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5 Steps to Creating Employee Health and Wellness Programs

Employees expect their employers to support them with a whole-person health program. Learn how to create yours.

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Employer responsibilities toward their workers have significantly increased. Once charged with offering a fair wage and a safe workplace, companies must now provide comprehensive health and wellness programs that support every aspect of their employees’ health. With the rising costs of healthcare and increasing rates of chronic illness, taking care of the people that make up your organization is both a moral responsibility and a business strategy. 

This post discusses the benefits of employee health and wellness programs and shares five steps to build one that’s a roaring success. 

What is an employee health and wellness program? 

An employee health and wellness program is a type of benefit that supports your workers’ physical, emotional, and mental health. Such programs have traditionally been educational or incentive-based, designed to reduce chronic conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, and high glucose. They’ve also supported specific health concerns like smoking cessation or weight loss. 

The latest programs cover a broader definition of wellness, including several pillars of physical and mental health. Along with providing core physical health coverage, these plans offer 24/7 telehealth and mental health helplines, nurses or physicians on-site, and nap or sick rooms to deliver health and well-being support on tap.

Companies can offer their health and wellness programs in several ways, including: 

  • Flexible spending account (FSA): A tax-advantaged account that can cover Health or Dependent Care. 
  • Health savings account (HSA): A way for employees with high-deductible plans to set aside pre-tax dollars for healthcare spending. 
  • Health reimbursement arrangements (HRA): Another tax-free option enabling employers to reimburse employees for eligible medical expenses. 
  • Lifestyle spending account (LSA): A versatile perk allowing employees to use an employer-funded allowance toward a range of eligible expenses, including health and wellness.
  • Wellness stipend: A regular employee allowance to spend on preferred wellness or mental health items, including local gym memberships, groceries, or spa treatments. 

What are the benefits of employee health and wellness programs? 

A well-run workplace wellness program is advantageous for employers and employees alike. Some of the top benefits include: 

Stronger company culture

Wellness programs prove to employees that you care about their well-being, 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 supporting work-life balance. A wellness program is one way to live out those values and build a positive workplace culture that aligns your benefits with your employer brand.  

Improved recruitment and retention

In today’s competitive marketplace, highlighting your wellness program initiatives is a selling point to potential hires, particularly Millennials and Gen Zers, who strongly value mental health, wellness, and work-life balance. A wellness program supports your employee retention initiatives by increasing 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: 

  • 73% of employees would be motivated to stay at their company if they had better health insurance options. (Marsh McLennan Agency
  • 80% of employers use their benefits package to compete for talent. (WTW)
  • 76% of employers rank health benefits within the top three priorities to support their workforce, and 56% of employers prioritize mental health benefits. (WTW) 

Improved employee morale

Wellness programs create a sense of belonging, making employees feel more satisfied and motivated to do their jobs. Employees who feel their wellness is supported will be more engaged 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 wellness program 

A wellness program may sound good in theory, but positive results are more likely if you follow these tried-and-tested steps to implement yours:

1. Research

To secure funding and organizational support for your program, your company’s executive leaders must buy into the wellness program. Gain their interest by presenting data that supports how well-run health and wellness initiatives boost recruitment and retention and improve company morale. Your data could include: 

  • Employee benefits survey results: Gain valuable feedback on your current benefits programs while gaining insight into what matters most to your workers. You’ll learn exactly what they want from a wellness program and understand their unique needs better. 
  • Benefits participation data: Analyze utilization rates to understand how employees engage with their current benefits. This data can inform how you design your wellness program and what areas to target.
  • Stay and exit interview data: Review feedback from 1:1 meetings to understand the part that health and wellness benefits play in retention and departure decisions. Is there a particular benefit you’re missing from your current mix? How does your offering compare to competitors? 

Use your research to make recommendations for key changes to your employee wellness benefits program: 

Example: A combination of gym attendance data and employee survey results highlights that the free onsite gym membership you offer is useless for remote employees. You use this information to recommend switching to a monthly fitness stipend that allows everyone to care for their wellness in the way that works best for them.

2. Establish a wellness committee

A wellness committee will be the primary driver of your program and responsible for planning and implementation. The committee should include employees from a broad number of teams to reflect your population best and represent their various wants and needs. They’ll also promote the program, communicate key information to employees, and evaluate the program’s effectiveness. 

3. Set goals

Establish specific target goals before you launch your wellness program to shape what you want to accomplish. You might ask key questions like: 

  • Do you want to boost wellness program engagement? 
  • Do you aim to decrease the number of sick days? 
  • Do you want to reduce employees’ health risks? 
  • Do you want employees to report less stress? 
  • Do you want overall job satisfaction to improve? 

Benepass tip: Design a clear, actionable target using the SMART framework to create goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. For example, a SMART goal might be: “Introduce a monthly wellness stipend to reduce employee stress levels by 15% in the next six months.” This statement is specific, has a quantifiable measure, and is achievable within six months. It’s connected to the company’s key value of supporting employees’ mental health and helps you track progress.

