Supporting employee wellness is an investment in your company’s success as much as it is in worker well-being. There’s no better way to demonstrate a commitment to healthy employees.
Resources spent on programs that improve employees’ personal and work lives also positively impact productivity, profitability, recruitment, and retention while strengthening company culture — and don’t let the idea of “investment” deter you. Employee wellness program ideas are accessible to every organization. You can implement many of them on a shoestring budget.
According to Fidelity Investments and Business Group on Health, the average wellness program budget per employee was $238 in 2021, a year when 92% of employers expanded mental health and well-being support programs. The cost of your employee well-being program will vary depending on the employee wellness ideas you incorporate. Where do you start? Read on.
Different types of employee wellness to maximize workplace success
Before looking at actual employee wellness ideas, here are some of the most common categories that make up an employee wellness program.
Mental and emotional wellness
Awareness of rising mental health and emotional wellness concerns has driven recent growth in employee wellness programs. According to Wellable Labs research, 24% of companies plan to invest more in workplace wellness programs this year.
New research demonstrates the prevalence of stress and mental health concerns for employees. It highlights how they’ve affected an ability to perform at work. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that 59% of employees have experienced the negative impact of work-related stress in the past month — they’ve had difficulty focusing and/or a lack of interest, motivation, energy, or effort.
By offering mental health services, employers demonstrate a clear commitment to employees. The employer benefits of employee wellness programs and emotional wellness tools include increased productivity and engagement, reduced absenteeism and health costs, and improved retention.
Talkspace’s research on workplace stress found that 66% of workers who’ve considered quitting a job might potentially stay if they were offered access to mental health services.
Physical wellness has been a long-standing cornerstone of employee wellness programs. Historically, one of the primary motivations for employers to invest in workplace wellness programs was reduced healthcare costs. Past studies have demonstrated that employers can realize as much as $6 in healthcare savings for every dollar invested.
Today, employers appreciate the value on investment (VOI) as much as the ROI of their health and wellness programs. As coined by Gartner Research, VOI refers to intangible, harder-to-quantify assets that contribute to organizational performance.
Physical wellness initiatives deliver both ROI and VOI by way of:
- Reduced healthcare costs
- Improved employee engagement and performance
- Enhanced workplace culture
- Easier employee recruitment
- Stronger retention rates
Financial wellness is about providing education and tools to help employees improve their financial literacy and make better choices to enhance their quality of life. It can also reduce immediate and long-term stress for employees.
According to research from BrightPlan, financial benefits are the #1 most desired benefit for employees, 77% of whom say financial stress impacts their mental health. Roughly half of these employees also say financial stress negatively impacts their physical health, leading to lower productivity and engagement. BrightPlan estimates the productivity loss from financial stress might be as much as 11.4 hours per employee per week.
Most employers agree that financial wellness support can lead to more satisfied, loyal, and engaged employees while improving recruitment and retention. Making financial wellness a foundational pillar in your workplace wellness program can be a win-win.
One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to employee well-being. Generational wellness means accounting for generational differences in values and priorities. Some employers may already view generational differences within Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) efforts. Like DE&I, generational wellness is a lens employers use to inform effective workplace wellness program strategies and offerings.
BrightPlan reports the top financial concern of 18 to 25-year-old workers is paying off debt, while the principal concern of older generations is retirement planning. It’s just one example of how generational differences might help dictate corporate wellness program planning for maximum engagement and effectiveness.
Expect more consideration for generational differences in wellness programming in the coming years. In their Workplace Benefits Report, Bank of America (BofA) discovered 60% of employers had taken steps to promote an intergenerational workforce (and 73% of them report higher productivity from generationally diverse teams).
32 Essential wellness ideas to improve productivity in the workplace
Every employer should include therapy in their wellness offerings. It’s a powerful employee tool to manage stress, depression, and anxiety.
In research from Talkspace and Columbia University, employees using online therapy reported feeling more productive, energized, and engaged at work. Additionally, they had 50% fewer hours of missed work and a 36% increase in productivity. Other significant benefits include greater work-life balance and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Meditation is a tried-and-true technique for stress reduction and mental wellness. Designate a quiet meditation space and make meditation apps available to employees — popular apps aim to help users utilize mindfulness to reduce anxiety and stress.
