Workplace Wellness Programs: Are They Really Worth It?

Workplace wellness programs
If you want to implement an effective wellness program, you need to set clear goals, budget accordingly, and encourage employees to participate.

Key points:

  • Workplace wellness programs are popular, but they don’t guarantee healthier employees.
  • If you want to implement an effective wellness program, you need to set clear goals, budget accordingly, and encourage employees to participate. 
  • Successful wellness programs can boost employee morale, productivity, and retention. 

These days, it’s difficult to find an employer who doesn’t provide some sort of workplace wellness program. In fact, 53% of small businesses and 81% of large companies offer wellness programs. From Olympic-sized swimming pools and on-call massage therapists to discounted gym memberships and free health screenings, wellness programs are an $8 billion industry, and that figure is only expected to grow. But before you create (or revamp) your own program – is it really worth it? 

Wellness ROI

Although popular, workplace wellness programs aren’t significantly cost-effective. In truth, the ROI for wellness programs is only $1.50, meaning that they barely reduce employer healthcare costs. Likewise, a study done at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign found that wellness programs had “little, if any, effect” on healthcare expenses. If you look solely at ROI, wellness programs don’t seem worth the investment. However, what wellness programs lack in ROI, they make up for in VOI (Value on Investment). 

Wellness Value on Investment (VOI)

In the University of Illinois study, wellness programs had little ROI, and participants weren’t measurably healthier.  But wellness program participants did make healthier choices and form better impressions of their employers. When compared to non-participants, they were more likely to get health screenings. They also thought their employer cared about them and their well-being.

Because of findings like these, the majority of employers (75%) are interested in the VOI, rather than ROI, of wellness programs. While ROI measures the direct financial gains of an investment, VOI measures indirect gains like impact on employee morale, company culture, productivity, and retention. Wellness programs often have high VOIs because they increase employee satisfaction and foster healthy habits in employees. 

How to create an effective workplace wellness program

If you want to create a successful workplace wellness program, consider both ROI and VOI. The following suggestions can help you implement a program that’s actually worth the investment: 

Set a clear, specific goal for your wellness program

Identify why you want to implement a wellness strategy. If your goal is to cut healthcare costs, a wellness program probably isn’t worth the investment for what you’ll receive back. But if you want to lower healthcare costs and improve employee health, a wellness program is probably a solid investment.

Maybe you want to lower healthcare costs by reducing the number of smokers at your organization. Maybe you want to increase employee engagement in your existing program. Turn these ambitions into clear, trackable goals with deadlines. Good goals might look something like this: Decrease the number of smokers by 5% in the year 2021 or Sponsor 3 company-wide wellness events in the first half of the year.

If you’re not sure what your goal should be, survey your employees. What are their individual wellness goals and needs? What do they want from a wellness program? How could you help them? You can also conduct health-risk assessments to tailor plans for employees who are at-risk for chronic conditions. If you decide to administer these assessments, consult with your legal advisor to ensure you stay compliant.

Define your budget

An effective wellness program doesn’t need to be expensive and flashy. While major companies like Google can boast on-site therapists and fitness facilities, that obviously won’t be feasible for every employer. When budgeting, account for equipment and product costs, training or educational fees, marketing materials, and time. Understand what you can afford and what your employees want, then allocate your funds as needed.

Many healthcare carriers also have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) built into their fees. EAPs offer a variety of services for things like wellness and substance abuse, but they can also assist with financial issues, child care, and trauma. Check with your carrier to see if EAPs are included in your fees. Even if they aren’t, the cost is usually minimal and the programs can be a great resource for your employees. 

If you’re looking for low-cost options, you can bring in healthy snacks (like a fruit salad), organize a walking group during lunch or after work, and provide small incentives like a monthly gift card drawing for employees who meet company-wide health goals.

Make sure your wellness program is holistic

Physical well-being is important, but an individual’s health is affected by their mental and emotional states, too. In the workplace especially, stress is a major concern. If left unchecked, it can even lead to depression and anxiety. Implement a plan that specifically addresses your employees’ mental and emotional well-being. 

Consider working with an online therapy service (like Talkspace or BetterHelp) so your employees can call or message therapists if they need someone to talk to. You could also offer stress management courses with certified professionals or PTO on birthdays so employees can have an extra day for self-care. 

If these services are outside your organization’s price range, give your employees access to free resources like a list of therapists covered under your organization’s insurance plan. You can also make sure they know about online resources, such as free screenings for mental health conditions. Any of these measures can reduce the stigma and encourage your employees to seek the help they may need.

Consider virtual wellness activities for remote employees

Workplace wellness programs aren’t limited to in-person work environments. If you have a remote or hybrid workplace, there are a variety of virtual wellness activities you can implement. Some examples of online activities include:

  • Group workouts, meditations, or yoga classes
  • Healthy cooking classes
  • Mental health workshops
  • Art therapy sessions
  • Water drinking challenges and other friendly competitions

Encourage employee support and engagement

A wellness program will only be effective if your employees are actively engaged. To kick things off, form an employee-led committee to take charge of workplace wellness challenges and events. The members of this committee will be able to motivate their peers and communicate employee needs and interests. Make sure you set guidelines for the team, though, so they don’t burn out or neglect their job responsibilities. 

Don’t be discouraged if some employees aren’t interested in the wellness program. Wellness programs often aim to change behavioral habits, and it takes time for people to adjust and feel comfortable working towards their health goals.

How benefits experts can help

After you implement your workplace wellness program, you’ll want to see if it’s actually successful. Is your wellness program decreasing your healthcare costs? Are your retention rates higher?

Sentric’s licensed benefits experts can help you track these metrics and design custom benefit plans and wellness programs for your business. To see how easy employee benefits are with SentricHR, schedule a demo with one of our product experts today! 


The Sentric Team

The Sentric Team

At Sentric, we help businesses make people management easier with industry-leading technology and standout support.

Sentric HR & Payroll Insights

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