What's an employee wellness program?

Employee wellness programs are measures designed to improve employee health and well-being. Employee wellness programs can include various elements depending on your employee demographics and health challenges.

For example, you might have identified particular risk factors associated with your work and implemented measures to counteract them. If your employees spend most of their time working at a desk, your employee wellness program could include activities to encourage employees to move around more.

Equally, you may want to work towards reducing stress or sickness absence by encouraging your team to hit particular health goals or offering counselling or mental health support.

How do employee wellness programs work?

Many employee wellness programs focus on measures that improve employee health by introducing incentives for increased activity or improved healthy eating habits. You could offer employee perks such as treats or discounts, introduce workplace activity sessions, free healthy treats or a combination of these.

You can decide to enrol all employees in your wellness program or offer them the option to sign up if they wish. If your wellness program is a voluntary scheme, it's vital to communicate the benefits that participating employees will receive.

You could design and implement your own workplace wellness program or work with a third-party provider. Employee health insurance typically includes additional benefits, including discounts and wellness services. Depending on the size of your business, you may also be able to access support to design and implement your wellness program.

The benefits of employee wellness programs

Employee wellness programs have various benefits that impact your business and your employees.

1. Increased employee engagement and retention

Employee engagement and retention became more challenging during COVID-19, with the great resignation showing that employees are increasingly willing to leave their existing employer for greater job satisfaction elsewhere. Employees who feel valued by their employer are much more likely to stay put.

Recent research by Gallup found that employee wellness programs can increase employee engagement, contributing to greater employee retention.

young asian woman smiling and holding resume, while sitting in front of directors during corporate meeting or job

2. Attracting top talent

Whilst retaining your existing employees is vital, attracting new skilled employees is also essential to your business's continued growth. It's a buyer's market, with job hunters seeking jobs that resonate with their personal values and offer an excellent work-life balance.

A good employee wellness program can help you build your reputation as an employer that takes care of your team with a high-quality workplace wellness program, which will make you an employer of choice.

3. Greater workplace diversity

A diverse workforce benefits your business by bringing different approaches and perspectives which can support greater innovation and creativity. It can also improve your business's financial health.

Gen Z employees are the most recent entrants to the workforce and value well-being support more highly than any previous generation. Employee wellness programs demonstrate your commitment to their well-being.

Your wellness program can also support diversity within the workplace by offering support that's tailored to your team's needs.

4. Reduced stress and anxiety

When wellness programs focus on physical and mental health, they can profoundly impact your employees' mental well-being. Stress and anxiety can affect work performance, whether it results from employment or another source.

Wellness programs can include resources to empower employees to manage their stress or to seek support via third-party counselling. Health insurance can also provide access to other resources, for example, mindfulness and meditation apps, that employees can access at any time.

5. Less sickness absence

Your wellness program can improve your employees' overall health, making them less likely to become ill and need time off work. If you have third-party support with your wellness program, you can offer support based on an employee's individual needs more easily.

Many business medical insurance providers offer health screenings and confidential support to enable employees to set goals and improve their health. Your insurer can also provide you with anonymised data to allow you to create tailored wellness programs.

Whilst wellness programs can give you healthy employees, some absences will likely be inevitable. Employee medical insurance can provide your employees quick access to high-quality private treatment and pay their healthcare costs. This means they won't have to wait for treatment via the NHS, and their absence will likely be shorter.

6. Improved workplace relationships

Wellness programs can include elements that enable employees to get together, for example, via lunchtime walks. This can allow managers to engage employees in conversations unrelated to work and strengthen the relationships within and between teams. This benefits business efficiency as employees become more willing to share concerns or ideas for improvement with their managers.

Having a network of supportive and friendly colleagues is also great for employee morale and engagement.

How to create an employee wellness program

Now that you understand the benefits of employee wellness programs, you might be wondering how to start creating one. Businesses can put together wellness programs in many different ways. However, the most effective wellness programs begin with a company getting to know its employees and creating a wellness program to help them achieve their goals.

Here are a few suggestions to help you make a start.

Review the data

Your wellness program will only achieve its goals if you understand your employees' issues and challenges. Understanding the triggers that lead to unhealthy behaviours or prevent staff from becoming more active will help you to create workplace wellness programs that create positive change.

Reviewing various types of employee data ensures that you understand the areas you want your wellness program to focus on and introduce appropriate measures. Here are a few of the types of information you could consider.

Employee demographics

Our health needs change throughout our lives, and a good wellness program should reflect that. Older people face different health risks from their younger colleagues, and the type of support they need a wellness program to provide will vary.

Wellness programs can also support staff to achieve a good work-life balance. However, their requirements will also change with each new life stage. An employee with a young family will need different wellness benefits from one heading towards retirement.

