As companies determine back to work plans, employers are considering how employee wellness programs can support their organization. In this new era of work, it might be a good idea to go back to the basics and consider what’s most important to your organization and employees. We’ve put together this introductory guide to help.

What are employee wellness programs?

While no official definition exists, employee wellness programs focus on helping improve the wellbeing of their employee population. Wellable describes employee wellness programs as “a collection of initiatives within an organization to promote healthy lifestyles among employees, and in some cases, spouses and dependents of employees.” The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) says, “Wellness programs are provided to employees as a preventive measure to help avoid illness while improving and maintaining the general health of the employees.” Both definitions support the idea that employee wellness programs are multifaceted and inclusive.

What do employee wellness programs include?

Good employee wellness programs provide holistic health support to their employees. Depending on which model is used, the dimensions of wellbeing can range from five to nine different areas of wellness and may include any of the following:  physical, mental, financial, social, environmental, spiritual, cultural, purpose, intellectual, occupational, and community. The common denominator is that employee wellness programs are about more than just a single area of wellbeing but instead incorporate a whole person view of employees.

What kinds of initiatives are included in employee wellness programs?

Employee wellness programs range from full-scale support offered by outside specialists to in-house offerings that are more simple. Employers may hire a partner to offer coaching, education, and program management support or choose smaller initiatives that are often managed by the internal HR department. Common offerings include:

  • Physical challenges – step challenges, weight loss challenges, smoking cessation
  • Lunch & learns – educational sessions for employees
  • Health screenings
  • Flexible work schedules
  • Financial planning
  • Physical health and mental health coaching

For other ideas, check out our list of top corporate wellness programs.

What’s the ROI for employee wellness programs?

The truth is many employee wellness programs fail. The reasons are many, but one of the primary reasons is that they don’t address what employees want. Start by asking employees what they want. These “wants” may evolve as employees are adjusting to a new and evolving workplace. If choosing an outside provider, choose one who can prove ROI and impact of the services they provide. The good ones often offer an “at risk” payment model, meaning they don’t get paid without proven results. 

How do I get started with an employee wellness program?

The most important thing for an employee wellness program is getting executive buy-in. Upper management must openly support the initiative and make it known within the organization. Without support from the top, employee wellness programs fail. Once buy-in is secure, recruit a group of other wellbeing champions at every level within the organization. This multi-level support is key to building a strong wellbeing culture. 

No matter your familiarity with employee wellness programs, you may benefit from some of these reminders as you commit to making your workplace a healthy workplace.