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February 27, 2024

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Mastering Workplace Wellness: Your Comprehensive Guide

Reap the benefits of happier, healthier employees.

Key takeaways
  • A wellness program can significantly benefit employees and the organization if done correctly.
  • Physical activity, better nutrition and preventative health testing can substantially reduce employer healthcare costs. 
  • Identifying employee pain points is just one step in implementing a successful wellness program.

Employee health benefits are top of mind in the American workplace for employees making job decisions and companies looking to attract and retain talent.  

A survey of over 1,300 businesses found that health packages are a key consideration for 87% of people when they choose an employer.1

Competitive health plans have evolved to include support beyond urgent and primary care, like mental health support, preventative testing and other lifestyle resources, shifting the employee health plan into a more comprehensive health and wellness plan. 

A good health and wellness plan is not only a critical tool in attracting top talent, but a healthy workforce also translates into a more effective and efficient business. Learn how to bolster your workplace wellness program and experience its positive effect on your organization.

What is a workplace wellness program?

Workplace wellness programs are health-oriented strategies and services employers offer to promote and protect employee health and wellness. These strategies can include programs, policies, benefits and other forms of support that promote healthy lifestyles amongst employees both in and outside the workplace.2

It is not just the health of employees that benefit from these programs but also the companies that support them. Here are three potential benefits of happier and healthier employees:

  • Increase productivity: Employee wellness programs can help increase productivity; for example, a study led by the World Health Organization indicates that each dollar invested in depression and anxiety support leads to a four-dollar return in better health and work output.3 Better productivity also stems from reduced absenteeism — research found that employees with healthier daily habits had a 27% lower absenteeism rate.4
  • Reduce healthcare costs: Healthy employees also lead to fewer healthcare costs taken on by the company in the long run. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that employers in the U.S. lose approximately $36.4 billion annually to missed work due to chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, physical inactivity and obesity.5 Introducing preventative health measures is a worthwhile investment as it will help people avoid more severe conditions and these associated costs later on.
  • Improve retention rates: A well-planned and executed employee wellness program also increases job satisfaction and retention rates. According to a study by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health, employees with effective wellness programs had a voluntary attrition rate of only 9%, while those with less effective programs reported closer to 15%.6 Similarly, in a 2022 Aflac Workforces Report, 80% of employers said that supplemental benefits helped increase employee retention.7

Components of a successful wellness program

All workplace wellness programs are not the same; they vary depending on the type of company and each workforce's unique needs and wants. Understanding what your organization needs and selecting the correct solutions to employee pain points is part of creating a successful program. While there seems to be an extensive list of different wellness options to try, most corporate wellness programs reflect at least one of these six components:

1. Physical fitness

Just as physical fitness is a critical pillar in maintaining good health, it is integral to most health and wellness programs.   

Why is it important?

Physical fitness is one of the most critical aspects of healthcare as it supports brain health and weight management, reduces the risk of chronic conditions, strengthens muscles and bones and extends life expectancy.8

According to the CDC, three out of four adults do not meet physical activity recommendations, costing nearly $117 billion in associated annual healthcare costs.9

As office workers are particularly prone to sedentary lifestyle habits, dedicating resources to encourage better physical fitness among employees is an impactful way to reduce the associated health risks and costs for companies.  

Physical fitness examples

Some popular fitness-related offerings include onsite exercise classes and gym access, funds for purchasing fitness-related equipment or subsidized memberships to external health clubs. With the rise in online fitness classes and one-on-one coaching apps, virtual services have become increasingly popular, and many are designed to integrate with employee health plans. More advanced fitness and weight management options that use biomarker testing to provide personalized analysis and coaching are also available.

There are other ways to support physical fitness besides these training options. For example, offering an extended lunch break gives employees more time away from their desks to be active, whether they join a quick exercise class or go for a walk outside. Organizations can also schedule and fund activities like group walks and run clubs or company sports teams to promote team-based physical health support.  

Johnson & Johnson reported that their wellness programs saved the company an estimated $250 million in healthcare costs over the past decade.10

2. Nutrition

Like fitness, good nutrition is foundational to building a healthy lifestyle and, thus, a component to consider when creating a wellness program.

Why is it important?

Most people, in theory, know that good nutrition is essential, but taking action can be difficult due to a lack of time, resources or proper knowledge. Helping employees circumvent these barriers to better nutrition will lower their risk of severe health issues and help them manage existing chronic conditions.11

Nutrition examples

Examples of supporting healthy eating include providing employees with complimentary healthy snack options, funding occasional employee meals and extending breaks so they have time to acquire a meal rather than eating quick unfulfilling snacks at their desks.

