What Employees Really Want in Wellness Programs

What Employees Really Want in Wellness Programs

January 13, 2021

In an era when the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) estimates that workforce unwellness costs the US economy a staggering 12% of its GDP each year, employers are, or should be, invested in the outcomes of wellness programs. Unfortunately, research from the same institution shows that while more than half of US employees may have access to wellness programs, at least another third don’t use the programs all. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) also reports lackluster participation in programs, with fewer than 40% of employees using available programs. Meanwhile, research by Robert Half suggests that 73% of professionals surveyed said a company’s health and wellness offerings influenced their decision to work there. This disconnect between stated “want” and actual use leaves human resource teams wondering what employees really want.

As it turns out, the success of a Wellness program lies in both the delivery and perceived intent. GWI reported that only 25% of employees in a recent survey believed management actually cared about their wellness and that 50% of employees surveyed felt the company wellness program provided was strictly to control health care costs. So what are some ways to turn lackluster engagement into successful outcomes?

“There needs to be leadership from management to create grassroots wellness champions, committees and a corporate culture that embraces the program,”

- Jasmine Piggott, BHS Benefit Specialist

SHRM reported the following wishlist in its research on what employees are looking for in a Wellness program:

  • 75% want a personal touch from live experts such as coaches and specialists who are credible and engaging
  • Easy to access and one-on-one support
  • Connects health results to everyday choices and want
  • Provides information on new programs, tips, deadlines and custom topics
  • Provides onsite facilities, which signals culture change
  • Supplies online programming that offers live classes
  • Gives examples of “people like me” success stories
  • Offers a supportive company culture
  • Develops activities that are personalized and targeted to their specific needs and that support work/life balance

A well-designed company Wellness plan is more than a portal tracker or a workout program, though those are popular base options.

According to SHRM, 73 % of employees surveyed said they want healthy vending and cafeteria options, while only 45% of employers reported providing it.

A robust Wellness program will also integrate services such as training, ergonomics, Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), disease management, health screening, and vaccination programming.

Further, employers can use health data to create smart communications – using health risk assessments, claims data or personal health records to tailor Wellness content to individuals. Stress-reduction, mental health, and financial wellness have been popular content during the pandemic.

Company-wide wellness is a “long game.” Typically, employers can expect a 3-5 year period to show a ROI. Here are some of the statistics you can track to measure your company Wellness effort:

  • Has the number of sick days decreased since the program was launched?
  • Have the number and costs of health insurance claims decreased?
  • Has productivity increased?
  • Has workplace stress been reduced?
  • Has the workforce become less obese?
  • Has the workforce become more physically fit?
  • Has tobacco use among employees gone down?
  • Has the program reduced addiction problems?
  • Have workplace injuries decreased in number and severity?
  • Has employee engagement improved?
  • Has retention been improved?

The health and wellness market space is crowded, and if recent investment trends are any indication, will continue to grow in the future. Savvy companies will want to keep pace with consumer trends, looking for new ways to integrate data to inform the design of their programs.

Crunchbase, a company that lists business information for private and public companies, estimates that at least a billion dollars in venture funding were raised in the last year by early-stage technology companies in the health and wellness space.

Companies focused on personalized food and nutrition, diagnostic trackers, and stress management are among those likely to see more growth from consumers and investors alike in the future.

Integration of these kinds of tools to leverage Wellness data points into risk assessments and program design will help employers improve program delivery, and ultimately, employee satisfaction.