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What are employee wellness programs?

At a basic level, employee wellness programs are benefits designed to help employees work better by keeping them healthier and happier. While health insurance is a huge part of employee benefit programs, it is usually just one piece of an overall wellness program for a group of employees.

Wellness programs typically focus on promoting healthy habits to prevent both physical and mental health problems. They encourage things like:

  • Healthy eating.
  • Work-life balance.
  • Exercise.
  • Quitting smoking.
  • Mental health education and programs.
  • Mindfulness.
  • Getting vaccines.
  • Education about health and healthy habits.
  • Health screenings.
  • Weight loss programs.

Wellness programs can lower long-term health costs by teaching healthy habits to employees long before a health issue arises. They often focus on giving employees the tools and information they need to start and keep a healthy lifestyle. They can encourage activities that fight long-term health issues like obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

The benefits or features of an employee wellness program might include things like:

  • Access to health-related resources, services, and information.
  • Company sporting events and fitness challenges.
  • More vacation time.
  • Work resources (like standing desks, fitness centers, or stretching areas).
  • Gym memberships.
  • Healthy snack options onsite.
  • Group legal benefits.
  • Rewards for exercising, walking, and biking.
  • Workshops and information about stress and mental health (online or in person).

There is no one-size-fits-all health and wellness program. Instead, employers often make their own programs based on their team members' unique needs and wants. Often, health insurance providers can provide information and resources to design a wellness program. Some insurance companies also offer employers rewards or discounts for implementing these programs.

Why is an employee wellness program important?

Your employees will likely tell you that they enjoy wellness programs and appreciate the extra benefits. When employees do not engage with a wellness program, or a particular benefit, however, employers may not see the value. In these situations, it may just be that an employer is offering the wrong wellness benefits. Here are a few reasons wellness programs are important:

Better employee health and well-being

Wellness programs often correlate with an increase in healthy eating habits and exercise. They also lead to decreases in bad habits, like smoking and drinking alcohol. Overall mental health improvements are often reported, with employees experiencing less depression and stress, and reporting more satisfaction with their work and lives.

Study after study shows positive results. A well-organized wellness program can be very helpful for the overall health and wellness of your team members.

Better workers

Many businesses also want another key benefit of wellness programs: employees who work harder and get more done. Wellness programs often help make this happen in a few ways. Wellness programs can help attract better employees that are in high demand, and set a business apart from its competitors.

Another benefit of wellness programs is that they often keep employees more interested in their work, which means they get more done. Wellness may also lower how often employees stay home from work because of health-related issues. With good employee engagement, a wellness program can make a positive impact on a business’s bottom line.

Happier employees who stay longer

Wellness programs show that employers care about the health and well-being of their workers. These programs often boost overall employee morale. They can help foster a strong company culture that shows employees that they are valued.

Happy employees who feel valued are also less likely to leave an employer. Even small perks through your wellness program can help you keep your employees loyal and happy.

Are wellness programs a good value?

Studies show that these programs are good for employees and businesses. For employers who offer health insurance benefits, wellness programs can save employers money. Employers can see medical costs fall by about $3.27 for each dollar spent on wellness programs. Another survey found that wellness programs generally cost $3 to $7.50 per employee each month, depending on the type of program.

Some more recent studies show that wellness programs may not affect how often employees stay home or how much is spent on healthcare. Those same studies, however, report that wellness programs do lead to better and healthier behaviors, such as regular exercise.

These results are a bit mixed. The value you get may depend on the type of wellness program you use and how well your employees respond to it. Many of the large-scale wellness programs that huge corporations use do not work well for small or even mid-sized businesses.

For small or mid-sized business owners thinking about starting a wellness program, it might require outside-the-box thinking to tailor a cost-effective program for your employees’ needs. Sometimes simple encouragement and free group activities can go a long way to increase the health and wellness of your team. In other cases, gym memberships, legal benefits, online activities, or wellness-based technology might be a good investment.

You can talk to your team about what they want to see in a wellness program. Simply getting their input about what they might need to succeed could help you support and care for them.

What are the key parts of a successful wellness program?

To figure out what might work best for your company, you may want to think about your employees. Every employee is different, so programs that work well for one person may not even be an option for the next person. Because of these differences, finding a wellness program that works great for your business might take a lot of trial and error. These are some good items to keep in mind when you are designing and starting your program.

1. Convenience

Making it easy for your team to use the wellness program can be a huge part of making the program successful. If it is too hard to use or access, employees are likely to ignore it. The same can be said if you try to do too much too quickly. Keeping it simple as you get started may increase employee adoption of the new program.

2. Mental health support

Trying not to focus on only physical health can lead to a better program. Mental health support is often noted as the most valuable part of an employee wellness program. Adding options and activities that improve mental health can be key to making your program work well.

3. Communication

Asking your team what they want can lead to better outcomes. The best way to know what your employees want in a wellness program might be to simply ask them. Providing a way to gather feedback anonymously may improve the responses you get. It can be helpful to check in regularly with ‌benefits providers to make sure employees are using the benefits you provide. If you find certain benefits are not being used, you may want to consider making some changes.

4. Time to participate

One of the biggest complaints from employees is that they do not actually have time to use the perks of a wellness plan. Allowing time for workers to participate in the program is critical to getting the benefits. Often, making sure that company leaders also use the program can motivate employees to do the same. Making sure employees have the time to use your wellness benefits can help ‌foster an overall culture of wellness.

5. Legal compliance

As you design your wellness program, make sure your program follows local, state, and federal laws. It can be helpful to discuss your plan with a lawyer to make sure you are not unintentionally discriminating against certain employees. After you develop a program, add it to your Employee Handbook or other company policies so everyone is on the same page about what is provided.

If you have legal questions or need help structuring your wellness plan, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.


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