Understanding your employee profile will help you to create a wellness program that reflects their needs.

Sickness absence data

You likely already collect sickness absence data to identify patterns, improve safety where injuries result from accidents at work, and manage individual staff. However, you can also use it to create your wellness programs in various ways.

Data about workplace accidents is helpful from a health and safety perspective. However, if accidents happen because of physical tiredness or stress, a comprehensive wellness program can help by improving employees' overall health or reducing stress.

Workplace stress can also result from heavy workloads and pressures outside work. If data shows that you have significant numbers of employees signed off with stress-related illnesses, offering wellness benefits such as counselling could make a real difference.

Workplace risk factors

Your health and safety policy and risk assessments help you to identify risk factors that may lead to injury. However, when developing a health and wellness program, it's also helpful to look at factors that may cause health issues in the longer term. For example, working at a desk can result in musculoskeletal problems or health issues related to inactivity. An awareness of common health problems within your industry can help you to develop workplace wellness programs to combat these.

Also, consider whether particular job roles carry any health risks. You may decide to create a wellness program for managers to reflect the stressful nature of their work. Other wellness programs could also address the demands of a customer-facing job or a physically demanding role.

Information from third parties

If your employee benefits include insurance to pay employees' medical costs, ask your insurer for details of common health issues. These can be anonymised if necessary but allow you to identify trends and patterns in the areas where your healthcare costs are highest.

You can also ask your occupational health department to provide similar information. What are the leading causes of employee absence, and how can you design a workplace wellness program to help reduce these?

Provide employee support

One of the main benefits of employee wellness programs is that you can tailor them to empower employees to achieve their health goals. It's vital that your wellness programs also include appropriate support. This could include offering employee perks that make it easier for employees to eat well or become more active, such as discounts on food, vitamin supplements or subsidised gym memberships. Several medical insurance policies offer these types of incentives to their customers.

It's also vital to consider your employees' mental well-being. Anxiety, depression or low mood can affect a person's ability to achieve their goals. An employee assistance program (EAP) can provide counselling and practical mental health support. A survey by HR software provider Ciphr found that 40% of employees surveyed valued mental health and well-being support as part of their employee benefits package, which could make it a key factor if you're aiming to become an employer of choice.

The success of your wellness programs can also depend on your workplace culture. If employees feel valued and supported, their engagement is likely to be higher. Creating a working environment that enables your staff to develop a positive work-life balance and take care of their mental and physical health makes your wellness programs more likely to succeed.

business man cycling to work in city

Encourage physical activity

You may not need to devise physical fitness programs if your staff spend their days working on a construction site or in another active occupation. However, if you mainly work at a desk, it's easy for employees to spend most of their time sitting down.

There are various ways to encourage activity during the working day. Wellness programs that include incentives such as rewards and discounts offer tangible benefits to employees who hit their activity goals. You can distribute information about the benefits of an active lifestyle as a starting point. If staff can access fitness tracking technology as an employee perk, you could even start an office challenge with prizes for people who clock up the most steps.

A more organised approach could include arranging a lunchtime walking group to encourage people to get away from their desks. Wellness programs that include walking are great for team building as most employees can participate and talk with their colleagues to build relationships. Taking a break from work and getting outside has positive mental health benefits and improves focus and concentration. Consider holding walking meetings and other activity sessions tailored to employees' interests and abilities. These could include lower-impact forms of movement such as yoga.

Finally, encouraging staff to think about how they travel to work can positively impact their health and help them save money. You may want to offer information about safe cycling routes or access to the cycle-to-work scheme, enabling employees to buy bicycles via their employer, spread the cost, and pay less tax.

Choose health insurance that supports wellness programs

Health insurance enables employees to access private treatment and pays the associated healthcare costs. It can also support you in creating your wellness programs. As mentioned, health insurers can compile data to help you identify areas where your employee wellness programs can provide targeted support. However, it can also offer more practical support.

Your policy can give employees access to health and well-being information and support, including telephone helplines and online GP appointments. Most insurers offer some form of mental health support, such as counselling or CBT, as part of their core coverage.

Many policies also include discounts on things like fitness trackers and gym memberships. Vitality's rewards program offers additional incentives your employees can earn by hitting their activity goals. Your wellness programs can encourage staff to set well-being goals and earn rewards by achieving them.

If you have a larger business, insurance can help you to develop corporate wellness programs by providing health monitoring to your staff. This makes it easier for you to decide what to include in your wellness programs and enables your employees to set realistic and achievable goals based on their advice.