4. Determine a budget 

Employee health and wellness programs are suitable for companies on any budget. Smaller companies can offer low-cost programs by partnering with local gyms and businesses for discounts or organizing lunchtime walking groups. Larger companies may dedicate a budget to bring in speakers, run wellness webinars, or offer more comprehensive benefits like massages and meditation sessions. 

To keep healthcare costs under control, your company might prefer to offer benefits with set monthly costs to reduce balance sheet risk. You might set up a Health Reimbursement Arrangement or Lifestyle Spending Account with a fixed allowance for each employee or employee class. Whatever budget you decide, make sure it aligns with the goals and objectives of your wellness program.

As a guide, the Benepass Benchmarking Guide reports that: 

  • 51% of our customers offer a Lifestyle Spending Account suitable for certain types of wellness expenses. The average monthly perk amount is $169 per employee. 
  • 45% of our customers offer a Fitness and Wellness stipend. The average monthly perk amount is $155 per employee. 
  • 3% of our customers offer a dedicated Mental Health perk. The average monthly perk amount is $42 per employee. 

Learn more about how companies of all sizes and industries are designing competitive benefits by downloading the complete guide

2023 Benepass Benefits Benchmarking Guide

5. Evaluate vendors

Vendor selection is the final piece of the puzzle; it’s essential to choose a provider with the infrastructure and product features that meet your organization’s unique needs. For example, many vendors have a limited marketplace that restricts employees to a small selection of places they can spend their funds. 

To build a program that encompasses a wide definition of wellness, ask the vendor: 

  • What is the user experience like for employees and benefits administrators?
  • What kind of customer support do you offer? 
  • How frequently can we make changes to our plan? 

The last point is important if you need to adjust your benefits quickly to adapt to market changes, a growing headcount, or a shift in your benefits strategy. For example, some employers may want to add new mental health benefits as a form of stress management to support employees with burnout or the impact of company-wide layoffs. 

FAQs: Employee Wellness Programs

What should an employee wellness program include?

A comprehensive wellness program is vital in improving your workforce’s health and productivity. Workplace wellness programs should include:

  • Physical wellness: Access to fitness classes or gym memberships to promote health and well-being.
  • Mental health support: Access to counseling or advice through employee assistance programs to support your employees’ emotional well-being.
  • Work-life balance: Promotion of flexible work arrangements, enabling your employees to maintain productivity at work while managing busy lives.
  • Personal and professional development: Commit to your employees’ continuous development by offering or reimbursing costs for online training, seminars, or personal coaching and education.

Are employee wellness programs worth it? 

Your employees’ health and wellness will directly impact their individual productivity and overall company profits. Since the pandemic, the workforce’s health has been under further pressure. Statista reports that up to 5% of employees have been absent from work in some months due to flu and other health-related absenteeism. Here’s how employee wellness programs can promote better health:

  • Health risk assessments: Regular health screenings can flag any issues, allowing employees to seek treatment or reverse any poor health behaviors. 
  • Preventive health programs: An employee wellness program can encourage healthy habits, provide health and nutrition information, and support employees’ mental, physical, and emotional well-being. 
  • Smoking cessation programs: Among U.S. workers, an estimated 3.4 million have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which smoking can cause. Employers can help employees who smoke by offering workplace wellness programs with built-in cessation support.
  • Employee assistance programs: Employers can provide health education resources and access to 24/7 mental health support, including counseling, medical assistance, and professional advice on topics like stress, depression, anxiety, and addiction. 

Should employers have an incentive program to encourage employee participation in wellness programs?

Sometimes, workers don’t take advantage of their employers’ health programs. To encourage employees, companies may offer wellness programs that incentivize employees by offering rewards to those who actively participate. 

This can be an effective way to improve employee health and lower the company’s healthcare costs. An alternative is to better communicate your health and wellness benefits to your workers so they know what resources are available and how to access them.  

Create a supportive employee health and wellness program with Benepass

Competition for talent and rising costs remain key areas for employers and their benefits strategy. And within the benefits space, health benefits remain a primary focus. Employee wellness programs have the power to produce a happier and healthier workforce—but only if organizations take the time to carefully budget and plan their programs. 

Benepass is a flexible benefits platform ideal for companies that want to manage and administer a variety of pre- and post-tax health and wellness programs for their employees. Book a free Benepass demo today to see our platform in action, or contact sales@getbenepass.com to connect with a benefits specialist.

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Rebecca Noori

Rebecca Noori is a freelance HR Tech and SaaS writer who is obsessed with our world of work. She writes about everything from employee benefits and performance management to upskilling and productivity tips. When she's not writing, you'll find her grappling with phonics homework and football kits, looking after her three kids.

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