Wellness Program Ideas
Looking for wellness program ideas for your office? Let's take a look at what works, what doesn't, and what are the most cost-effective employee wellness ideas.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, more than two-thirds of U.S. businesses offer wellness programs. Whether you are hoping to improve your existing wellness program, start a Wellness Wednesday group, or kick off a new employee wellness initiative, we've got you covered.
Employee wellness programs have evolved from cookie cutter (pun intended) corporate fitness and smoking cessation programs to diverse, engaging, and ROI-focused initiatives that have major impact on employee health and wellbeing. Let’s take a look at how to create, name, and manage a wellness program at your organization!
Wellness Program ROI
Wellness programs are proven to not only increase employee health and well being, but to reduce business costs as well. Johnson & Johnson, for example, has stated that their wellness program has saved the organization $250 million over a six-year period, resulting in a wellness program ROI of $2.71 for each dollar invested!
In 2013, the RAND Corporation conducted a survey of employers that asked questions about the efficacy of their wellness programs. More than 60% of those surveyed said their “program reduced healthcare costs,” and nearly 80% stated that it “decreased absenteeism and increased productivity.”
When implemented properly, wellness programs provide a significant return for many businesses. This includes a wide range of benefits, from improved employee retention to reduced absenteeism to more effective cross-functional teams.
There are few things more costly and disruptive than when employees elect to leave a company. According to the Center for American Progress, voluntary employee turnover can cost businesses as much as 220% of an employee's salary. It's no wonder that in a 2015 survey, Saba Software found that 49% of HR leaders “named retention and leadership development programs as the top priority among talent management goals.” Wellness programs help foster happy, healthy, and engaged employees, which in turn makes them more likely to stay with your organization and continue to perform work on behalf of the company.
Healthy employees are less likely to miss work. They're less likely to take sick days, work while under the weather (and potentially infect their co-workers), or work in a state of low productivity due to illness. Research from the National Partnership for Women & Families shows that workers performing at suboptimal productivity due to illness (“presenteeism”) is estimated to cost employers $160 billion per year!
Office wellness programs help keep employees healthy, fit, and better able to resist and heal from a cold, the flu, or other illnesses.
Many employee wellness programs include (friendly) competitions, joint activities (no pun intended), and shared rewards for team goals. Also, walking groups, running teams, smoking cessation partners, healthy cooking classes, and many other group activities help to foster a sense of community and team spirit.
Reduced Healthcare Costs
Workplace wellness programs are proven to reduce healthcare costs. In 2016, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan spoke with CNBC about the positive effects his company's wellness program was having on the business: “Workplace wellness programs are a worthwhile investment and becoming core to how we create the best workplace for our teammates. They also help us keep annual increases in costs our employees pay for medical coverage lower than the average rates across the country. Employees making less than $50,000 a year at our company have not seen their premiums increase since 2012.”
Best Wellness Program Ideas
The best wellness programs are those that have been proven to have a significant positive impact on employees throughout your organization. Some of these are simple, such as providing healthy snacks, whereas others, like paid maternity and paternity care, come at greater cost to the business
High-performing wellness programs go beyond employees and take the entire family into account. Increasingly, employers are embracing wellness as a family issue: Nearly 40% of companies extend wellness incentives to spouses, up from 34% in 2013. At these companies, employees and their spouses together can earn nearly $100 per month for completing all the requirements of the wellness program.
Flexible Work Hours
Cramming eight hours of work into a 9-to-5 schedule can be challenging for employees with families, hobbies, or those who are in school. Flexible work hours not only reduce stress, but helps your employees product better work.
Oftentimes, your employees may be eating unhealthy foods simply because they are available. Providing fruit, veggies, and other healthy snacks can help your team satisfy their hunger, while keeping them in good health.
Are all your employees sitting properly, with their neck, back, and arms properly aligned? Offering ergonomic education will help reduce workplace injuries and keep your team safe while they are spending long hours in the office.
Allowing pets in the office is a great way to give your employees a chance to relax and have fun. Plus, scheduling and paying for pet care can be a source of stress for pet owners, many of whom would be elated have their beloved pets with them at work.
Health checks, physicals, flu shots, vaccinations. Anything you can provide to prevent employees from becoming ill will help reduce absenteeism and most importantly, ensure that your team is healthy and able to succeed at home and at work.
Add Office Plants
It may sound strange, but office plants are proven to promote wellbeing and reduce stress in the office. And as an additional benefits, office plants provide a nice environment to host clients, partners, and guests.
