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Benefits 101: A Complete Guide to Developing Employee Wellness Programs

Employee wellness programs are powerful recruitment and retention tools. Learn the ins and outs of designing an engaging one.

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Today, employees expect more from their employers. Gone are the days when a comprehensive health insurance package or 401(k) match was enough to make employees happy. Employees now want to work for organizations that value them as a person, not just a worker. One of the best ways for employers to do that is to incorporate wellness programs into their benefits strategy. 

It’s more important than ever to support employee wellness. Survey data from Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work Report shows that mental health concerns are on the rise. In 2021, 76% of employees of respondents had at least one symptom of a mental health disorder in the previous year, up from 59% in 2019. If companies don’t do anything to support employee health and wellness, they risk losing top talent: 68% of Millennials and 81% of Gen Zers said they have left jobs due to mental health issues. 

The right employee wellness program can help ease your employees’ stress levels and reduce presenteeism, absenteeism, and turnover. In this guide, we’ll cover the ins and outs of employee wellness and provide helpful tips for starting an engaging employee wellness program. 

What is an employee wellness program?

An employee health and wellness program is designed to promote physical, emotional, and mental health. Traditionally, many employers have offered weight loss or fitness challenges, medical screenings, smoking cessation programs, company-sponsored sports, exercise classes, on-site gyms, or stress management programs.

What is an employee wellness program?

What are the benefits of employee wellness programs?

A well-run wellness program is a powerful way to support your employees and provide them with the resources they need to practice healthier lifestyles. Healthy employees are more likely to feel satisfied and motivated in their roles. Workplace wellness programs can improve productivity, company culture, employee morale, recruitment, retention, and absenteeism. They can also help lower health insurance or workers’ compensation costs. 

These programs have a growing impact on a company’s ability to attract top talent. Gen Zers and Millennials in particular seek companies that have wellness programs in place: 

  • 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.

Key components of employee wellness programs

As powerful as employee wellness programs can be, they often fail to meet their goals because they lack the components essential for success. Here are five elements that should be at the core of every employee wellness program:

1. Buy-in from senior leadership 

Even the most comprehensive wellness program will fail if it doesn’t have buy-in from senior leadership. HR teams need to research and present data that illustrates how employee wellness programs can reduce healthcare premiums for employers, decrease absenteeism, improve employee morale, and help with recruitment and retention. Leaders need to understand the importance of the program for HR teams to receive funding and support. 

Buy-in from senior leadership is also crucial for setting the tone and creating a strong foundation for success. If employees see their managers and other leaders promoting and engaging with the program, they are also more likely to engage with it. 

2. Intuitive employee experience

HR teams need to think carefully about the employee experience before implementing a wellness program. Employees are less likely to engage with a program that’s confusing or that requires excessive training and onboarding. Wellness programs that are accompanied by intuitive technology and efficient processes stand a higher chance of succeeding. Wellness initiatives should be easy to implement and require a low lift from internal teams and employees so everyone can quickly get up and running. 

3. Flexibility

Giving employees more choices in how they take care of their wellness will lead to higher engagement and satisfaction. Many organizations create restrictive or limited programs that fail to address a holistic picture of health. Instead, leading organizations have added wellness as a pillar to their lifestyle spending account (LSA) programs. You can define eligible expenses that fit the unique needs of your workforce, including meal or grocery delivery, gym memberships, meditation apps, massages or spa treatments, and personal training sessions. 

4. Regular measurement and feedback

To determine the efficacy of your wellness program so you continue to receive funding in the future, it’s crucial to measure the program’s return on investment (ROI). Measuring ROI helps you ensure that your program is meeting goals and allows your team to make adjustments as you go. You can measure participation, financial outcomes, health outcomes, employee satisfaction, rates of absenteeism and presenteeism, and more.

5. Creative communication 

Finally, don’t forget to think about how you will communicate the program. Communication should expand beyond email to include tools like Zoom sessions, Slack updates, videos, and intranet posts. You should communicate with employees through multiple mediums to accommodate a wide variety of preferences and learning styles.

