How workplace wellness programs make you healthy, wealthy and wise
In many workplaces, new trends in employee health and wellness are starting to pop up that break from the old standbys. It’s not limited to just a few wellness initiatives that make a company look good. There is a smorgasbord of different programs and services that can benefit employees and their families in many different ways. Even common wellness programs are being revamped to make them more exciting and worthwhile.
In this Blue Paper, we will take a look at how employee health and wellness programs help organizations and show how you can implement the latest trends in your workplace.
Why wellness at work works
Wellness in the workplace has real, lasting benefits. According to the 2016 AFLAC® Workforce Report, employee satisfaction increases when a company has a wellness program. And when your employees are happy, you’re likely going to be really happy. Why? Fast Company reports that happiness leads to a 12 percent spike in productivity, while unhappy people were 10 percent less productive.
But it’s not just the companies saying these things. Employees agree.
- According to the 2016 AFLAC Workforce Report linked above, those who took part in company-sponsored wellness programs reported more job satisfaction (80 percent) than those who did not (58 percent).
- Workers enjoy wellness programs. Of those workers who reported being happy with their benefits package, 76 percent took part in a workplace wellness program.
- If a company didn’t offer a wellness program, job satisfaction dipped to 57 percent, and less than half of employees (46 percent) were happy with their benefits package.
Wellness programs give back what you put into them
Wellness programs are a big plus for employees. But what about the employer? We know that productivity goes up when people are feeling good about themselves and the company. But how else does a keen focus on wellness help?
For starters, employees are generally healthier. A study by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans looked at the value on investment (VOI) of wellness efforts in different organizations. It discovered that wellness programs led to reduced healthcare costs at 56 percent of the companies surveyed. Thirty-one percent had lower disability and workers’ compensation claims. Plus, over half had reduced absenteeism. You start putting those numbers together and the benefits are obvious. Need proof? Almost 40 percent of employers said that improved financials and growth were tied to workplace wellness initiatives.
Here are more incredible facts about the VOI of wellness in the workplace:
- 42 percent noticed increased productivity
- 33 percent showed an improvement in recruitment
- 21 percent said turnover dropped
One-fifth of employers mentioned decreased turnover—that means those really good employees you want to keep likely will stick around. Other facts from the 2016 AFLAC Workforce Report showed that 52 percent of employees who didn’t use wellness programs were likely to begin a new job search. But only 46 percent of wellness program users were ready to look elsewhere. Six percent may not sound like a lot, but that’s three employees out of every 50 who are more likely to stay than to leave. And what if those three employees are some of your best?
Garden-variety workplace wellness programs
What kinds of wellness initiatives do you have in your workplace? What are other companies doing?
Many wellness programs are pretty similar. Check these out and see if you’ve been with an organization that offered any of the following:
- Smoking cessation programs
- Flu shots
- Health risk screenings
- Fitness challenges
- Disease management
- Health coaching
- Healthy food choices
- Weight management
- Employee assistance
Often, when an organization looks at the benefits of wellness in the workplace, they look to programs that have had at least some success everywhere. The problem is that if every company offers a similar program, how do you differentiate yourself to both attract and retain top talent?
Let’s get trendy—Employee wellness ideas that make you stand out from the crowd
There’s a simple solution: Ask what different employee wellness ideas you can champion. To help, we’ve compiled a guide to the latest trends in workplace wellness—ones that go beyond the ordinary.
Tracking fun and fitness
A few years ago, the top fitness-tracking tech was a pedometer that clipped onto your pants and, if you were lucky, gave a reasonable estimate of how many steps you took in a day. Those are long gone, replaced by fancy, state-of-the-art fitness trackers. Some are purely functional, but others are designed to look like fancy jewelry or a stylish watch.
Not only do these devices count the steps you’ve taken (and far more accurately than their pedometer predecessors), but they can also follow your sleep, nutrition habits, heart rate and more. Some have a built-in GPS that can track exactly where you’ve been, great for runners and cyclists who want to know just how far they’ve traveled.
What else do these gadgets have going for them? Peer pressure. Social networking is a powerful accountability tool, letting people share their results with each other, pushing themselves along the wellness path. What’s more motivating than the “I can do that, too” feeling that comes from a friend sharing their morning run?
Tracking employees’ wellness with these devices is a fast-growing trend in the workplace. In fact, according to CIO.com, Fitbit® offers group discounts on its trackers to encourage their use for workplace wellness. In some companies, employees track their fitness levels on trackers or web apps, report results, and earn rewards or prizes. The CIO.com article featured several employers who use fitness tracking in wellness programs and reported positive results such as:
- Greater workplace engagement and morale
- Shared workout tips and healthy recipes
- Decreased absenteeism and increased productivity
- Decreased medical expenses
There are drawbacks, however. CIO says that few—likely a minority of employees—will be willing to participate and share results. Also, if companies are expecting to buy fitness trackers, they face a high up-front cost.
New ways to beat stress
According to the 2015 American Psychological Association Stress in America™ survey (PDF), 60 percent of Americans say work causes stress. Yet, one in five says they don’t do anything to relieve or manage stress. Long periods of feeling stressed out causes people to overeat or eat unhealthy food, lose sleep and become irritable. This, of course, negatively affects productivity at work.
