-related costs
  • Lower healthcare costs

Employee wellness initiative examples

If you’re wondering how to engage your employees during the pandemic, the following examples of wellness initiatives might be helpful. Keep in mind that these examples can be adopted in any workplace, at any time.

How to promote wellness in the workplace

If these initiatives seem too large scale for your company, remember that it’s easy to adapt them to match your needs and budget. While an onsite gym might not be possible, hiring a fitness or yoga teacher once a month could be a more realistic alternative. If a weight loss program is too costly, companies can arrange for a vendor to sell healthy snacks instead. Employee wellness initiatives do not have to be grand to be effective and appreciated, especially if the company is on the smaller side.

Additionally, people often give more thought to physical health when it comes to employee wellness programs, though employees’ mental health is just as important. Encouraging exercise and healthier eating habits can improve physical health, but emotional and mental health can benefit from other initiatives. For instance, stress management workshops and confidential mental health treatment can go a long way.

It’s all about incentives

One interesting fact surrounding employee wellness programs is that even though employees claim to want wellness activities at work, few will actually take part in them once they’re available. Fortunately, employers can encourage participation by adding incentives for those who attend. These incentives can include points, prizes, or even paid time off. Through incentive programs, participants can redeem points for prizes that are chosen by the employer.

Planning an employee wellness program

No matter how simple or intricate your employee wellness program is, it’s going to involve some planning. Here are some steps that you can take to get the ball rolling.

1. Leave the planning to the most capable people

Try asking a few capable employees who are interested in corporate wellness plan ideas whether they’d like to be involved. By letting employees take charge of organizing and planning, the chances of them promoting and participating in them also increase. If your company has an HR person or department, then it’s advisable to start with them.

2. Allocate a budget

You can determine the budget for your employee wellness program by factoring in the costs of the desired activities. If your fiscal year has already begun, it’s advisable to budget and plan for the rest of the year. Doing so will make it easier to evaluate how it’s going, how many people are participating, what the results are, and how you’d like to do things in the future.

3. Try out different ideas

Your first year is an ideal time to explore a variety of employee wellness programs. You can give different types of plans a go to see what works and what doesn’t. Some ideas to get you started include:

  • Some type of exercise
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Healthy eating initiatives
  • Medical day/event, such as an onsite health check-up

4. Get feedback

Make it easy for attendees to give their honest feedback by providing rating forms that they can submit anonymously. Since these activities cost money and time to organize and host, it’s in a company’s best interest to know whether it’s worth investing in.

At present, coronavirus and employee wellness programs are topics that go hand-in-hand. The global pandemic has emphasized the need for focus on health and wellbeing both inside and outside of the workplace. By incorporating employee wellness programs, employers can address COVID-19 and other health issues while ensuring their employees feel cared for.

Check out these additional tips on designing the perfect employee benefits plan.

Looking for employee benefits solutions? Pacific Prime is here to help

If you’re looking to design employee wellness programs then look no further than Pacific Prime. As a global employee benefits specialist and health insurance broker, we have over 20 years of experience offering advice and guidance regarding the ever-changing employee benefits landscape, such as through our latest Global Employee Benefits Trends Report 2021

Whether it’s employee benefits solutions or company insurance solutions you’re after, we help you find the right plan for your needs and budget. Contact Pacific Prime today to find out more about what we can do for you.

Senior Copywriter at Pacific Prime
Jantra Jacobs is a Senior Copywriter at Pacific Prime with over 10 years of writing and editing experience. She writes and edits a diverse variety of online and offline copy, including sales and marketing materials ranging from articles and advertising copy to reports, guides, RFPs, and more.

Jantra curates and reports on the results of Pacific Prime’s monthly newsletters, as well as manages Pacific Prime’s Deputy Global CEO’s LinkedIn posts. Complemented by her background in business writing, Jantra’s passion for health, insurance, and employee benefits helps her create engaging content - no matter how complex the subject is.

Growing up as a third-culture kid has given her a multicultural perspective that helps her relate to expats and their families while 8 years of working remotely have given her unique insight into hybrid work arrangements and enthusiasm for employee benefits.
Jantra Jacobs