There's more to a great corporate wellness program than gym memberships, health scans and incentives to stop smoking. Today’s more innovative programs reflect a shift from traditional wellness approach to a more holistic view of wellbeing.
At a time when most HR professionals say their organizations offer wellness programs and about 40 percent are increasing their investment in these initiatives, best in class companies know it’ll take more than Weight Watchers if you want to be the best.
So how do you design the best employee wellness program for your organization? How do you find the right mix of programs and wellness benefits to make your workforce happier and healthier, more productive and engaged?
We’re not here to tell you that your company needs six nap rooms.
We couldn’t possibly know if six nap rooms would be too few, too many or just the right number. Or if your office even needs a nap room at all. (There are four sleep pods at Care.com HQ, if you were wondering.)
Wellness programs were born out of the idea that health screenings, incentivized nutrition and smoking cessation programs would lead to healthier employees and, in turn, to reduced health care costs for the employers. We’ve moved beyond that carrot-and-stick approach to support employees as a whole person.
The best wellness benefits programs out there today take a holistic, inclusive approach to employee wellbeing. They utilize a combination of onsite perks and out-of-the-box partnerships. They incorporate employee feedback and are responsive to an organization’s unique needs and culture.
Here are a few guiding principles to help you design the best employee wellness program for your company.
- Create Shared Experiences
In some cases, wellness programs work better when they offer a shared experience. This is especially true for some of the fitness or weight loss-focused initiatives. Employees often achieve great results – and have a lot of fun! – when they’re supporting one another as they work toward communal goals in boot camps or compete against one another in Fitbit challenges. Another example of promoting wellbeing through shared experiences is service and volunteering. AOL employees participate in “Give 5” days where they can take five working days a year to give back to a variety of causes. AtNetApp, employees receive 40 hours of paid time off annually to work at a nonprofit or school of their choice. Deloitte gives its employees unlimited paid time off for volunteering.
- Innovate with Perks and Partnerships
As corporate wellness and wellbeing initiatives evolved over the past decade, on-site fitness classes like yoga, Zumba and Pilates have gained popularity, as have other wellness-type perks. Continue the evolution from “Biggest Loser” to holistic wellness with other weekly or monthly offerings, like Massage Mondays, onsite manicures, cooking classes and CSA pickups, and you’re able to develop an inclusive wellness program that offers something for employees of all ages, life-stages and interests. These wellness perks don’t have to be prohibitively expensive. Get your employees involved in the planning and development of these programs and you might find they’re a valuable resource as they can tap into their local networks of local businesses, instructors and vendors to help you find a reasonable deal. Who knows – maybe you have a few qualified yoga instructors in your workforce.
- Address Stress and Mental Health
Stress and sleep have been significant areas of focus for companies looking to take better care of their employees. Companies like Virgin, the Huffington Post, HubSpot and others have championed the importance of sleep, building nap rooms, installing sleep pods or hanging hammocks in their offices for employees who need 20 minutes to refresh and recharge. Other approaches include sleep-monitoring wearables and instituting policies banning email during vacation or after hours. Sleep plays a critical role in everything from improving immune function to metabolism, memory, learning and other vital functions. The takeaway here is: Don’t sleep on sleep.
Stress costs companies, big time. And it’s bad for employees, like seriously bad. Job stress leads to absenteeism, diminished productivity and negative health effects for employees. So it’s no surprise that addressing stress is a cornerstone of any wellness program that wants to be the best. Strategies for stress reduction can range from low-tech informal approaches, like encouraging employees to take walking breaks between meetings or tasks to technology-based solutions. Here at Care.com, have a game room with ping-pong, pool and vintage arcade games, and an office dog who employees can sign up to walk when they need a break from the grind.
- Make Their Lives Easier
From CrossFit with co-workers to CSA pickups to catching some ZZZs in the nap room, one thing these wellness benefits have in common is that they’re enabling employees to perform activities traditionally reserved for outside of work. Might sound surprising, but it’s not. This is an important recognition that work and life blend together today more than ever before, and striving for successful work-life integration helps employees to be their best at work and in life.
The key to a whole employee or holistic approach to wellbeing is to think about the things that could be weighing on your employees’ minds and distracting from their productivity. Popular perks like onsite dry-cleaning pickup, personal finance tools and family-care benefits are other examples of how employers can promote engagement and wellbeing by reducing the friction in employees’ lives outside of work.
- Survey, Test and Iterate
Perhaps the most important principle to remember when looking at your corporate wellness program is that it can’t be the best if it’s not the best fit for your employees, your company and your organizational culture. These aren’t boxes you can check off and expect results.
Before introducing onsite perks like cooking class or Meditation Tuesdays, make sure there’s demand for them. Survey your employees to see where the need is and how you can make a positive impact, then introduce pilot programs. If an employee comes to you asking about starting a new program, involve him or her in the planning process, then test the idea before making a significant investment. As with any new program, testing and iterating are key to long-term success.
At the end of the day, modern wellness programs are about reducing stress, improving mental health and promoting general wellbeing. Which combination of standing (or surfing!) desks, CSA pickups and onsite yoga studios you use to get there is up to you.