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5 Steps to Creating Employee Health and Wellness Programs

Wellness programs can help attract and retain talent, but they're tricky to get right. Here are five steps to get started.


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There’s a lot of debate surrounding employee health and wellness programs: Do they actually work? Will employees engage with them? At the end of the day, are they worth it? 

Many wellness programs suffer from lackluster engagement rates, but a well-executed wellness plan can produce a healthy, happy, and loyal workforce. Research on presenteeism (how mentally present someone is at work) indicates that healthier employees are more present at work. Employees who are unhealthy, stressed, and frequently sick may physically be at work but unable to function at their full capacity. If you want to improve productivity and reduce healthcare costs and turnover rates, a wellness program should be a staple of your benefits strategy. 

In this post, we’ll break down the benefits of employee health and wellness programs and share five steps that can help you build a successful program. 

What is an employee health and wellness program? 

An employee health and wellness plan was traditionally an educational or incentive-based program designed to reduce chronic conditions among employees such as obesity, high blood pressure, and high glucose. Programs can also be specific to healthcare concerns like smoking cessation. Some employers offer health helplines, nurses or physicians on-site, and nap rooms or sick rooms at the office. 

However, with office culture changing into a more hybrid or remote-first environment, many employers have broadened the meaning of wellness to include several pillars regarding physical and mental health. Health programs may come in the form of a flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA), where employees can use pre-tax dollars to cut healthcare costs. They can also come in the form of a lifestyle spending account (LSA) where employees get a monthly wellness stipend to use toward wellness or mental health items of their choosing, including a local gym membership, groceries, or a massage. 

What are the benefits of employee health and wellness programs? 

A well-run wellness program can have a wealth of positive benefits for employers and employees alike. Some of the benefits include: 

Stronger company culture

Wellness programs show employees that you care about their well-being (and that of their family) both in and out of the workplace. Many companies have corporate values that center around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) or promote themselves as being family-friendly and supportive of work-life balance. A wellness program is one way to live out those values and ensure that your benefits are aligned with your employer brand.  

Improved recruitment and retention

In today’s competitive marketplace, highlighting your wellness initiatives acts as a selling point to potential hires, particularly Millennials and Gen Zers who strongly value mental health, wellness, and work-life balance. A wellness program can also help with retention by increasing employee engagement and satisfaction. Employees who feel valued by their employer are loyal and more likely to stick around your organization for a long time. Consider these statistics

  • 87% of employees consider health and wellness packages when choosing where to work.
  • 67% of employees who work for companies with wellness programs enjoy their jobs more and are extremely or very likely to recommend their employer to others.
  • Nearly 54% of Gen Zers and 58% of Millennials believe wellness programs are important or extremely important when making a job decision. 
  • 45% of employees working at small to medium-size organizations would stay in a role longer because of their employer’s wellness program. 

Improved employee morale

Wellness programs can help create a sense of belonging and make employees feel more satisfied and motivated to do their jobs. When employees feel that their wellness is supported, they will be more engaged at work and feel a stronger connection to their company. When employees are empowered to prioritize their wellness, the positive effects on health and mood will spill over into the workplace. Employees can also bond over wellness activities they share in common.  

5 steps to implementing an employee health and wellness program 

Although the concept of a wellness program sounds great, they are often met with disappointing results. When planning the implementation of your program, here are a few steps you can take to set up the initiative for success. 

Creating an employee wellness program

1. Research

Leaders at your company need to buy into the wellness program. You'll need executive buy-in to obtain funding and get the organizational support to execute the program. You’ll likely need to highlight data that supports how well-run health initiatives can help with recruitment and retention and improve company morale. Be flexible by starting small before launching a larger initiative.  

As you begin to plan, surveys can help you understand what employees want in a wellness program and what their unique needs are. An employee benefits survey is one of the most valuable ways to gain feedback on your current benefits programs while gaining insight into what matters most to your employees. Take into consideration what your employees want and use. For example, a membership to a gym near the physical office is useless for remote employees. Instead, investing in a monthly fitness stipend can allow everyone to care for their wellness in the way that works best for them. You can also look at utilization data to get a sense of how employees are using their current benefits. This data can inform how you design your wellness program and what areas you target. 

2. Establish a wellness committee

A wellness committee will be the primary drivers of your wellness program and be in charge of planning and implementation. The committee should include employees from a broad number of teams to best reflect your population and ensure a wide variety of wants and needs are represented. The committee will help promote the program, communicate key information to employees, and evaluate the program’s effectiveness. 

3. Set goals

It's important to have clearly defined goals of what you want to accomplish with your wellness program. For example, is participation alone the goal? Do you want the number of sick days to decrease? Do you want employees to report less stress and better health? Do you want overall employee engagement to improve? Together with senior leadership, specific target goals must be established before launch. 

4. Determine a budget 

There are both low- and high-cost options for employee wellness programs. Surveys by the Employee Benefit Advisor show that the total cost of a wellness program is between $150 and $1,200 per employee per year. You’ll need to factor in vendor costs, incentives if they’re being offered, marketing, and for some organizations, on-site staff like a full-time nurse. 

5. Evaluate vendors

When selecting vendors, you’ll want to see if they have the infrastructure and product features that will allow you to build a program that meets the unique needs of your organization. For example, many vendors have a limited marketplace that restricts employees to a small selection of places they can spend their funds. If you want to build a program that encompasses a wide definition of wellness, this might not be your best option. Be sure to ask questions about what the experience will be like for employees, what kind of customer support is offered, and how frequently things can be changed and updated. The last point is important if you want to have the power to adjust your benefits quickly to reflect what is going on in the world. For example, some employers may want to add new benefits categories to help employees pay for gas or other items in the face of record-high inflation.  

Get started

Employee wellness programs have the power to produce a happier and healthier workforce. However, organizations must take the time to carefully budget and plan their programs for optimal success. 

Interested in learning how you can offer your employees easy-to-use wellness perks? Get in touch with our team here for a personalized demo. 

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Benepass Team

Our team is committed to sharing stories that help People teams do their jobs and empower employees to get the most out of their benefits.