When it’s easy for workers to take a meditation break, employers can expect a reduction in employee stress that positively impacts engagement, productivity, and retention.
3. Flexible work schedules and locations
While some employees work better in a group, others don’t. Some work better in the morning, and others are more productive at night. Flexibility is a common pain point for employees. They want greater flexibility when it comes to when, where, and how they work.
Most employees have proven their ability to maintain productivity levels while working remotely. The cost of returning to work in person, 5 days a week, seems unnecessary to many. For a lot of them, commuting is now seen as just an unproductive waste of time and energy.
Employers who can accommodate employees’ needs and offer greater autonomy are much more likely to retain workers and appear more attractive to potential hires. Additionally, businesses can expect increased engagement and productivity by reducing significant employee stress points.
4. Employee recognition programs
Employees who feel undervalued are likely to disengage and seek employment elsewhere. Overcome those adverse effects by regularly recognizing employee contributions. 75% of employees agree their employee morale and motivation would improve if managers would simply say “thank you” and acknowledge good work.
Employers that make recognition part of their culture are more likely to have happy, engaged, and productive employees. According to RewardGateway, 91% of HR professionals agree recognition positively impacts employee retention.
5. 4-day workweeks
The benefits of a 4-day workweek are compelling. In 2019, SHRM reported 23% of organizations had already moved to a 4-day workweek. Since then, researchers found that moving to a shortened week without cutting pay improves worker well-being and productivity. Organizations worldwide are following suit, and more research strongly supports the benefits of fewer days in the workweek.
4-day workweeks are associated with increased productivity, less employee burnout, less fatigue, improved physical health, more engaged and satisfied employees, and fewer sick days. Employers with shortened workweeks can also expect maximum retention and recruitment benefits. This employer saw a 500% increase in applications when it shortened its workweek.
6. Maternity and paternity leave
In most countries, new parents enjoy paid leave. In the U.S., many parents either don’t have those benefits or feel uncomfortable using all of them. Allowing employees to recover from birth and bond with their babies without worrying about job security will support mental, physical, and financial wellness while reducing stress.
7. Massage therapy
Massage therapy is a popular wellness benefit for healthy employees. After all, who doesn’t love a work-day massage? Bringing in corporate chair masseuses can do more than just relax and de-stress employees — it can lift a team’s spirits and generate goodwill.
Massage therapy is an excellent form of stress reduction. Offering it to employees can improve employee engagement, productivity, and retention.
8. On-demand mental health resources
Employees may need mental health support that goes beyond a mindfulness app but doesn’t quite require therapy. Talkspace offers a ‘just-right-sized’ solution with over 70 self-guided programs that address burnout, anxiety, relationship and parenting challenges, depression, and more. Employees can access them in minutes. Learn more about Talkspace offers and services to support your employees’ mental health.
Employers who offer flexible mental health resources can expect to reduce employee stress, improve engagement and productivity, support a healthy work culture, and reduce health care costs.
9. Wearable fitness devices
Wearable fitness devices are one of the newer wellness ideas for employees. Younger employees are more likely to embrace well-tech solutions. Cater to their needs by offering options that fit their lifestyle and an increased comfortability with technology. A perfect example would be partial reimbursement for a wearable sleep-tracking device to help Millennials take control of the sleep challenges affecting their health and work performance.
Employers can expect increased engagement and productivity from employees who get adequate sleep.
10. LGBTQIA+ resources
A WebMD study found that more than half of Gen Z employees expect employers to offer resources specific to the LGBTQ community (versus only a third of Boomers and Gen Xers). Build trust with your Gen Z and LGBTQIA+ employees with services that support the unique needs of LGBTQ employees. For example, family planning, financial planning, and mental health counseling can all have nuances that would benefit from expertise in LGBTQIA+ community needs.
Offering resources for LGBTQIA+ employees will support recruitment and retention and enhance company culture.
