12 Key components of employee wellness programs in the workplace

12 Key components of employee wellness programs in the workplace

Today, most employers recognize that wellness programs improve morale, and employee morale positively influences productivity — but what makes a good wellness program? More importantly, how can HR leaders identify the wellness challenges in their workplace and design a program that addresses them? 

According to a 2022 survey, employee stress is at an all-time high. Nearly half (48%) of Americans aren’t satisfied with their well-being at work. These results are a clear indication that employee wellness programs need revision to meet employees’ evolving needs. On the other hand, if a company is lacking a wellness program, it’s an incredible opportunity to develop something compelling.   

Read on to learn what makes a good wellness program in the workplace and how to cultivate an environment that feeds productivity and generates positive ROI.

12 Components of employee wellness programs that help increase employee and company productivity

Modern workplace wellness programs go beyond simply encouraging employee well-being and healthy lifestyle choices. They must take a more holistic approach to employee well-being to be effective. They also must aptly address the most significant stressors and employee burnout points that corrode employee productivity and undermine business profitability. 

How do you achieve this? What makes a good wellness program that employees will benefit from? What are some employee wellness initiatives that are easily achievable? 

12 components of employee wellness programs that work: 

  1. Work environment adaptations
  2. Flexible work options
  3. Aligning policy and practice
  4. Mental health programs
  5. Fitness and health initiatives  
  6. Celebrating employees’ wins
  7. Growth opportunities
  8. Community involvement
  9. Supporting parents
  10. Well-tech initiatives
  11. Education
  12. Financial well-being initiatives

1. Work environment adaptations 

Employee wellness begins in the physical environment. Ergonomic workstations, proper lighting, and vision protection have long been standard for workplace health. More recently, though, additional considerations have emerged in healthy workspace design. 

In 2015, a Harvard study discovered an association between air quality, higher cognitive functioning, and work performance. Some workplaces are designed for neurodiversity, offering quiet, closed spaces and large, interactive spaces so employees can choose where they work best. Others are designed for stress reduction. Workplaces built with wellness in mind allow for an increase in employee productivity.

What can you do? Hire a consultancy firm to assess workstations and office set-ups to ensure they’re ergonomically sound. Create spaces and places for employees to rest, work together, de-stress, have access to healthy foods and treats, and enjoy their time at the office. Creating collaborative workspaces can be a game-changer for your team's well-being and productivity. Introducing these shared spaces encourages the potential for innovation and team bonding. And, in the same way, if team members need to take a break or work independently, allow them the flexibility to choose what works best.

2. Flexible work options

As the global pandemic demonstrated for so many of us, a huge number of roles today don’t require a constant physical presence Monday through Friday from 9 - 5 for employees to be productive and successful. Support and encourage work-life balance by allowing people to determine how they work best and offer flexibility around when and where they work. 

87% of FlexJobs’ 2022 Career Pulse Survey respondents said a remote or hybrid job has improved or would enhance their work-life balance. 

What can you do? Employers that offer options for work environments will be better positioned to attract and retain top-tier workers. If feasible, allow for flex options when it comes to in-office or remote work. 

3. Aligning policy and practice

For employees to feel confident they can take advantage of work-life balance initiatives, it must be consistently modeled from the top down. When taking vacations, paternity leave breaks, or paid time off is made difficult, it can lead to employee burnout

A 2018 Gallup survey found burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times as likely to actively seek a new job.

What can you do? Prioritize work-life balance and avoid promoting a culture of overwork. Employers should set the expectation that employee benefits are meant to be used. Establish a policy that requires breaks and clearly outlines PTO guidelines, and remind team members that their lives outside of work matter just as much as their contributions in the office.