Paid Maternity Leave
Current U.S. law requires that business offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave annual for new mothers. Unpaid leave can cause financial stress to new parents. Businesses with leading wellness programs go far beyond this minimum and offer paid maternity and paternity leave for new parents.
Cardiovascular and strength training help reduce heart-related health risks and can be an excellent outlet to manage stress or other issues. By providing a discounted gym membership, your employees are more likely to take a part in exercise programs and increase their overall health.
It's extremely difficult to quit smoking cigarettes, even though they have major negative effects on health. Offering a smoking cessation program is proven to help employees break their smoking habits and improve their health.
How to Run a Company Wellness Program
Sure, all these ideas sound good on paper. Healthy eating, walking groups, even spending time quietly meditating. But how do you go from idea to execution? What are the components of a successfully run company wellness program?
Leadership Buy In
Here's a harsh fact: Your wellness program will not work without buy-in from the leadership team. That's because it takes time and resources to launch and manage an effective workplace wellness program. Before starting your corporate or local wellness program, it's recommended to first find an executive champion who can help provide guidance, funds, and oversight to any health and wellness initiatives, large or small.
When does the wellness program start? How do employees join? Are there fees associated with the wellness activities? Do employees need to complete surveys about the program? Where can employees find out more information about corporate wellness initiatives? Why are you spending time creating this program? Will it really help the team?
Well-executed wellness programs require exceptional employee communications. This includes a wellness website or webpage, signage and posters in the office, emails or Slack channels about the program, and a dedicated point of contact to answer any questions or concerns your employees may have.
Wellness programs cover a wide range of activities. For your program to truly succeed, and be embraced by your entire employee population, it's best to provide a diverse set of wellness activities. Rather than focus solely on physical health or stress reduction, the most successful programs incorporate the full spectrum of health practices, including mental health, diet, cardiovascular exercise, strength training, smoking cessation, etc.
Did employee health improve? Has absenteeism been reduced? Are your employees more or less happy in the office? What about health care costs? Have they changed?
Without evaluating the results of your workplace health program, there's no way to determine if it's working and understand what you can do to improve the results. You'll want to take both quantitative and qualitative measurements of the program's results, using employee surveys, cost analyses, and long-term employee retention data to assess and optimize your wellness program over time.
Most Innovative Wellness Programs at Work
Typical employee wellness programs include smoking cessation programs, walking groups, and healthy snacks in the office. But what do the most innovative wellness programs include? How are they different from other health initiatives?
Almost everyone loves this one. Organizations like Brave Pup can bring your team a group of adorable puppies to play with at the office. Interacting with loving animals can help relax your team and foster a sense of community among your employees.
What if there was a quiet place your employees could go to clear their minds, relax, and create a renewed sense of peace and focus? If you have a small office, conference room, or other area that’s infrequently used, consider transforming it into a place of contemplation for your team.
Personal trainers can be expensive, but they offer custom workout and health programs, as as fitness oversight, that can improve employee health and help ensure they are keeping up with their personal exercise and health goals.
You might find your employees very excited to come to work, if there is an on-site masseuse available for short messages. Plus, massage can ease tension and help your team stay focused!
Even with good insurance, acupuncture costs can add up quickly. Offering employees gift cards for licensed acupuncturists can provide relief from stress, and aches and pains.
Fitbits and Wearables
Fitbits and other wearables make it easy for employees to track their health and wellness. Granted, offering wearables should be handled carefully, as a number of privacy and perception issues may arise.
Healthy Cooking Lessons
Healthy cooking lessons are a way to teach employees healthy habits and skills that go beyond the workplace. Plus, these can be great team building exercises!
If you have extra office space, why not convert it into a recreation room? This would serve as a place where employees can relax, play games, and just hang out.
Low-Cost Employee Wellness Ideas
Even though wellness programs typically offer real ROI, some organizations may not have the funds, bandwidth, or drive to manage a full-fledged wellness program. But that doesn't mean you can't provide low-cost, one-off wellness opportunities for your team.
Before work, after work, or during lunch, running groups help employees reduce stress, clear their heads, and foster a sense of community. You might want to make group t-shirts, but besides that, costs are essentially non-existent.
Whether it’s cardiovascular, strength, or sports-related, fitness challenges offer employees a fun way to stay in shape and work together toward a common goal.
Healthy Snacks in the Office
Veggies, fruit, and other natural office snacks make it easy for your team to eat right while they are at work. These costs are typically far less than a happy hour or other less healthy events.