Beyond immediate food supply, employers can also encourage and support better nutrition practices by providing access to one-on-one visits with nutritionists and dieticians. Like other telehealth areas, virtual nutrition coaching has become a popular way to support the employee wellness journey. Certain telehealth nutrition companies even provide a personalized nutrition experience with at-home biomarker testing. At-home testing can help employees with chronic illnesses who require specialized support and those who simply want to improve how they fuel their bodies.  

IBM's nutrition and weight management program showed improved habits, like consuming 20% less junk food and 10% more fruits and vegetables within six months.12

3. Preventative care

Preventative healthcare has become more prevalent within the health and wellness industry, and for a good reason — it's an invaluable stepping stone in one's journey to better health.

Why is it important?

The benefits of providing preventative care within a wellness program are right in the name — it helps prevent severe and long-lasting health conditions, and it also prevents the associated costly consequences. As more people are taking an active role in their health, the value of preventative care is skyrocketing.   

The global preventive healthcare technologies and services market, valued at $217.09 million in 2020, is estimated to reach $557.47 million by 2028.13

Preventative care examples

Preventative care options include services like telehealth, at-home health screening tests and vaccination clinics. Telemedicine makes it easier for employees to keep up with regular check-ups, seek health advice, get uninterrupted prescriptions and receive thorough treatment plans. Screening tests can help employees receive regular health risk assessments, test for underlying chronic diseases and support better health endeavors like nutrition or weight management. At-home tests can mitigate certain barriers preventing employees from completing their annual check-ups, as many do not have the time to visit a lab, have fears associated with lab blood tests or are located too far away. Regular screenings are essential as they enable employees to catch a potentially serious condition, like prediabetes, and begin a care regime before it has a chance to worsen.   

imaware's at-home test kits are a great example of preventative screening tools that organizations can provide their employees. With various biomarker tests to choose from, employees can check critical areas of their health by testing their cholesterol levels, blood glucose, vitamins, hormones and more before seeking advice and treatment plans from a telehealth service.

4. Mental health

While they are important, remember to look beyond the physical health components. Providing employees with enough mental health support is vital to any wellness program.

Why is it important?

Supporting better employee mental health can do wonders for productivity and resilience throughout the workforce. In contrast, unmanaged stress leads to low engagement, lack of focus, poor performance and higher rates of burnout.  

Yet, almost 70% of professionals feel their employer needs to do more to prevent or alleviate burnout.14

Examples of mental health support

An essential form of support is providing access to counseling and other mental health professionals. Organizations should also encourage conversations about important topics like mental health awareness, openly discussing stress levels and check-ins regarding work-life balance.

Other tools to help with stress management include workplace activities like yoga and meditation classes, webinars, and workshops. Companies with high levels of burnout may even employ mindfulness coaching services that employees can utilize to help them learn how to manage stress. This can also be paired with measures to foster better work-life balance, like enforced vacation time, flexible hours and remote-friendly work options.

According to Forrester Research's Total Economic Impact report, companies using Virgin Pulse's health platform had a Net Present Value of $19.1 million and an ROI of 162% over three years.15

5. Additional resources

Fitness, nutrition, mental health and preventive care are some of the most common components of wellness programs, but there are many additional wellness initiatives that bring value to employees.  

Why is it important?

Adding additional resources will help ensure your wellness program is utilized to serve your specific employees and their families best. Education, for example, is a big part of what makes workplace wellness programs successful; training and other educational resources can help employees develop healthy habits that last a lifetime.

Examples of additional resources

Companies can organize workshops, guest speakers and lunch-and-learn sessions to teach good habits around areas like sleep hygiene, stress and nutrition. Another popular service to consider is a family-planning platform — fertility journeys are complex networks to navigate, with many employees wishing for professional guidance and support.    

95% of Carrot Fertility members say they will remain with their current employers longer because they offer this cutting-edge fertility platform service.16

Valuable resources extend beyond immediate health concerns, with things like financial education. According to a survey from the Financial Health Network, financial guidance, help with emergency savings, and support for managing debt are three of the most critical wellness needs.17 Providing access to financial wellness tools can help set up employees' futures and relieve financial stress. Another wellness initiative to consider is providing career development support through training seminars, continuing education funding and mentorship programs. Career growth opportunities appeal to current and prospective employees and expand your company skillset.