11. Pet-friendly workplaces
According to a recent survey, 71% of Gen Zers plan to ask their employer about implementing a pet-friendly policy. Half of them say they’ll consider looking for another job if their workplace is not pet-friendly.
Allowing employees to bring pets to work can help reduce stress and boost happiness throughout the workday, increasing engagement and productivity. Pet-friendliness can also reflect positively on company culture and appeal to potential employees.
12. Boomer engagement initiatives
Boomers are less likely than younger generations to use wellness program offerings, according to WebMD. One way to improve engagement is to ask them what they would find helpful and be likely to use. Be cognizant of preferences — for example, Boomers prefer traditional communication (like “snail mail”) and face-to-face communication over digital interactions. Conducting a focus group or a paper-based survey may lead to more engagement than a survey link via email or social media.
Securing intergenerational engagement in your corporate wellness program will elevate its impact on employee engagement, work productivity, and healthcare cost reduction.
13. Recycling programs
Millennials are more likely to view concern for the Earth as part of well-being. WebMD reports more than half of Millennials prioritize environmental health, versus just 35% of Boomers. Demonstrating an organizational commitment to environmentalism will make Millennials feel better about how they show up as a global citizen and give them confidence that your company’s values align with theirs.
A recycling program also expresses your corporate culture and can help attract like-minded candidates.
14. Green workspaces
Pew Research Center reports Gen Z and Millennials have exceptionally high engagement with environmental issues, so they’ll appreciate efforts to make workspaces green.
Creating a greener workspace reduces stress by instilling a sense of harmony with nature. Greening your office might also alleviate health problems. In addition, research shows that introducing plants to the workplace reduces carbon dioxide, dust, and noise pollution.
If a wall of plants isn’t enough, consider green-certified buildings. A Harvard study reported that green-certified facilities improve employees’ cognitive function by 26% and reduce negative symptoms associated with “sick building syndrome” by 30%.
Also, take a look at green cleaning services. You can reduce the chemical effects of cleaning by choosing a provider that uses non-toxic supplies.
Employers committed to greening their workspace can build loyalty, demonstrate value alignment, strengthen company culture, and improve employee retention and recruitment.
15. Clean air design
Harvard’s School of Public Health study demonstrates a link between poor air quality and employee cognition and productivity. OSHA reports poor indoor air quality is connected to symptoms including headaches, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and more.
One important thing employers can do to improve air quality is simple, yet effective: change air filters regularly. The EPA and the American Lung Association offer more suggestions for employers to improve indoor air quality.
Air quality may be a daily concern for some employees, potentially affecting their health and causing stress. Make employees feel as safe as possible by letting them know you’re committed to protecting air quality in the workplace. Explore remote work options if working comfortably on-site is an issue due to airborne allergens or toxins.
Demonstrating a commitment to clean air beyond the minimum requirements will show employees you care and help retain them. In addition, younger generations, who especially care about environmental concerns, will be attracted to employers who prioritize clean air initiatives. These initiatives will positively impact stress, health, engagement, and productivity.
16. Community service programs
Employer-sponsored community service or volunteering is one of the most popular wellness ideas for employees. All employees can get behind volunteering and giving back to the community.
It’s essential to offer community service programs to Boomers, who, according to WebMD, are more likely to view well-being as gratitude and positivity. Further, research shows that adults over age 65 who volunteer enjoy physical and mental health benefits. Social interaction and a sense of purpose can help decrease depression and anxiety.
The payoff for employers who emphasize community service is a more robust company culture, improved health outcomes, engagement, productivity, and employee recruitment and retention.
17. Walking meetings
Some employee wellness program ideas work for any organization, and this is one of them. Every company can implement walking meetings, even small organizations with a virtual workforce. Get the blood flowing by taking your next one-on-one meeting to go!
Employees are often so busy with work that they forget to make time for fitness breaks. Walking meetings are an easy way to take a break from sedentary office routines. They’re especially conducive to brainstorming and strategy sessions. Your phone has all the apps you need to take your meeting mobile.
Employers can relieve employee stress and support improved health outcomes by incorporating walking meetings into their workplace culture. By doing so, they can expect to see high engagement and productivity.