4. Mental health programs

According to research, half of Millennials and 75% of Gen Zers have left a job for mental health reasons. The prevalence of mental health issues in the workforce has caused more employers to prioritize mental health. 2 out 3 U.S. employers plan to make employee mental health one of their top 3 priorities in the next 3 years, according to a recent survey

Typical mental health offerings for workplace wellness programs might include access to resources like: 

  • Therapy
  • Psychiatry
  • Support groups
  • Therapist-led classes

What can you do? Learn strategic ways to evaluate mental health services for inclusivity. For additional ideas, explore our Mental Health Awareness Month toolkit for helpful guides, articles, and more.

5. Fitness and health initiatives  

A long-standing component of employee wellness programs, this category includes anything from on-site gyms and access to healthy food, gym memberships, yoga, and meditation classes, to massage therapy, walking, fitness challenges, or any other group fitness activities. 

Talkspace’s Employee Stress Check 2022 Report revealed nearly half of all people find work too stressful. The American Psychological Association found that 89% of employees who work in companies promoting such wellness activities are more likely to recommend their company as an excellent workplace.

What can you do? Make health and fitness options accessible to employees to significantly improve stress levels, support a healthier lifestyle, and promote job satisfaction.

6. Celebrating employees’ wins

Make sharing wins part of your company’s culture and use it to retain current team members and attract new ones. When employees put effort into meeting company goals without receiving acknowledgment, their motivation may dwindle, affecting employee productivity and enthusiasm. Research found that publicly celebrating employee wins improves a team’s sense of well-being by as much as 16%. 

What can you do? Keep employees motivated by acknowledging and rewarding their success. Demonstrate your appreciation with team outings, awards, or other gestures of recognition.

7. Growth opportunities 

Supporting employee growth opportunities typically includes education, training programs, and clear advancement paths. Studies found that nearly half (48%) of employees believe professional development is one of the most effective stress-reduction methods their organization can invest in.

What can you do? Offer straightforward ways for employees to advance, including training, professional development, and education opportunities — don’t forget to establish milestones and include regular reviews as part of the process.   

8. Community involvement

Giving back makes people feel good. Encouraging employees to donate a few hours a month to a cause of their choice supports their happiness while reflecting positively on your company. Multiple studies have shown the benefits of volunteering include better mental and physical health, greater happiness, and lower depressive symptoms.

What can you do? Create an annual calendar with company-wide and endorsed giving-back opportunities and events that make getting involved easy (and fun). 

9. Supporting parents

Finding consistent, trustworthy, and affordable childcare has been an ongoing challenge for working parents for decades. According to Pew Research Center, 24% of those who quit a job in 2021 did so due to childcare issues. 

What can you do? One way for employers to minimize missed workdays and stress for parents is to provide childcare for young children. Other support might be offered through parent coaching, education, and additional wellness perks for employees with children.

10. Well-tech initiatives

Many organizations today offer employee incentives for wearable well-tech devices such as step monitors, heart rate monitors, light therapy devices, and sleep aid gadgets. Although some studies found increasing consumer willingness to share data on their health and exercise habits, expect employees to be wary of sharing their employee health data. HR leaders hoping to collect data points from well-tech devices should be prepared to clearly explain what data will be collected, how it will be used, and how employee privacy will be protected.

What can you do? Develop fun and competitive incentives that encourage employees to wear well-tech devices. Rewards can include cash prizes, trips, or mental health days off, among other things that will motivate employee participation.  

11. Education 

A long-standing component of employee wellness programs, educational initiatives might include guest speakers, workshops, or monthly newsletters that address things like nutrition, healthy information, and wellness topics. 

What can you do? To gain value (and buy-in), use surveys to find out what’s important to your people, then align offerings with employee interests.

12. Financial well-being initiatives

A 2019 survey found that 88% of employers focus on extending well-being programs to include financial health offerings. Employees who are stressed about their finances aren’t fully engaged at work. Financial education can help them regain control and be more productive in their jobs. 

What can you do? Offer employer-sponsored events, classes, and seminars to educate employees on financial health. Offer to match 401k or other retirement plans. 