Leading organizations have developed clever ways to regularly communicate with employees. The Community Group (TCG) is a nonprofit organization that has been creating opportunities through education since 1970. Their benefits include an LSA program that provides employees with a monthly stipend they can use to take care of their wellness. The HR team shares stories of how team members are using the funds in a weekly newsletter. The newsletter inspires employees with ideas of how they can use their wellness funds, increasing engagement with the program.

TCG For You newsletter

Learn more about the elements of a successful wellness program in our blog 5 Essential Components of Employee Wellness Programs

5 Essential Components of Employee Wellness Programs

How to implement an employee wellness program

You can ensure that your wellness program incorporates the above elements through careful planning. When planning the implementation of your program, here are a few steps to take: 

Creating an employee wellness program

1. Research 

Like we mentioned above, buy-in from senior leadership may hinge on thorough research that illustrates the importance of including a wellness program in your benefits strategy. 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 and get insight into where gaps exist. For example, a membership to a gym near the physical office is useless for remote employees. Instead, providing employees with a monthly fitness stipend can allow everyone to choose the options that work 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 the design of your wellness program.

2. Establish a wellness committee

A wellness committee ensures that there’s a group of people dedicated to the program’s success. The commitee will be in charge of planning and implementation and should include employees from a range of teams to reflect your employee 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

You need 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 mental health? Together with senior leadership, specific target goals must be established before launch. This will help you set appropriate KPIs and methods for measuring ROI. 

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. Make sure you factor in costs for vendor and technology fees, incentives if they’re being offered, and staffing needs. 

Learn more about how to get started with employee wellness programs in our blog 5 Steps to Creating Employee Health and Wellness Programs

5 Steps to Creating Employee Health and Wellness Programs

How to calculate ROI for wellness programs

You’ve built a great program, but how do you know it’s working? An understanding of ROI is one of the essential components of wellness programs, but measuring it can be tricky. Many companies tie ROI to reduced healthcare costs. Studies such as this Johnson & Johnson case study show wellness programs save companies $1.88-$3.92 for every dollar spent on the program. 

But it’s important to track more than just money saved. Other metrics or outcomes might be more difficult to measure or tie directly to wellness programs, but tracking them helps you see patterns that emerge the longer your wellness program is running. 

It's better to think about measuring value on investment (VOI) for these metrics vs. ROI. VOI looks at “softer” measures like job satisfaction or employee morale that are typically self-reported. VOI does not usually have a numeric ratio attached to it as ROI does. 

A few great ROI and VOI metrics to track include : 

  • Program participation
  • Financial outcomes
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Employee morale
  • Absenteeism and presenteeism 
  • Talent recruitment 
  • Employee retention and turnover

Learn more about measuring ROI in our blog 7 Ways to Measure ROI for Wellness Programs.

7 Ways to Measure ROI for Wellness Programs

A critical look at four common types of wellness programs

What do you think of when you imagine an employee wellness program? Do you picture a smoking cessation program? A weight-loss challenge? Nap rooms on-site? Discounts to the local gym? There are many different types of wellness programs, but not all are created equal. 

Here are four common types of wellness programs and why they might not be equipped to meet the needs of today’s workforce: 

1. Wellness or fitness challenges

Workplace wellness or fitness challenges are designed to promote healthy lifestyles and often center around movement goals, improved nutrition, or weight loss. Many employers offer prizes such as monetary rewards, Peloton machines, or a Fitbit. 

While they may sound great in theory, wellness challenges may be ineffective at best and actively harmful at worst. They often fail to create significant change in an employee base because they are short-term and promote a narrow view of health. They may also harm the mental health of employees who have struggled with body image issues or eating disorders. 

2. Smoking cessation programs

Some wellness programs target specific health concerns such as smoking. Smoking cessation programs provide education, counseling, and support to employees who want to stop smoking. Studies have shown that employees who smoke cost employers an extra $5,816 a year in costs associated with absenteeism, presenteeism, smoking breaks, and healthcare needs. 