18. Fitness center and gym memberships
Not every employer can offer an on-site fitness center, but it’s easy to provide gym memberships to employees. Make it easy for employees to reduce stress and maintain their health by working out regularly.
Workout benefits can improve employee engagement and productivity, company culture, recruitment, and retention.
19. In-office fitness options
If you have the room, look for ways to bring fitness inside the office. This could be via a climbing wall, a designated area for stretching and cardio machines (if not a full-on gym), or a space to host group fitness classes. A Yoga class, in particular, is popular with employees because it offers mind-body benefits and reduces stress.
Make fitness more accessible to employees by bringing it in-house. As a result, you’ll see greater engagement and productivity, health benefits, and a tangible representation of company culture that supports recruitment and retention.
20. Healthy catered meals
If you can’t have an on-site cafeteria, a second-best option is offering healthy catered meals to workers. Make it a Wednesday tradition, or reward employees working overtime on a project. Either way, employees will be grateful that you fed them and provided a healthier option than the food truck outside. You can also consider installing on-site vending machines with healthy snacks.
Employers offering healthy catered meals can expect an uptick in employee morale, engagement, and productivity. Additionally, providing food supports company culture, recruitment, and retention.
21. Fitness challenges
Gamify fitness by issuing a fitness challenge, like a 5K or the most tracked steps in a set period. If employees train and complete their challenges together, your fitness challenge can double as a social activity. Incentivize employees to participate with rewards for the top performers.
Fitness challenges can be fun and social while supporting better health. Employers who make them a regular tradition can expect a surge in employee engagement and productivity. Fitness challenges also support company culture and positively influence recruitment and retention.
22. Accessible PTO
One of the most important things employers can include in a wellness program is PTO for employees to attend health screenings and take time off when they’re sick or need a mental health day. Often employees don’t feel they can take advantage of benefits like sick days, vacations, or even breaks. Not taking enough time off is directly associated with employee burnout.
Support employee mental health and positively impact engagement, productivity, and retention by offering generous PTO and consistently modeling that your organization expects everyone to take advantage of their benefits.
23. Office sports teams
Sports teams can be an excellent outlet for employees to engage in physical activity while strengthening bonds with co-workers and your organization. Help coordinate signups and reserve spaces for games and practice.
Workplace sports teams strengthen company culture, support recruitment and retention, and encourage employee health and wellness.
24. Smoking cessation programs
Smoking cessation programs are one of the longest-standing wellness ideas for employees. The American Journal of Preventive Medicine reports an estimated $185 billion is lost in productivity each year due to cigarette smoking, based on absenteeism, presenteeism, home productivity, and an inability to work. Smoking cessation programs have renewed relevance as younger generations embrace vaping.
While The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires that employers cover tobacco cessation, the American Lung Association recommends organizations go even further by giving employees who smoke the best chance to quit. One suggestion is to not limit the number of times someone can try stopping or penalize them for trying again.
Employers investing in smoking cessation and exceeding the minimum to help employees regain a healthy lifestyle can ultimately expect increased engagement and productivity.
25. Investment planning
According to Bank of America’s Wellness Benefits Report, 40% of employees want access to an investment professional. Show you care about your employees and earn their trust by providing that access. You can also bring in guest speakers and have workshops on financial planning and investment topics.
Encouraging employees to invest in their future now will reinforce your commitment to their long-term wellness in every aspect of life, from mental health to physical health to financial security. Employees will be more motivated, dedicated, and engaged in their roles.
26. Credit and debt management
Debt management is a top financial wellness concern for younger workers. Among workers who say their economic worries have severely affected their productivity at work, 67% struggle to meet household expenses on time each month, and 64% are using credit cards to pay for necessities. According to research, employees who are financially stressed are twice as likely to seek a new job.
Support employee retention and productivity by connecting employees with debt management solutions and providing educational resources, including advisors, workshops, and guest speakers.
27. Student loan relief
According to a report from The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Morgan Stanley, employees consider employer-provided student loan repayment one of their most important financial wellness benefits. In particular, employers who want to improve their value proposition for potential hires might consider offering monthly contributions to help employees pay off their student loan debt.
