Often marked by long hours and unmanageable workloads, today’s corporate climate can quickly lead to burnout, which the World Health Organization (WHO) calls an “occupational phenomenon” and considers a disease. Further, the American Institute of Stress reports that 80% of workers feel stress on the job, which can worsen existing health problems, create new ones and, if left untreated, negatively impact employees’ mental health.
“So many employers push their employees for high engagement without providing resources to support employee well-being,” says Dr. Laura Hamill, chief people officer at Limeade and chief science officer of the Limeade Institute. In doing so, they’re pushing employees toward burnout. “Employers can sustain productivity and avoid burnout by investing in well-being,” she adds. “When engaged employees have the [chance] to reflect, recharge or build some flexibility into their lives, they are more likely to stay for the long haul and be resilient in times of change.”
Supporting employee well-being shows an organization cares — which can yield major business benefits: Limeade’s “Science of Care” report found that when workers feel their employers care about them, they are nine times more likely to stay at their company for three years or more, four times less likely to suffer from stress and burnout, and twice as likely to be engaged at work.
The business case for employee wellness programs is clear. How do the best ones succeed in improving employees’ well-being and, consequently, the business’ bottom line? Let’s examine the key characteristics of wellness programs that achieve both of these goals.
They Make Wellness More Accessible
Recent research from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services and League, Inc., highlighted a disconnect between companies’ investment in health benefits and their impact on employee health. Specifically, 58% of survey respondents said “employees are unaware of the company-provided health benefits to which they are entitled,” and 63% said “employees don’t know enough about how to leverage their benefits.” The researchers concluded that employers understand that “modernizing the employee health experience is more crucial than ever,” the press release stated.
Organizations can modernize their wellness programs by integrating flexible offerings that are accessible to a diverse range of employees. For example, after ClassPass expanded its offerings into corporate wellness, companies like Google and Facebook started using its mobile app to strengthen their wellness initiatives. The app enables employees to sign up for over 20,000 fitness classes and other wellness-related activities, such as massages and meditation sessions, at locations across the globe. “From an accessibility perspective, because of the variety and because of the flexibility of the product, it [can] be used anywhere, anytime, anyplace, by anyone who’s on the platform,” says Nicole Wolfe, director of programming at ClassPass.
Wellness programs should also make annual health screenings, preventative care and other health services easily accessible to reduce sick days and prevent future health problems. These offerings are critical from a business standpoint; e-days (an absence and leave tracking and management software company) research reported in its 2019 “State of Absence Report” found that a single sick day can cost a business approximately $143.
Of course, not all organizations are positioned to offer employees large solutions — but there are simple ways to integrate wellness into the employee experience. Laney Hooper, CHES, lead health coach at Healthgram, suggests promoting lunchtime walks and wellness-focused lunch-and-learns as ways to encourage wellness among employees. Even these minor integrations, she shares, can help improve productivity.
They Implement Wellness Coaching
Wellness coaching has become a popular (and effective) way to motivate employees to improve their health, especially as more people become certified wellness coaches. Brad Cooper, CEO of US Corporate Wellness, says, “Coaching is all about that individual: their lives, their background, their history, their discouragement, their day-to-day ups and downs, and that’s why I think it’s really starting to come to the forefront.”
By giving employees actionable advice that’s specific to their wellness goals, coaching can improve engagement in corporate wellness initiatives. If employees seem resistant to wellness coaching, Cooper suggests incentivizing it. Then, after they try it, initially hesitant employees may think, “That was actually really helpful. They weren’t telling me to eat spinach. They weren’t telling me to go buy running shoes. They were finding out about my life and what we can do going forward.” For organizations looking to achieve lasting engagement and behavior change, Cooper says, “That’s where coaching comes in.”
Wellness coaching also helps employees recognize specific areas for improvement, such as nutrition or sleep habits. Even for employees in good health, Hooper says, “There’s always something to work on — stress management, water intake — that might not necessarily be attributed to a chronic condition or an elevated lab [value] but could still use some coaching or some work.” With wellness coaching, employees can learn where to direct their wellness efforts.
They Take a Holistic Approach to Wellness
Wellness is more than striving to eat healthy and make those 6 a.m. workouts before arriving to the office. There are many aspects of wellness, and more job-seekers are looking for employers that are committed to supporting their employees’ overall well-being. Bright Horizons’ “The Business Benefits of Being a Dream Company” report found that employees consider organizations “dream companies” if they have cultures that support employee well-being, professional development, work/life balance, productive meetings and effective communication.
Corporate wellness programs must support employees across all areas of their lives to make a lasting impact. Organizations should remember that employees have a host of financial worries, family concerns and other cares they “bring to work,” says Jennifer Vena, vice president of consulting services at Bright Horizons. Through its child and elder care services, Bright Horizons supports employees so that they can bring their whole selves to work. The company also offers consultant-led well-being assessments to identify areas where employees need extra help, such as physical health or financial wellness, to ensure they have access to the support they need to succeed at work. “[Helping employees take] care of their life needs allows them to be more focused and productive,” Vena says.
Hamill agrees that successful wellness programs are comprehensive. In fact, the Limeade ONE platform, designed to support employee well-being, engagement, inclusion and communications, was created with this goal in mind. Hamill says that it focuses on “whole person well-being, including physical, financial and work [well-being].”
To effectively implement a holistic wellness program, training professionals and human resources (HR) leaders must work with executives to not only determine the best approach for the organization but also reinforce the program’s value as a “critical business initiative,” Hamill says. “So many wellness programs are put in a benefits silo without organizational support. Build bridges across those silos early on, reinforce the business value of well-being — authentically caring about your employees as human beings — and keep the program top of mind for all,” she advises.
Corporate wellness programs can substantially improve employee well-being and, in return, productivity and engagement by remaining accessible, implementing wellness coaching and taking a holistic approach. While it’s undoubtedly good for business, with the average employee spending 90,000 hours of his or her life at work, investing in employee well-being is also simply the right thing to do.