Many workplaces have noticed the trend and implemented ways to help reduce and manage stress:
Quiet time: Corporate Wellness Magazine® says more companies are creating space during the day for employees to quietly journal or even daydream. Companies that lead stress-management efforts also are offering on-site meditation instruction.
Knitting: With all the emphasis on new workplace wellness trends and finding different ways to do things, sometimes old is new again. Knitting—using decidedly low-tech needles and yarn—is becoming a beneficial component of corporate wellness programs.
Fifty-three percent of consumers aged 18-34 who took part in the Craft Yarn Council’s 2014 Tracking Study (PDF) knit or crochet daily. And for good reason! Corporate Wellness Magazine says there are many health benefits to knitting. The repetitive motions calm the mind and body, which helps create a more relaxed mood. The math involved in knitting patterns (counting rows and stitches) helps keep the mind sharp and focused. Because the benefits are numerous and noticeable, many companies are adding knitting and crocheting activities to their wellness education programs.
Office gardens: Once in a while, you’ll find a little Zen garden on a coworker’s desk. “It’s for de-stressing,” they’ll say. But what if there was a different type of garden with more benefits?
Getting people away from their desks and bringing them together for fresh air, sunshine and friendly cooperation, office gardens are growing in popularity for companies of all sizes, says Corporate Wellness Magazine.
They’re low-cost, requiring little more than space, sun, dirt and seeds. Steve Bates, gardener and manager of online editorial content at the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM)®, says that gardening “hits a lot of themes. Companies pay tons of money for off-site team-building things, or bring in high-paid, high-powered consultants. They accomplish the same things with seeds and a strip of land.”
Of course, gardens are fantastic sources for fresh flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables. Employees can take them home and share them with their families or support their local food pantry by donating their crop.
Athleisure for all
Combining “athletic” and “leisure,” this clothing trend trades buttoned-up pantsuits for buttoned-down comfort, yet still keeps a stylish corporate edge.
Athleisure apparel is like the cool kid everybody wants to hang out with, and its popularity is growing. Randi Dukoff, Partner/CEO of The Corporate Wellness Consulting Group, says athleisure “is becoming bigger than a trend.” And with the right combination of layers, it’s becoming easier for people to go from work to workout and back again.
These clothes are a brilliant combination of function and form that can be worn almost anywhere. Big-name designers, such as Tory Burch and Rebecca Minkoff and Kate Hudson, are creating fashion-forward athletic wear that not only looks great, but feels great all day long. According to the HR Daily Advisor®, feeling great in athleisure clothing translates into less stress for employees. Many companies are rewriting their dress codes to include athleisure where it fits into their policies and culture.
Feeling good by doing good
Looking at all these fantastic employee wellness ideas, everything is centered around the employee. But why can’t wellness in the workplace go beyond the walls of the company? As it turns out, that’s exactly what many companies are doing.
According to WebMD®, people who volunteer have stronger hearts and immune systems, and have less pain. One study by UnitedHealth Group® shows that 76 percent of people who volunteered within the past 12 months say they feel healthier, and that 94 percent say volunteering improves their mood.
Lately, more companies are tying charitable giving to fitness goals. One example is Target® which, in 2015, gave $1 million to the charity of choice for the team that won a month-long fitness challenge. For smaller businesses, a company charity challenge could be as simple as earning points for walking during lunch breaks, with the winning team choosing who receives the donation. Or participants earn points toward an award every time they volunteer with a community organization. The possibilities are endless.
Beyond physical health
So people are getting their bodies in shape. Fantastic! But some progressive companies are also investing in their employees’ minds. The Society for Human Resource Management says that many wellness initiatives now emphasize social and community networking and financial planning, including investment recommendations and prepping for college and retirement.
The bottom line on wellness programs at work
How do you know if your workplace wellness programs are improving the lives of your employees?
There’s a simple, one-word answer, according to Phil Daniels, co-founder of Healthiest Employers®. And that’s data. “Employers are auditing and evaluating claims data, biometric results, and pharmacy usage to feed predictive modeling forecasts on a near real-time basis, instead of waiting for the year-end snapshot,” Daniels says. “This allows a much more flexible approach to adjust spending throughout the year for the greatest impact and ROI.”
For a purely dollar-based return on investment (ROI), the RAND Corporation says (PDF) overall ROI on wellness spending is about $1.50 for every $1 spent. But actually measuring ROI is an inexact science. Mike Tinney, CEO of Fitness Interactive Experience, told CIO.com that you just might have to go with your gut. “You can measure health improvement through biometric screening,” Tinney says. “You can measure engagement and retention. You can count calories and steps. But a hard ROI is challenging, because your biggest expense relating to health is insurance, and many external factors influence the cost of insurance coverage. If you’re willing to buy into the notion that a healthier human being is more efficient, sick less often and happier, then investing in these programs for your employees (and yourself) makes a lot of sense.”
So go ahead and get excited about what wellness in the workplace can do for your organization. Do a little dance. Have a bowl of something tasty. And track it all digitally. Pretty soon, you may have an entire company full of healthier, more energized and extra-productive employees!