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Challenging your office to take a September step challenge or bicycle to work on Bike-to-Work Day in May can be fun. But these initiatives are just small steps (or pedals) toward a more comprehensive corporate wellness program. Well-designed corporate wellness programs can include initiatives to help employees reduce stress, eat healthy food, explore forms of exercise, and better understand nutrition. As work enters today’s challenging hybrid model, wellness programs will look very different, and companies must create programs that reach the needs of all employees–at home and in-office.

A corporate wellness program encourages your employees to get healthier. It also boosts engagement — something workers are craving, particularly as many offices remain digital. In a recent survey by Ten Spot, 62 percent of Gen-Z workers thought virtual events had a positive impact on company culture.

Events focused on wellness may have even more benefits. Psychologist Sabine Sonnentag found that wellness programs boost productivity, reduce stress, and increase employee engagement and communication. Other research suggests wellness programs benefit companies by reducing medical expenses and employee absenteeism.

Keep reading to learn more about the advantages of implementing a corporate wellness program. Then discover tips and strategies to help you design a successful program to benefit your company and employees.

What is a Corporate Wellness Program?

A corporate wellness program is an initiative to encourage workers to develop and maintain healthy habits as a team.

Not long ago, businesses offered discount memberships for offsite gyms as the gold standard for wellness programs. But over the past years, companies have evolved to take a more holistic approach to corporate wellness. A well-developed program doesn’t just focus on running together in a yearly company 5K. Instead, companies strive to facilitate an overall culture of physical and mental health.

Corporate Wellness Program Benefits

What Are the Benefits of a Corporate Wellness Program?

Studies suggest corporate wellness programs provide real benefits for employees and employers. Here are some of the top perks.

Reduced illness and absenteeism

The ultimate goal of a wellness program is to improve employee health behaviors. An effective program gives employees tools and social support to be healthier.

Wellness initiatives can translate into real results in the real world. Even the most basic wellness programs improve employee mental and physical health. Well-organized programs can bring tremendous benefits. Employees may feel inspired to eat healthier, exercise more, smoke and drink less, control stress better, alleviate depression, reduce cardiovascular risk, and even wear seat belts more often. And when employees are healthier, they take fewer sick days.

Boost in productivity

A solid corporate wellness program can increase productivity in numerous ways. As mentioned, employees may take fewer sick days, so they’ll have more hours to get work done.

But sometimes even when employees are in the office, they’re not productive. According to a study by the non-profit Integrated Benefits Institute, lost productivity related to illness costs employers $575 million a year. For each dollar an employer spends on healthcare costs, it spends $0.61 on lost productivity due to injury or illness.

While employees aren’t productive for many reasons, poor health choices may be one of the most significant. According to a 2012 study, smokers are 28 percent more likely to be unproductive in the office than non-smokers. Employees with poor exercise habits are 50 percent more likely to be unproductive at work. And employees who don’t eat healthy are 66 percent more likely to be unproductive on the job. (Yes, that infamous sugar crash may be real.)

Chronic pain can also reduce productivity. Adults with joint pain work 2.8 hours less than normal per week on average, and adults with multisite pain work 9.8 hours less. In other words, when your employees are healthier, they’re better able to concentrate and stay productive at work.

Wellness Programs at Work Benefits

Decreased healthcare costs

Improved employee health habits translate to lower healthcare costs. The extent of healthcare savings depends on the nature and comprehensiveness of the program. Some studies suggest companies may see annual per-employee health care savings of $1000 or more thanks to corporate wellness programs.

Lower turnover

Offering wellness programs increases employee loyalty. According to one study, individuals who participate in employee wellness programs are 1.5 times more likely to stay in their jobs for three years or more. Employees are also up to 2.9 more likely to recommend employers with corporate wellness programs as good places to work.

Increased employee morale and community

Company-wide activities, including corporate wellness programs, help employees feel connected and engaged. Wellness programs increase employee engagement by introducing a common sense of purpose, which can boost employee morale and strengthen culture. The majority (83 percent) of respondents in a recent survey said employer-provided wellness programs improved their employee experience.

Less burnout

Wellness programs can play a key role in decreasing employee burnout. Corporate wellness initiatives such as encouraging stretch breaks at regular intervals or teaching coping skills can help employees refresh and feel better able to re-engage with their work.

Strategies for Designing a Successful Corporate Wellness Program

Corporate wellness programs aren’t one-size-fits-all. The most effective program for your company depends on your organization’s goals, what your employees want, your budget, and many other factors. Consider these factors when implementing a program for your company.

Understand what your employees want

Are your employees geared up to tackle 10,000 steps a day? Are they more interested in healthy snacks? Do they want meditation sessions? Do any employees need help to stop smoking?

Figure out what your employees want at the outset, so you can implement the measures they’ll be most likely to stick with. If you need a place to start, the Center for Disease Control offers helpful tips on how to design an employee survey on wellness programs. It’s also an excellent opportunity to address the various needs of all your employees. For example, your at-home employees might want digital memberships to Obe Fitness or Peloton on-demand workouts. In contrast, in-office employees might enjoy and benefit more from group-oriented experiences.

Determine your budget

Even though corporate wellness programs have a positive impact on employees and can ultimately save employers money in health care costs and reduce absenteeism, they still cost money. Surveys suggest the total cost varies between about $150 and $2,000 per employee annually, depending on the size of the company and programs offered.

Where do you plan to fall within this range? Think about all facets of your program, including screenings, incentives for participation, vendor fees, and equipment such as fitness trackers. Once you create a budget, stick to it.

Successful Corporate Wellness Programs

Establish expectations and objectives

You can choose from many different types of wellness programs, which may include self-directed employee education programs or disease management programs that include in-house medical clinics and health programs.

What works best for your company will depend on what you hope to accomplish. Are you hoping to develop healthy habits in your employees? Do you want to create opportunities for your employees to socialize around health issues? Build your expectations and objectives around your overarching goals.

Create a wellness committee to assess the program

A wellness committee will help grow a wellness culture within your organization. Committee members may fill various roles. For instance, they can survey employees to understand their needs and wants, help to implement and evaluate the current program, and brainstorm other initiatives to motivate and engage employees.

Ask for volunteers or invite employees to join. Encourage a diverse committee that represents all your employees. Try to get employees from many different departments, including upper management, HR, marketing, IT, and others.

Focus on holistic health

Often corporate wellness programs concentrate only on the physical. While it’s true that better physical health can improve all aspects of health, emotional and mental health are important in their own right. In fact, depression is the leading cause of disability. The World Health Organization estimates it costs businesses $1 trillion globally in lost productivity.

What can your company do to increase mental and emotional health in your program? Consider offering a meditation room or free access to a meditation app, yoga classes at work, mindfulness training, and more.

Choose incentives for participation

Ready for the fun part? It’s time to give away some swag! What would motivate your employees to keep going with your wellness program? Consider giving away yoga mats or reusable metal water bottles. Or award employees with a paid day off, wearable devices, or free gym memberships. Ask employees what they want in your initial survey or through your wellness committee.

Regularly assess success and pain points

As your program and your organization grow and change, some things will work great and some won’t. When something works, celebrate it! When something gets stale, shake it up. Assess regularly so your employees stay engaged.

Healthy Employees, Healthy Companies

An incredible amount of research supports the effectiveness of corporate wellness programs. A wellness program is not a magic bullet that will cure employees of all ails. But investing in your employee’s health and wellness can improve their health and morale and make your organization more successful. Depending on your broker and coverage, insurance subsidies can cover a percentage or entirety of your corporate wellness program. Talk to your broker today about your corporate wellness ideas to see if your company has access to wellness dollars.

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