This employee wellness idea will positively impact recruitment and retention.
28. Direct deposit options to automate savings
Make it easy for employees to meet their financial goals by allowing them to automatically direct part of their income towards Health Savings Accounts (HSA), 529 college savings plans, or other saving plans. While Bank of America’s Wellness Benefits Report discovered that employee contributions to HSAs have declined, when offered, 89% of employees take advantage of these plans.
As an added benefit, this financial wellness idea will build trust and loyalty with your employees.
29. 401(k) retirement contributions
BofA’s report also noted that just a little over half (56%) of employees feel confident they’ll reach retirement goals. Offering a retirement plan is a good start.
Another option to boost employee engagement is by making it easy for them to enroll in a 401(k) during onboarding. Of course, employees can still opt out, but taking that extra step may make a difference in their participation.
Build additional employee loyalty and support retention by contributing an employer match.
30. Transportation cost relief
Many employees today are reluctant to go back to work on-site, heightening the relevance of offsetting transportation costs. Returning to work involves considerable costs that employees didn’t need to budget for while working from home during the last few years. Those costs can include clothes, food and beverage, and possibly childcare, in addition to the actual costs of transportation, like gas, insurance, and car maintenance and payments.
Whether reimbursing public transportation costs, facilitating ride-share coordination, or limiting the number of required on-site workdays, employers can generate goodwill and alleviate new stress for employees by sharing their transportation costs.
31. Professional development support
Tuition reimbursement is among employees’ most valued financial wellness benefits, according to a report from SHRM and Morgan Stanley. Investing in an employee’s career growth is a straightforward way for employers to demonstrate a commitment to them.
An estimated 42% of workers are funding their professional development through online courses and workshops, according to research. Their motivation for doing so is fear of losing their jobs.
Employers have an opportunity to reduce a significant stressor for workers, replacing fear with confidence and a sense of being valued. Those shifts will pave the way for increased employee engagement and productivity.
32. Dress code flexibility
Dress code expectations relaxed in the pandemic’s “Zoom era.” Evaluate what makes sense for your company today — can you go business casual 5 days a week? Or even 1 day a week? It’s not just an issue of appearances. Requiring professional business attire daily impacts employee comfort can inhibit expressions of cultural identity, and can be incredibly cost-prohibitive for younger workers.
By avoiding dress codes that aren’t necessary for business performance, organizations will realize a payoff through company culture and employee recruitment and retention.
What do employees want from a wellness program?
Before investing in employee wellness ideas, understand your employees’ needs. Start with a survey, poll, focus group, or company assessment. Be cautious about assessing results only by majority rule, as that will obscure the preferences of different employee groups (such as by gender, location, generation, and ethnicity).
In APA’s Work and Well-being Survey, the most desirable components of employee wellness programs include flexible work options (work hours and working remotely) and a 4-day workweek.
In the same survey, less than a third of workers reported that their employer-provided health insurance with mental health coverage. Of those who had access to mental health insurance, 93% said they felt the mental health support was adequate. These findings suggest a significant unmet need. Talkspace’s mental health care solutions can help employers looking to fill this gap and provide more mental health services to their employees.
Enhance workplace wellness and productivity with Talkspace
There are plenty of effective, proven employee wellness ideas to consider. The trick is finding the right mix of offerings to satisfy your employees while delivering the outcomes your business needs. The good news is, it’s usually not either-or. When employees are satisfied, your wellness initiatives are more likely to drive the ROI and VOI that supports business growth.
Many of these employee wellness program ideas are scalable and have accessible entry points. That means you might start with healthier vending machine options now and grow to catered healthy lunches. Or start with walking meetings now, and build a meditation room or climbing wall later.
One thing you don’t have to wait on is quality mental health services. Talkspace’s all-inclusive mental health solutions make it easy for employers to provide proven tools employees can access on demand. Talkspace matches employees with licensed therapists within days. Learn more about Talkspace’s comprehensive mental health solutions, including therapy for employees. We address the biggest roadblocks to productivity — stress, anxiety, and depression — so your employees can return to doing their best.
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