The workplace is a stressful environment for many employees. With deadlines, repetitive tasks and pressure from executives, it’s common for the mind and body to feel overwhelmed. Given the prevalence of chronic stress and its impact on today’s workforce, offering an employee health and wellness plan is one of the most important things you can do for the well-being of your employees and your business. Learn why you should have a health and wellness program in place at your company and how to implement such a plan, and get strategies for encouraging employee wellness in the workplace.
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Stress in the workplace is a serious problem that, left unaddressed, could have devastating consequences for your employees and your business. A study from The American Psychological Association found that workplace stress is exceedingly common, with 71 percent of employees experiencing chronic stress at work. Employees who reported regularly feeling stressed or tense were over three times more likely to say they plan on seeking new job opportunities within the following year. Chronic workplace stress was also found to negatively impact employees’ health and performance at work, with nearly three in five employees reporting physical and mental symptoms including cognitive weariness, physical fatigue, lack of energy, interest and/or motivation, difficulty focusing, and emotional exhaustion.
But for better or worse, your business is only as healthy as your employees. When employees feel their best, they perform their best, thus encouraging their co-workers to follow suit. Of course, the opposite is also true. By providing your team members with healthy options and initiatives, you benefit your business by helping to prevent employee sickness, fatigue and mental burnout while expressing care for your staff members as people who are more than just worker bees. These incentives can also act as team-building practices, leading to a more positive company culture.
Here’s why offering a health and wellness program is in your organization’s best interest.
Employees who are mentally and physically healthier have reduced stress levels and more energy, which allows them to be more present and engaged at work, leading to a higher quality and volume of output. Lost productivity costs U.S. businesses billions every year, and while poor health isn’t the only cause, it is a major one — so addressing it is the key to minimizing the consequences.
The best employees know their worth and are in a position to be picky about where to work. There’s a reason many of the world’s top employers offer health and wellness benefits that go beyond basic health insurance: They’re all competing to attract and retain the best talent. Providing extra health and wellness perks is a great way to give your organization a competitive edge in the labor market and show prospective employees that their well-being would be a top priority if they were to join your company.
If you don’t already do so, offering your employees health insurance is a great first step in caring for their health and wellness. Navigating the range of insurance options and unfamiliar terminology can be daunting, so we’ve put together a handy guide to small business health insurance to help you get started.
The healthier your employees are, the less you have to spend on healthcare for them. Preventive measures such as health and wellness programs might cost more upfront but will pay for themselves in the long run through reduced overall healthcare costs. Of course, how much you save depends on how effective your program is, so ensuring your health and wellness plan is comprehensive and engaging is vital to achieving this benefit.
Participating in health and wellness programs, especially those that include team-based or group activities, can help employees connect and encourage collaboration. Colleagues who feel connected and collaborate are more productive and innovative, and they produce higher-quality work. Because human connection is a cornerstone of mental health, health and wellness initiatives that promote teamwork are good for both your employees and your company’s output.
Before creating your employee health and wellness program, you’ll need to plan it out. Doing so will help you gather the resources required to put the plan into action and ensure that it meets your employees’ specific health and wellness needs, which may vary depending on your business size, type and scope. Here are some questions to consider when you’re planning your health and wellness program, as well as some basic elements it should include.
When you’re developing a health and wellness program for your company, ask yourself the following questions:
Start by looking at the specific health and safety issues affecting your employees. Consider workplace-specific concerns, how they are currently monitored and managed, the degree to which they affect employees, the number of employees affected and any associated costs (such as healthcare or insurance).
What are the potential health impacts you want your program to achieve? What proportion of employees would benefit? Look into evidence-based initiatives you can implement to ensure your plan has a greater impact and chance of success. Depending on the size and scope of your company, you may want to consider offering programs or services tailored to different subgroups of team members with varying needs.
Be sure to consider the cost and ease of implementing your health and wellness program, as well as the time required to establish and maintain it. Talk to your employees to gauge their interest in your proposed initiatives, and welcome their input. You want your program to be achievable, appealing and beneficial to your staff.
Once you’re ready to put your health and wellness program together, here’s what it should include to ensure maximum impact and long-term success:
Your program documentation should start with a general mission statement about the plan’s objectives and vision, including specific, measurable goals that are compatible with your business objectives. This not only helps make your program tangible and achievable but allows you to track its successes and possible failures against what you set out to do and adjust things accordingly. Get more guidance on evaluating your program below.
List all the initiatives you’ve chosen to implement, which can include things like policies, benefits, programs, activities, environmental supports, and expansions of existing initiatives. Set a timeline for their implementation, including actionable steps and target completion dates. You’ll also need to include an itemized budget for these initiatives, as well as any resources they’ll require, such as staff, equipment, space and materials.
Include clearly defined roles and responsibilities for everyone involved in implementing and managing your health and wellness program. Depending on the program’s size and scope, it may involve lots of people across different company departments and/or locations, or even outside organizations, such as community groups, hospitals or suppliers.