But smoking is a specific health concern that may not be relevant to every workplace. Smoking rates vary significantly by region, educational level, and age. There are also ethical arguments against employer-sponsored smoking cessation programs because of the stress and shame they can place upon employees who smoke. 

3. Stress management programs

With stress and burnout on the rise, it makes sense that companies want to invest in stress management to help curb turnover. Stress management programs often include educational seminars on identifying burnout, improving resiliency, coping with stressors, and maintaining work-life balance. They may also include courses on fitness, yoga, meditation, or nutrition. 

The problem with these types of stress management programs is that they lack the flexibility to accommodate a broad range of employee needs. Just because a seminar may help one person manage their stress, it doesn’t mean that will be the case for every employee. Employees may be better served by childcare support, a massage, cleaning services, or any number of other items that aren’t available through a traditional stress management program. 

4. On-site perks

In the past, many employers have offered extensive on-site perks such as gyms, cafeterias, or game rooms. While these benefits are popular, they aren’t designed for the realities of a post-COVID workplace. Today, many employers have a remote or hybrid population and need more flexible ways to deliver perks to a distributed workforce. Flexible benefit programs such as flexible spending accounts (FSAs), health savings accounts (HSAs), or lifestyle spending accounts (LSAs) provide more options for employees. 

Learn more about these types of wellness programs and alternatives in our blog Why It’s Time to Rethink These 4 Types of Wellness Programs

Why It's Time to Rethink These 4 Types of Wellness Programs

The 8 dimensions of wellness

As you get started on the path of creating of an employee wellness program, it’s important to understand what it means to take a holistic approach to wellness. Many companies target physical or mental health with their wellness programs, but there are actually eight dimensions of wellness that you can support. 

Keep these in mind as you design your employee wellness program.

The 8 dimensions of wellness

1. Emotional wellness

Emotional wellness refers to someone’s ability to identify and manage their emotions. Individuals with strong emotional wellness are able to manage their mental health, cope with stress, and practice resiliency and self-awareness. 

2. Physical wellness

Physical wellness refers to managing one’s physical health through exercise, nutrition, sleep, and disease prevention measures such as avoiding tobacco or maintaining regular doctor’s checkups. 

3. Occupational wellness

Occupational wellness refers to feeling fulfillment in your career. Individuals with strong occupational wellness are enriched by their work and possess job-related skills such as time management that help them reach career goals. 

4. Social wellness

Social wellness refers to the ability to develop strong relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. It’s about interacting well with others, resolving conflicts in a healthy manner, promoting diversity, and feeling connected to a larger community. 

5. Spiritual wellness

When we think of spiritual wellness, religion might immediately come to mind. Spiritual wellness can be about the pursuit of religious activities, but the definition is much broader than that. It’s about the search for purpose and meaning in life through the exploration of values, morals, and ethics. 

6. Intellectual wellness

Intellectual wellness is about expanding skills and knowledge through intellectually stimulating activities. It includes being open to new ideas, practicing creativity and problem-solving skills, and having a love of life-long learning.

7. Environmental wellness

Environmental wellness refers to creating pleasant environments that support health and wellness. It includes being concerned with how your habits contribute to the health of the planet and practicing habits that preserve the climate. 

8. Financial wellness

Financial wellness is about feeling financially secure. Individuals with financial wellness set healthy habits to gain control of their finances, such as creating a budget, saving for retirement, and reducing debt. 

The best employee wellness program will have a noticeable impact on each dimension of wellness or allow employees to decide which areas they focus on. Remember that these dimensions don’t exist in silos. Each pillar of wellness influences the others. For example, an employee who is struggling emotionally may not have the mental capacity to exercise regularly or pursue intellectually stimulating hobbies. Flexible benefits programs such as an LSA can help you promote a more holistic view of wellness. 