Encourage employees to eat well

Healthy eating can be the cornerstone of good general health. A balanced diet can help to prevent illness both in the short and long term. Of course, it can also help your employees feel better and give them more energy daily. Your wellness programs can support good eating habits in various ways. You can start by providing your staff with information to help them improve their diet. This could include resources on specialist diets, for example, vegan or vegetarian, or about particular health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease.

Here are some other measures you could consider.

The office environment

The office environment and local area can significantly impact your staff's ability to eat well. For example, if the nearest food outlets to your office are takeaways offering high-fat and high-sugar foods, your team will likely choose them out of convenience. Enabling them to bring healthier options in from home means they're more likely to eat well, and they could also save money.

This can be as simple as ensuring staff have a safe place to store their food and somewhere comfortable to eat away from their desk or workspace. A clean break room with comfortable chairs enables employees to take a break and have a conversation with their colleagues at the same time.

On-site catering

If you have the space, a staff canteen can provide employees with healthy meal choices and ensure they take a proper lunch break. You can opt to subsidise meals to make it a cheaper option too. However, if this isn't practical, you can take more straightforward steps to offer nutritious on-site catering.

You likely already provide tea and coffee, but it's also worth installing a water cooler if you don't already have one. Good hydration has many health benefits and can improve mood and concentration. You can encourage your staff to drink more water by providing branded glasses or drink bottles. Low-sugar cordials are an excellent way to make water more enjoyable.

Free food is a great employee perk and can support your wellness programs if you offer healthier choices. If full meals aren't an option, consider offering fresh fruit or low-sugar snacks in the break room.

Training sessions

Training sessions can be a great way to offer general health and wellness education and provide information about employee benefits that support their well-being goals. They can also be a fun way to promote healthy eating. Training sessions will likely be more impactful if they include an interactive element.

For example, you could offer a lunchtime tasting session to encourage employees to try new healthy foods. Cookery demonstrations and lessons provide practical knowledge and skills. Conclude these sessions by giving staff handouts and recipes to allow them to repeat what they've learned at home. You can also tailor this type of training session to suit your staff's needs. The parents of young children might welcome classes on cooking family-friendly meals, or there may be an appetite for learning to cook a particular cuisine more healthily.

Happy black businessman listening to music

Create an office environment that supports employee wellness

Your working environment impacts your productivity, with the noise level, temperature, lighting and air quality affecting your ability to work effectively. Whilst adjusting these measures may not form a core part of your wellness programs, they're worth considering if you aim to improve staff well-being.

The physical demands of each employee's work can also inform the steps you take to improve their health. A physically active job likely means your employees are already getting enough movement during their day but may need support to take proper breaks and eat well.

Sedentary roles carry different health risks, so you may prioritise encouraging increased movement to improve their general health and minimise the risk of musculoskeletal problems. You may already provide ergonomic chairs to staff with existing conditions. However, they can prevent issues from arising in the first place. You could also consider offering standing or sit-stand desks that allow staff to adjust their posture and move more throughout the day.

Create employee wellness programs that build strong relationships

Wellness programs often prioritise physical health. However, mental well-being also plays an important role, and developing good workplace relationships is crucial. Your employees don't have to be best friends, but positive relationships encourage collaboration, enable effective management and support business growth.

Team-building activities that include exercise, such as group walks, play a valuable role in building relationships across different areas of your business and promoting healthy behaviours. However, there are other activities that you may want to try.

Having an open-door policy can help staff raise concerns informally or inform managers about any issues affecting their ability to work. This needs to be managed carefully but allows employees to feel listened to and valued. If necessary, you can signpost them to other sources of support. Showing appreciation for your staff's efforts can boost morale. Recognition can be informal, such as a simple thank you, or formal, with awards or a scheme where employees can nominate a colleague to receive a reward.

If your employees have access to perks, such as free coffee, encourage them to use the benefit to get to know another staff member, particularly one they don't work with regularly.

Contact us for professional guidance on health insurance

We hope this guide has inspired you to develop health and wellness programs to support your employees to improve their well-being and bring the benefits of employee wellness programs to your business.

Before you invest in creating your program and investing in wellness activities, we recommend seeking advice from your accountant and legal representatives to assess the impact of your wellness programs on your business.

If you decide to invest in medical insurance to provide your employees with quick access to high-quality private medical care and a range of benefits that can support your health and wellness offerings, please get in touch with us for a comparison quote. At Globacare, we offer specialist advice on insurance products tailored to your business needs. We can help you to find the right coverage and benefits for your circumstances.

Fabio Peixoto
Senior Broker & SME Expert

Fabio Peixoto

Fabio is a senior health and life insurance broker with stacks of knowledge to share. He has over five years of experience and has held senior positions in other brokerages.

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