Is Your Employee Wellness Program Truly Effective?

Employer wellness programs are typically designed to improve employee health and reduce health care costs. Wellness programs aimed at targeting employees’ physical health have often included activities such as tobacco-cessation programs, health screenings, exercise groups and nutritional courses designed to motivate employees to adopt and maintain healthful behaviors.

However, while a physical wellness program is not a new concept to most employers, there are many that are taking wellness a step further and offering more holistic wellness benefits. Such programs don’t just focus on the physical well-being of their employees, but also take into account the mental, financial and social health of their workforce.

Has your organization moved beyond just focusing on the physical health of your employees? There are various components of a holistic wellness program that try to take into account all aspects of employee well-being.

Physical Wellness

The purpose of most physical wellness programs is to prevent illness and lower health care costs by motivating employees to adopt and maintain healthful behaviors. Wellness programs can also make the workforce healthier by encouraging employees to pay attention to their overall health and identify their unhealthy habits.

In many cases, it is less expensive for employers to pay for preventive measures like wellness programs than to pay for treatment of health conditions that could have been prevented. Most physical wellness programs are aimed at combating preventable conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and lung cancer.

There are many types of wellness plan components from which employers can choose based on their budget, employee demographics, location and health goals. Common examples include:

  • Subsidizing weight loss programs;
  • Promoting tobacco cessation programs;
  • Providing on-site gyms and fitness classes;
  • Subsidizing private gym memberships;
  • Providing an on-site health clinic;
  • Providing free flu shots;
  • Holding exercise competitions;
  • Providing health risk assessments and health screenings;
  • Keeping more healthful foods in worksite cafeterias and vending machines;
  • Conducting a health fair;
  • Providing health and nutritional coaching or counseling; and
  • Holding brown bag lunches on a variety of health topics.

Mental Wellness

Despite numerous advances in understanding and treatment, many individuals often keep mental and emotional health issues hidden out of fear of being stigmatized. The cultural stereotype is that people should be strong enough to handle their stress and anxieties and keep feelings in check.

Many employees who feel burdened by stress and depression on the job do not use stress reduction techniques to prevent becoming overwhelmed. They frequently fear upsetting co-workers, losing their job or being overlooked for a promotion. However, ignoring stress or depression is more likely to lead to becoming overwhelmed by the situation, which can result in negative consequences.

Mental health issues, including depression and anxiety and the fears surrounding them, can affect the workplace in a variety of ways. Such issues can influence an employee’s overall performance and relationships with supervisors and co-workers. For example, employees who are suffering from depression are more likely to be:

  • Frequently absent;
  • Easily distracted;
  • Less productive; and
  • Involved in workplace accidents.

It is important for an employer to develop a strategic holistic wellness plan that includes promoting mental well-being in the workplace. The strategies should be integrated into a variety of policies and practices, including:

  • Monitoring workplace mental well-being using employee surveys, absence data, etc.;
  • Designating an HR manager or other senior manager to be responsible for promoting mental health;
  • Encouraging a healthy workplace culture of open communication and inclusion;
  • Emphasizing and encouraging personal employee development;
  • Ensuring that employees are equipped to cope with changes in the workplace;
  • Fostering a culture that helps employees have a healthy work-life balance; and
  • Promoting benefits that help employees achieve mental health, such as employer-based health services and employee assistance programs.

Financial Wellness

Financial stress can have a huge impact on an employee’s emotional, physical and mental well-being, and offering programs designed to help employees with their finances can have a significant effect on their lives by enhancing their well-being.

Financial wellness benefits can aid employees in many different ways, including helping them:

  • Manage their money;
  • Reduce financial stress;
  • Understand financial investing;
  • Make sure they are on track for retirement;
  • Deal with financial troubles;
  • Work toward meeting life financial goals; and
  • Be financially healthier overall.

Benefits that promote such employee financial wellness may include:

  • Financial education, counseling and/or training;
  • Retirement planning;
  • Debt counseling;
  • Student loan assistance;
  • Identity theft benefits; or
  • College savings programs.

Social Well-Being

Finally, social well-being is also a big part of an individual’s health and happiness. It’s important to make sure employees are connected to their coworkers, families, friends and communities.

To promote better relationships at work, many employers are trying to develop an environment that fosters communication and social connections. To accomplish this, an employer can use a range of policies and procedures to promote better engagement and high-performance work, including:

  • Flexible work arrangements;
  • Employee education; and
  • Volunteer work offerings.

Wellness Survey

XpertHR is conducting research on how employers select, implement and track the impact of employee wellness initiatives, and we would like to invite you to take part.

In exchange for completing this survey, you will:  

  • Receive a complimentary copy of the summary report of our findings as soon as it is available.
  • Be entered into a drawing to win one of four $200 prizes (terms and conditions). 

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