Get specific ideas for creating programs that target each dimension of wellness in our blog on Unique Ways to Support the 8 Dimensions of Wellness Through Employee Benefits

Unique Ways to Support the 8 Dimensions of Wellness Through Employee Benefits

Examples of successful employee wellness programs

So what does a successful employee wellness program look like? Many companies struggle with engagement rates, but we have found that a comprehensive, easy-to-use program can help employers reach engagement rates of over 90%. 

Below are a few examples of how companies have created modern wellness programs with Benepass. 

Bright Health

Bright Health’s mission is to make healthcare simple, personal, and affordable. Over the past few years, the company has quadrupled in size to over 3,000 employees. Coupled with a transforming workplace environment due to the pandemic, the rapid growth made it more challenging to support employee well-being as the company scaled. 

Bright Health turned to Benepass to administer pre-tax benefits and launch a lifestyle spending account that allowed the company to live its mission of fostering brighter, healthier lives, starting with their employees. 

“We get such great feedback about it during the recruitment process and from current employees,” said Manessah Myrum, VP of People. 

With the BrighterLife employee well-being program, employees receive a monthly allowance to spend across the six well-being categories of physical, mental, financial, professional, environmental, and community. The flexibility allows employees to spend their funds in the ways that matter most to them and their families. 

Eligible items include acupuncture, gym subscriptions, childcare, grocery delivery, laundry service, professional coaching, and charitable donations. The flexibility has made the program a success, helping the company reach an employee engagement rate of 93%. 

“I’m so thankful to have the LSA,” said one Bright Health employee. “I get regular massages with this money and it’s truly enhanced my well-being.” 

“I have student debt and I have a private loan that I have been utilizing the LSA for in order to make my monthly payments,” said another employee. “I love having my LSA and can’t wait to finish paying my student debt to explore other ways to use my allowable amount.” 

With Benepass, all of Bright Health’s spending accounts are managed in one centralized platform, creating an intuitive employee experience and reducing admin time for the HR team. Manessah was able to realize her vision for an innovative, easy-to-use benefits package that addressed urgent well-being needs. On top of that, the program has saved the company $250,000 annually in voluntary forfeitures since funds expire at the end of the year. 

“I love the fact that it’s just so flexible,” she said. “As a people leader, if you have the vision and resources for the program you want to build, Benepass is a true partner in bringing it to fruition.” 

Check out the full customer story to learn more about how Bright Health designed a competitive benefits package to support employee wellness. 

How Bright Health Fosters Employee Well-Being With a Lifestyle Spending Account

Mindbody

Mindbody is a global California-based software-as-a-service company that provides cloud-based online scheduling and other business management software for the wellness services industry. 

The company is committed to promoting employee wellness across seven dimensions: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, environmental, social, and occupational. Mindbody built a Be Well wellness perk program that allows the company to support a broader set of wellness needs. Today, eligible team members receive a pre-loaded Visa card to use directly for spending on wellness needs. 

Mindbody knows that wellness is different for each individual and allows employees to spend their funds on: 

  • Exercise classes, gym memberships, trainers, outdoor sports, leagues, race fees, gear, and equipment 
  • Therapy and counseling, apps, and coaching
  • Mindfulness apps or meditation
  • Productivity and focus apps or cognitive training  
  • Spa and salon
  • Nutrition, vitamins and supplements, and diet consultations
  • Pet care
  • Parental support
  • Tattoos and cosmetic services
  • Music lessons

Giving employees more choice in how they use their wellness dollars has led to higher engagement and satisfaction, with over 89% of employees participating in the program. 

Explore the full customer story to learn more about how Mindbody built a comprehensive wellness program with Benepass. 

How Mindbody Built Its Be Well Wellness Program

Automox

Automox is a cloud-based cyber hygiene platform that gives IT and SecOps teams the ability to act quickly and easily across all their endpoints. The company’s previous wellness benefits vendor went out of business during the pandemic, creating a need to explore something new. 

