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How to Make Employee Wellness a Top Priority

Employee wellness programs were once thought of as a ‘nice to have,’ something companies implemented once every other aspect of their organization was fully optimized. Often, these wellness programs were championed only by HR departments or a handful of employees who wanted benefits that extended beyond traditional ones (like medical, or vacation days). 

Today, companies can no longer think of employee wellness programs as something 'nice to have.' 

That’s because more employees are reaping fewer benefits from what is supposed to be a happy, healthy work environment. 

We can think of workplace wellness as being inextricably linked to employee performance and thus, company culture. Without an organizational culture that takes into account the overall well-being of one’s employees, companies are more likely to experience rises in employee burnout and stress-related issues. In the US alone, 65% of employees cite work as a significant source of stress!

But no two employee wellness programs are created equal, so how do organizations create an effective strategy that actually yields results?

You may have to approach employee wellness differently

Wellness programs are now the norm, not the exception. 

What was once a prototype for lowering healthcare costs and preventing employees from taking too many sick days, has evolved into an all-encompassing approach to ensuring your employees stick around. 

This is especially true for millennials, the generation projected to make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025

Traditionally, corporate wellness programs focused around diet and exercise, exclusively. The idea was to encourage employees to be more physically active, thereby lowering the costs employers had to cover when it came to healthcare and medical. 

That approach may have got people moving but did little to yield real results for either employees and employers. Even today, those employee wellness programs that focus on weight, diet or exercise often result in low ROI

Why is that, exactly?

Organizations are now being forced to look towards what employees actually want to gain from wellness programs. Often, it has little do with an improved physique or better diet.  

Take millennials, for example. 53% of millennials value health and wellness, while 52% agree that living and working in healthy environments is key to their overall health. Many millennials view health and wellness in the workplace as encompassing more than just exercise or diet. It can include mental, physical, emotional, spiritual health, and more.

It's safe to say, then, that companies cannot approach employee wellness programs or initiatives traditionally. 

Know what your employees want from a wellness program

If you consider that more workplaces are made up of millennials, a company’s wellness initiatives have to take into account both older and younger generations of employees. That includes ensuring employees have access to these programs.

Only 9% of the global workforce has access to some form of a wellness program at work, and just 25% of employees feel their employers offer a wellness program because they actually care.

In today's modern workplace, employees expect more from a wellness program. It's no longer sufficient to encourage regular exercise and healthier diets. 

Employees, for example, may expect their wellness program to encompass things like:

  • Flexible work schedules to help prevent burnout
  • Access to healthy food options (like snacks) and amenities (like blenders to make smoothies) at work
  • Breaks for fitness classes or wellness activities (like meditation or yoga) 
  • Medical coverage for therapist or psychologist appointments 
  • Daily team-building activities 

Wellness programs that take a more holistic approach can help foster engagement and also provide employees with the support they need to avoid work-related burnout!

Which leads us to our next point…

Wellness is more than just physical

At some point, 23% of full-time employees experience burnout on the job. 

Those employees who experience burnout at work are 2.6 times more likely to leave their current employer, while 13% feel less confident in their performance.

Many of those burnt-out employees are millennials; 7 in 10, in fact. That could be a significant ‘chunk’ of an organization’s workforce. 

It goes beyond burnout, too. Employees with low engagement and well being are 48% more likely to leave their company - that disengagement costs companies up to $550 billion annually. Worldwide, the cost of such unwell employees represents about 10-15% of total economic output - just look at the USA, where workplace unwellness costs the nation up to $2.2 trillion annually, or 12% of GDP.

A lack of workplace wellness costs, but can poor employee wellness be solved with diet and fitness, or is wellness far more complicated than that?

Recent research has found that to achieve total well-being, wellness has to encompass eight mutually interdependent aspects of wellness: physical, emotional, social, mental, occupational, environmental, financial, and purposeful.

While it may seem unrealistic that a company’s employee-wellness program could nurture all eight of those components, what it can do is set employees on the right ‘path’ towards achieving their own version of total well-being. 

This might include mental and psychological well-being, emotional support, personal and professional purpose, and more. With overall healthier employees comes happier, healthier workplaces, which companies ultimately benefit from. 

It’s why more organizations are investing in improved employee wellness programs, to the tune of $8 billion annually. Such investments make a difference, especially when you consider that those companies investing in employee wellness report a 28% reduction in sick leave and a 26% reduction in medical costs. From a financial perspective, those statistics are good news for companies who want tangible results from their wellness initiatives. 

Want to step up your employee wellness program? 

Try implementing a few of the following practices into your wellness program, then consider monitoring the results to discover what changes you see in employee engagement, employee wellness, and organizational culture!

Get your leaders on board (and involved) - it’s critical that the C-suite is on board and actively involved in any wellness program or initiative of a company; when leaders take part, it can inspire other team members to participate and see the true value in the program itself. 

Practice gratitude and encourage support - practicing gratitude in the workplace has been linked to improvements in self-care and sleep, in addition to mitigating overeating and easing symptoms of depression. By encouraging teams to support one another, giving kudos, and practicing gratitude daily, companies are likely to see an improvement in the overall satisfaction and wellness of their employees! 

Make work a pet-friendly place (seriously!) - a study conducted by Central Michigan University found that having pets in the office fosters collaboration. Pets can also reduce stress on the job and nurture productivity! Consider holding weekly pet days where employees can bring their dogs to work or make your workplace openly pet-friendly every day of the week! Take Amazon as an example of a pet-friendly company doing it right!

Offer wellness coverage - most organizations offer traditional benefits, but more companies are going above and beyond by providing coverage for meditation, holistic health, fitness classes, and more. Look at Patagonia, which has a daycare for its employees' use! By covering some of the more critical costs employees incur to foster wellness and balance, companies will see a positive ROI in engagement and productivity. 

Let employees take the reigns - everyone has different interests and allowing employees to suggest or plan wellness activities can nurture collaboration while helping teams get to know one another. Here at Kudos, for instance, we follow our weekly team meetings with a group wellness activity, and any team member can suggest or plan an activity! 

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