Wellness program implementation

Workplace wellness programs are not guaranteed to provide positive results. This is why when implementing a new program, organizations should ensure it is designed to fit the unique work environment and employees.     

1. Assign authority

Like any other project, there needs to be a designated leader or wellness champion who will be in charge of designing, implementing, assessing and evolving the wellness program while ensuring it follows best practices. Depending on the size of the organization and the plan being implemented, additional support leads and, possibly, an entire wellness committee may be required. 

2. Identify the problems

Organizations need to understand their employees' health and wellness concerns. This means speaking with employees across the organization, from executives and department heads to entry-level roles. Real-time feedback will help ensure the wellness program is set to target actual pain points among employees. For example, if stress burnout is highlighted as a leading cause of productivity loss and employee turnover, providing mental health services and stress management coaching will be a higher priority than stocking the office with healthy snacks. Or employees may not care for in-office yoga classes and nutrition workshops but would appreciate subsidies for their health club of choice.

Be sure to note that adding one or two workplace perks does not equal having a successful wellness program. It requires a variety of well-planned services and correct framing in the workplace. The support necessary to improve employee health and wellness is as complex as the underlying pain points.    

3. Plan the rollout

By the time a good workplace wellness plan is ready for implementation, it can be tempting to launch and be done, but how it is introduced can seriously impact its effectiveness. The wellness leaders need to take time to create a launch plan for employees, which may include a company-wide presentation, team tutorials and instructional materials. Team leaders should be involved in the rollout process to encourage employees and ensure they understand how it works and what is available. Get the most out of your workplace wellness plan by ensuring your employees are too.

4. Follow-up

Once the wellness program is in place, following up on its success is critical, especially in the initial stages. Treat it like any new product or service by gathering user feedback, analyzing the data, and incorporating it in the next iteration.   

In addition to the feedback loop, remember the power of key performance indicators (KPIs). KPIs will help identify successes and problem areas. Participation, for example, is an important KPI for wellness programs. Low participation could be a sign there needed to be more clarity about the program during the rollout or that the selection of wellness components needs some editing. Organizations may encourage employee engagement by launching incentive programs, organizing a company-wide wellness challenge and having C-suite members openly utilize the new benefits.18

Improve your workplace wellness program today.

Discover how imaware can help improve your workplace wellness program. With white-label services, you can customize employee at-home health tests and integrate with imaware's sophisticated testing infrastructure.

Guide to Workplace Wellness Programs Ebook
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  1. BusinessWire. Employees Place a Premium on Culture of Wellness but Employers Still Struggle to Communicate and Measure the Effectiveness of Programs, According to New Virgin HealthMiles Survey. Accessed May 30, 2023. 
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Workplace Health Program Definition and Description. Accessed May 30, 2023.
  3. World Health Organization. Investing in treatment for depression and anxiety leads to fourfold return. Accessed May 30, 2023.
  4. BusinessWire. Study of 20,000 Workers Shows Different Factors Drive Absenteeism and Job Performance. Accessed May 30, 2023.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Workplace Health Promotion. Accessed May 31, 2023.
  6. Harvard Business Review. What’s the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs? Accessed May 31, 2023.
  7. Aflac WorkForces Report. Workplace benefits trends - The state of workplace benefits and enrollment. Accessed May 31, 2023.
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Benefits of Physical Activity. Accessed May 31, 2023.
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Why Should People be Active? Accessed February 27, 2024.
  10. Harvard Business Review. What’s the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs? Accessed May 31, 2023.
  11. Centers for Disease Control. About Nutrition: Why It Matters. Accessed May 31, 2023.
  12. The Health Project. IBM. Accessed May 31, 2023.
  13. Cision PR Newswire. Preventive Healthcare Technologies and Services Market to Develop at CAGR of 13% During Forecast Period, Observes TMR Study. Accessed May 31, 2023.
  14. Deloitte. Analysis - Workplace Burnout Survey. Accessed May 31, 2023.
  15. Forrester. The Total Economic Impact Of Virgin Pulse (February 2020). Accessed May 31, 2023.
  16. Carrot Fertility. Global Fertility Benefits for Employers. Accessed May 31, 2023.
  17. Financial Health Network - Morgan Stanley. Better for Employees, Better for Business: Providing the Tools to Meet the Financial Health Needs of Employees. Accessed May 31, 2023.
  18. Harvard Business Review. What’s the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs? Accessed May 31, 2023.

Mairi Sutherland

Mairi is a content strategist with a passion for imaware’s partner and patient outcomes, translating digital health trends for your business.

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Guide to Workplace Wellness Programs Ebook
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