Leaders wanted a user-friendly and administratively simple way to provide wellness benefits to employees. They also wanted a vendor that didn’t charge for items or services until employees used them. 

With Benepass, Automox expanded their wellness program to include an LSA with a $50 monthly stipend. The LSA has a 71% engagement rate and 100% CSAT score among the company’s 250+ employees. The flexibility of an LSA allows Automox to encompass a wider definition of wellness than many traditional wellness programs allow.  

“I think wellness means different things to different people,” said Elspeth Arnold, Manager, People Experience. “While it might mean a gym membership for some, it could mean financial wellness for someone else.” 

Check out the full customer story to learn more about Automox’s wellness benefits. 

How Automox Built a Leading Perks Program

The Community Group 

The Community Group (TCG) is a private, nonprofit organization creating opportunities through education since 1970. Like many organizations, TCG struggled to get employees to engage with their wellness and lifestyle benefits. Certain benefits such as childcare stipends were only useful for some employees, while others such as SEP retirement contributions were only available to employees with tenure. Leaders began searching for a vendor who could help them create a more inclusive benefits program. 

“Our CEO had heard of this idea of a flexible benefits program,” said Katie Graham, Chief Strategy Officer at The Community Group. “We wanted something open to everybody and where people could choose what they needed and what they wanted.” 

As a small and busy nonprofit, TCG wanted to avoid reimbursements and complicated processes for administering funds to employees. With Benepass, they launched a flexible LSA program that sees a 71% average monthly engagement rate. Employees receive Visa cards and access to a mobile app for easy spending and tracking. Transactions are approved or denied at the point of sale based on TCG’s unique program policy, removing the need to manually review expenses.

“Managing and approving all of the expenses was just not going to work for us,” said Katie. “We just couldn’t do that.”

The program has been a helpful retention and recruitment tool for TCG. The flexibility of an LSA has even allowed the organization to adjust their benefits program to respond to current events. For example, rising gas prices prompted the team to add a new eligible spending category. 

To learn more about TCG’s program, download the full customer story

How The Community Group Offers Employees the Power of Choice With an LSA

Talkspace

Talkspace is a virtual behavioral healthcare company committed to making care more effective, accessible, and convenient. The fully remote company has 500+ employees based in the U.S. and Israel. 

With a remote model, the company recognized the need to support employee wellness. In keeping with the company’s mission to make mental healthcare more accesible, Talkspace wanted to ensure that their own employees felt their wellness was cared for. 

Talkspace previously implemented a wellness program with a vendor where employees received stipends and then picked benefits from a catalog of options. When that vendor shut down, Talkspace sought a new vendor that could help them avoid previous challenges, which included needing to manually add people to the platform. Their former catalog-based approach also provided limited options for employees, especially their Israel-based team. 

Talkspace launched an updated wellness program with Benepass, giving employees a $50 monthly stipend to spend on gym memberships, nail appointments, Instacart, incense and candles, or gaming. Eligible items fall into categories such as family, fitness, massage, mental health, and professional development. 

With the new card-first approach, employees aren’t restricted to a catalog and can spend at any merchant globally within eligible categories. Because of the improved global experience, utilization increased among the international team and engagement rates doubled from their previous vendor. 

“I think the mission of Benepass is to prioritize our wellness and self-care,” said Hallie Griffin, Virtual Office Manager. “And that’s just perfectly aligned with who we are.”

Check out the full customer story to learn more about how Talkspace designed a wellness program aligned with their company mission. 

How Talkspace Designed a Modern Wellness Program

Get started

Employee wellness programs are incredibly powerful tools for attracting and retaining top talent, reducing burnout, and creating a strong employer brand. But to create a modern program that’s equipped to meet a wide set of wellness needs, it’s essential to think outside the box and expand your vision of what a wellness program looks like. 

Interested in learning how you can offer your employees an easy-to-use and flexible employee wellness program? Get in touch with our team for a personalized demo or contact us at sales@getbenepass.com.  

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Annalisa Rodriguez

Content Marketing Manager