How to determine what elements are best for your corporate wellness program

Designing an effective workplace wellness program for the workplace starts with understanding employee needs. Then you can create a plan that matches solutions to pain points. 

1. Understand the needs and wants of employees

You must make an effort to understand your employees’ perspectives to know what makes a good workplace wellness program. Only they can tell you what’s missing and what’s needed to support their well-being in the workplace. 

Potential important well-being options for employees:

  • Flexible work hours
  • A culture that respects time off
  • Remote work options
  • 4-day work weeks
  • Health insurance with coverage that offers therapy for employees
  • Compensation that keeps up with inflation
  • DE&I initiatives  
  • A workplace environment that’s free of harassment, toxicity, and abuse
  • Opportunities for growth and development
  • Readiness for the future of their industry
  • Employer communication
  • Opportunities to be innovative or creative
  • Rewards and recognition 

2. Create opportunities for feedback

Successful workplace wellness programs require input from all levels of the organization to understand what’s working well and what’s missing. How do you go about learning what employees need?

Here are some ways to gather informative feedback:

1. Group discussions

Create a safe space for employees to help you better understand what’s working and what’s not. Is your wellness program effective? Does it address the right pain points and the right underlying causes? If not, why? 

Keep in mind that it’s just as important to hear from those who have not participated in wellness program offerings so you can better understand why they’ve opted out.

2. Real-time feedback surveys

Surveys allow employees to give their feedback anonymously, which may lead to more openness. To maximize participation, limit your questions and keep them concise. Include some open-ended questions to allow for individual responses. 

Example questions might include: 

  • How is your current workload?
  • How often do you take a break at work?
  • How stressed do you feel at work on a scale from 1-10?
  • Rank this list of concerns in order of importance.
  • How do you prefer to receive worksite wellness information?

3. Pre-and post-measurement surveys

Gathering feedback at the outset of a program will provide a good baseline to use moving forward. Continue getting feedback and making changes to your programs and offerings. As you implement change with each round of feedback, you can do follow-up surveys to measure against your baseline and track improvement. Over time, you’ll find you’re strengthening your wellness program and tailoring it to the specific needs of your employees, making it as impactful and powerful as possible. 

3. Identify and set metrics that combine both ROI and wellness

Effective workplace wellness programs need both executive and employee buy-in. Get leadership involved with quantifiable data showing the business impact of your worksite wellness initiatives. Tracking wellness and productivity metrics can also provide data to inform future iterations of your program.

Examples of metrics to consider tracking:

  • Participation rates (including demographic data)
  • PTO utilization
  • Employee turnaround time
  • Workplace compensation
  • Overall health insurance costs
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Employee stress and anxiety levels
  • Employee turnover
  • Worker’s compensation claims
  • Productivity
  • Employee likelihood to recommend the company as a good workplace

The World Health Organization estimates employers realize 4x ROI for each dollar spent on worker wellness. 

4. Collaborate with and get buy-in from company executives

Wellness programs succeed when corporate leaders are brought in early on. HR leaders must educate executives on a program’s potential to improve profitability, reduce turnover, and improve employee performance. 

Part of the education process to “sell” your wellness program internally should include distinguishing today’s wellness programs from those of the past. Many executives may be thinking of a much more limited offering. For example, mental and emotional health resources are a core component of modern wellness programs, while just a few years ago, they were much less common. 

Secure executive buy-in by explaining the benefits of employee wellness programs, showing the proof points behind it, and demonstrating how success will be measured.

Make employee wellness programs a priority with Talkspace

Talkspace can be a core pillar of your employee wellness program, helping to motivate and retain your workforce. We support employee well-being through mental health initiatives that produce returns for your business.

According to research, employees with fair or poor mental health miss nearly 5 times as much work as other employees. Across the U.S. workforce, this missed work costs the economy an estimated $47.6 billion in lost productivity each year. Transform your share of those costs into growth with a wellness program that centers mental health and reduces employee health risks, boosts morale, engagement, productivity, and retention.


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