If you provide weekly lunch for your team, why not make it a healthy one? Salad bars, veggie sandwiches, and lean meat are great ways to keep your team eating healthy.
Work can be stressful. Providing any area to meditate, as well as some guidance on how to do so, can have a positive impact on your team.
How many of your meetings do you actually need to be seated for? Try hosting walking meetings whenever the weather is nice, and a presentation is not required.
Worst Employee Wellness Program Ideas
Rather than list workplace wellness program ideas that have gone awry, it's much more beneficial to understand what characteristics can lead to a problematic employee wellness experience.
Whether your employee health program includes diet, exercise, or mental health, taking any of these initiatives to the extreme is not a good idea for your employees or your business. Some employees will be better suited to certain activities, and pushing employees too hard in terms of diet or exercise can put them at risk for health issues. Similarly, engaging in overly aggressive contests or putting too much peer pressure on employees can have a negative impact on health, employee engagement, and possibly even subject your organization to legal action.
Three-day-long detoxes. Flights to five-star spas. High-end chefs. Wellness programs do not need to cost an arm and a leg to be effective. In fact, if spending too many resources — and time — on your wellness program could be counterproductive.
Distracting from Work
Wellness programs should fit into your existing office environment, culture, and schedule. That means no jumping jack competitions in the main lobby, no team runs during critical meetings, and a host of other logistical no-nos. This may seem obvious, but once your team gets caught up in health and wellness activities, particularly those that are competitive, it's possible to lose sight of critical business imperatives and view the wellness program itself as more important than completing one's daily work.
How to Name Your Wellness Program at Work
What should you call your wellness program? Once you've settled on a name, and got buy in from the rest of the team, it could be difficult to change it. So, it's important to take the time to think of a name that is going to inspire your colleagues to participate and be a part of your company health initiatives.
You colleagues are busy. They don't have much time to think about or commit to your wellness program. It's helpful to come up with a name they won't forget. Something that looks good on t-shirts and posters, and is easily remembered by all types of employees.
Here's your chance to write a pun, a rhyme, acronym, or alliteration that helps your team think positively about your wellness program. It can be simple, like “Health Heroes” or bit more obtuse, like F.I.R.E. (Fitness Is Running Everywhere). There's nearly an infinite number of possibilities here, many of which are far better than the examples listed above.
At its core, what is your brand about? Speed? Insight? Fun? You'll want to connect with your branding or marketing team when creating a wellness program. The program name should align with the brand direction and make sense to your team.
The most effective wellness programs provide an opportunity for everyone in the office to participate. It's important to take into account employee gender, body type, demographics, etc., when coming up with a name for your program. Avoid loaded words like “guys,” “strong,” “muscle,” and think in terms of inclusivity, using words like “team,” “group,” “health,” and “well being.”
Wellness Challenge Ideas
What wellness challenge ideas will work for your team? There's no one-size-fits-all approach, but typically, successful wellness challenges involve activities that nearly any employee can participate in. That's not to say that smaller teams can't create their own wellness challenges, but at the corporate level, you'll want to start with wellness challenges that include as many different types of employees as possible.
If you work in a traditional office environment, it's likely your employees spend almost the entire day seated in their chairs. A company walking challenge is a simple and easy way to get your team out of their seats and engaging in light, physical activity. Also, this is a low-cost initiative that requires little oversight, approval, or management.
Check out the the American Heart Association's Workplace Walking Program Kit to get started.
Healthy Eating Challenge
This is another relatively straightforward, low-cost wellness challenge. You only need to announce the healthy eating challenge, set some guidelines for your team, and (hopefully) provide healthy snacks and drinks for the office. Granted, any workplace initiative, there are a handful of pitfalls to watch out for:
- Don't police your employees. Let them self-report or check off whether they are eating healthy.
- Don't judge or in any way reprimand employees who eat unhealthy meals in the office.
- Don't overthink what is or is not a healthy meal. It's best to work within in set of simple guidelines, such as low-carb, low calorie, low-sugar. etc.
Even though stretching is one of those activities that may be considered an afterthought, it has a number of health benefits. According to The Mayo Clinic, stretching helps improve physical performance, reduces risk of injury, and improves range of motion. And with stretching, no one needs to leave the office! A quiet space with soft floors or yoga mats should be sufficient. All you need to do, is coordinate a time when your team can come together a stretch for a series of days. You can start with a 30-day flexibility challenge or create something that lasts throughout the year. Either way, what matters is that you are helping employees become less sedentary and more mobile in the workplace.