How to build an effective employee wellness program

employee wellness

It’s no surprise to see that employee wellness programs are on the rise. With absenteeism costing the Australian economy over $32.5 billion each year, companies are looking for ways to minimise the costs and better support the well-being of their employees. The disruptive effects of COVID-19 have made the need for these programs even clearer. 

However, as you’ll learn in this blog post, there’s more to an employee wellness program than subsidised gym memberships and free health screenings. We’ll explain how to build one that your employees actually utilise and has the flexibility to accommodate diverse work situations – including the one we face today with the pandemic. 

Why invest in wellness programs?

Up until the late 20th century, work was about bringing home a paycheck. Employees clocked in at 9 a.m., clocked out at 5 p.m., and went home to their families. The line between work and home was clear. Today, our approach to work looks drastically different. 

Now the majority of employees will spend one-third of their adult lives at work. Technology allows us to take our work anywhere and blurs the line between the office and the home. We also rely on work as a source of identity, socialisation, and personal development. Employers are recognising this shift and acknowledge that they need to take responsibility for the well-being of their workforce. 

However, there’s one problem. Many studies point to the fact that wellness programs don’t actually work. But the problem lies – not with wellness programs themselves – but as a result of companies not taking a holistic approach to them. This is a problem that can be addressed by being more strategic when building employee wellness programs. 

Guidelines to build an effective employee wellness program

To build an effective wellness program, companies need to focus on four pillars: financial, emotional, physical, and social. Having initiatives that map to each of these pillars will help you build a more holistic program and more easily measure the outcome of each one. Let’s explore the pillars in depth below.

Financial

Financial health is a core component of wellness but, unfortunately, one that’s frequently overlooked. To understand why financial wellness needs to serve as the foundation for every wellness program, consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. For those who aren’t familiar, the hierarchy is typically represented as a pyramid with five levels of needs: physiological, safety, love/belonging, self esteem, and self actualisation. The theory is that people need to fulfill their basic needs (physiological) before moving on to their higher, more advanced needs (self actualisation).

Having enough money to meet basic needs, such as buying groceries and paying rent, falls under the category of physiological needs. This means financial wellness is necessary to achieve before addressing the other pillars. Given that 1 in 5 Australians have less than $1,000 in savings, it’s clear that the financial health of employees needs to be a priority when building an employee wellness program. 

There are many initiatives you can introduce to help your employees prioritise their financial health, such as:  

  • Educational programs on topics like saving for key milestones and developing healthy financial habits
  • Encourage additional superannuation contributions
  • Financial planning services and tools to help employees map out their goals 
  • Real-time payments to make money management easier

Emotional

Untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces approximately $10.9 billion per year. But it goes beyond just costs. Employees struggling with mental health issues face many other consequences: they may have trouble performing at work, experience isolation, and find their personal and professional relationships negatively impacted. 

All of these side effects lead to unhappy, unproductive workers. As Josh Bersin describes: “if you want to make your employees “well” and “happy” you have to make it easy for them to do quality work.” One way to do this is to provide employees with the tools and resources they need to not only manage their existing mental health problems, but also proactively address them before they become more serious.

Here are a few mental health initiatives to consider offering: 

  • Counselling or coaching services (virtual and in-person)
  • Mental health resources on how to build resilience, unplug from work, and manage stress
  • Meditation or mindfulness apps 
  • A flexible leave policy that allows for mental health days

Physical

Most companies are already aware of the importance of physical health. But there are an overwhelming number of initiatives to choose from. The best way to choose? Ask your employees. Each workforce is different – for example, some may have more deskless workers or remote workers than others – and your wellness program should be customised to what your employees actually need. 

But if you need some ideas to help you get started, here are a few physical health initiatives to consider: 

  • Subsidised gym memberships or fitness classes
  • Flexible wellness budget that can cover everything from physical therapy sessions to running shoes
  • Preventive health offerings, such as health screenings and vaccinations
  • Private health insurance
  • Onsite activities and programs that get employees moving

Social

Finally, it’s critical for companies to recognise that their employees have a life outside the office. People need to connect with their loved ones and engage in non-work related hobbies to feel fulfilled. But employees may not feel like they have the time or space to do so, which is why companies need to create those opportunities for them. Not only does this lead to happier, more balanced individuals, but it also allows employees to be more present when they’re at work.

To give employees the time and space to cultivate their lives outside of the office, there are a few offerings you can introduce: 

  • Remote work or flexible schedules
  • Subsidised child care or pet care services
  • Experiential rewards that allow employees to participate in an activity of their choice
  • Unlimited leave policy 

If your company has been on the fence about introducing an employee wellness program, there has never been a better time to take action. Even after COVID-19 passes, the needs of employees will still remain the same. We believe all employers have a responsibility to support their workforce with a holistic approach to wellness – which means recognising all areas of worker’s health including the four pillars of wellness we reviewed in this article.

If you or your employees are in need of support during this time, be sure to check out The Flare Wellness Network, a free wellness hub designed to support Australian workers by giving them access to free benefits and offers, while encouraging businesses to partner together in an effort to support the wellbeing of the Australian workforce.

Never miss an article

Subscribe to news and trends to help empower HR and business leaders do their jobs better each week.

millennial-white-female-creative-standing-in-a-VG3U8NR
WellnessAtWork-Logo@2x

Join our community [email protected] — where HR and employers can get the latest on HR strategies, workplace relations issues and employee-centric initiatives