Before implementing your program, you should have a plan for evaluating its successes, failures and impacts. This will allow you to make changes as needed if some aspects of your program aren’t working or need tweaking. Start by reflecting on the desired outcome(s) of your program, and develop appropriate strategies for evaluating progress toward them. Decide what will be measured and how, including what data you’ll need to collect and your method(s) for collecting it. The resources required to evaluate your program should be included in your overall program budget.
A communication plan is a critical part of any wellness program. Having a program is one thing, but you also need to spread awareness about it to your employees and communicate with them about whether the program is meeting their needs. Depending on the size of your organization, your communication plan might include creating a brand identity for the program, materials and messages for reaching the program’s target audience(s), strategies for promoting the program to employees, a plan for communicating the program’s purpose, initiatives and the results of those initiatives, and/or collecting employee feedback about the program.
Want feedback from your employees about what they’d like to see in a health and wellness program or insight on how well your new initiatives are working? Conducting an employee survey is a great way to give workers a chance to express their needs and help you create a program that works for them or to adjust your existing one to meet their needs.
Here are some ways to support and promote employee health and wellness, either as part of a more comprehensive health and wellness plan or as stand-alone initiatives:
Offer flexible work schedules. Allowing your employees as much flexibility as possible regarding the number of hours or days, and which hours and days, they work, can have a significant impact on their health and wellness. A 2022 study by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that this is the No. 1 support employees would like to see their employers offer.
Foster a workplace culture where time off is respected. Promoting a workplace culture that respects time off and lets employees feel like they can truly unplug when they’re off the clock without feeling guilty or worried about their job status will result in happier, healthier staffers who give their best when they’re at work.
Let employees help identify and offer solutions to workplace problems. Employees are your best resource for identifying and solving the problems they face every day. Letting them actively participate in this process will not only result in a better, more productive work environment for everyone but also empower your employees and make them feel valued, which boosts their mental health.
Encourage breaks. Ensuring that your employees take breaks every day is an essential part of reducing workplace stress, fatigue and employee burnout, as well as increasing productivity. Team members should feel like they can fully disconnect from work during their breaks, free of guilt or the possibility of interruption. Providing a break room that is comfortable, inviting and separate from areas where work is performed is one way to encourage distraction-free breaks.
Make the work environment inviting and comfortable. A crucial component of creating a positive work environment is prioritizing your employees’ comfort, which will benefit their mental and physical health and make them feel welcome in the office. This includes considering how lighting, temperature, furniture and layout affect employee comfort.
Offer health insurance that includes mental health coverage. If you offer health insurance to your employees, it should cover mental health in addition to physical health. The APA reported that while only 30 percent of employees reported that their employer offers health insurance that includes mental health coverage, 93 percent of those receiving this support found it to be effective.
Keep your company well staffed. Overwork is a well-documented cause of work-related stress, but ensuring your organization is fully staffed at all times is a simple and effective way to keep workloads manageable for your employees. This might not mean adding more staff with the same job title; instead, you might consider creating new positions that would relieve existing staff of some of their duties.
Give employees more autonomy. Giving employees more control over the way they work can benefit their health significantly. Increased autonomy empowers team members and makes them feel less alienated, resulting in reduced stress, lower turnover and higher job satisfaction. [Read related article: Employee Freedom Breeds Loyalty and Commitment]
Promote physical fitness. Exercise is a great way to boost your employees’ mental and physical health. Planning team events such as hikes, softball games and local fun runs is an easy, low-pressure way to get your staffers moving while connecting with each other. Installing an office gym or offering free or discounted gym memberships can also motivate your employees to incorporate regular physical activity into their lifestyles.
Encourage connection. Social interaction is a basic human need, so the place where employees typically spend most of their waking hours shouldn’t feel isolating and devoid of human connection. In fact, research shows that having friends at work reduces stress and improves longevity. Promote connection by providing spaces where employees can socialize, letting them do so while they work so long as it doesn’t interfere with the work environment or their ability to perform. You can also provide a confidential, unmonitored internal social platform where employees can connect and talk throughout the day.
Letting your employees work remotely whenever possible can not only reduce their stress but also increase their productivity, making it a win for everyone. In addition to promoting a better work-life balance, remote work eliminates the daily commute, which has a negative correlation with job satisfaction and general well-being.
Employee health is inseparable from your business’s health. Offering a health and wellness plan can improve employee happiness, productivity and loyalty, as well as give you an advantage over other employers in your sector. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to putting such a program together, which is why carefully planning out your initiative is necessary to ensure maximum success and impact. A good health and wellness program should engage your employees and meet their needs while remaining realistic and achievable within your organizational, spatial and financial constraints.
If you lack the resources to put together a comprehensive health and wellness program, there are still steps you can take to improve employees’ health and minimize the mental and physical toll that work takes on them, so it’s important to do as much as you can. Your employees and your organization will benefit from health and wellness efforts both big and small, regardless of whether they are part of a formal program. Plus, any stand-alone health initiatives you implement can be incorporated into a complete program, where they can be built upon or expanded.
Taking steps to improve employee health and wellness isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also one of the best business decisions you’ll ever make.