An employee sitting at his desk who is happy and healthy.

Ultimate Guide to Employee Wellness Programs

Good health is good business

Paul Drechsler



Employee Wellness Program is a health promotion activity or organizational policy undertaken to promote healthy behavior at the workplace and to improve the Health and Wellness of Employees. 

Wellness Programs include activities that range from hosting counseling sessions to organizing Fitness events at the workplace to organizing Annual Retreats for Employees.

The objective of having an Employee Wellness Program is to improve employee health and wellness, which in turn improves productivity at the workplace.

According to American Psychological Association, a healthy Workplace should include 5 components:

  1. Work-Life Balance
  2. Health and Safety
  3. Employee Growth and Development
  4. Employee Recognition
  5. Employee Involvement

A good Employee Wellness Program should focus on the above 5 components to have the maximum impact on employees.

Employee Wellness Program must be based on some metrics to measure the return on investment and must have some fun elements involved to keep the employees motivated and interested.

These metrics can range from measuring the reduction in health leaves taken and medical claims made by employees to improvement in productivity at the workplace.

Importance of Employee Wellness Programs for Organizations

Employees are the most valuable assets of any organization. Taking proper care of Employees pays off to the organizations in the form of:

1. Lower Healthcare Costs

Employee Wellness Programs involve activities that improve the health and fitness of employees. These activities reduce the employee’s medical expenses which are in most cases borne by the employer.

Wellness programs that promote healthy eating and physical activity reduce the chances of Lifestyle diseases amongst employees. This leads to fewer claims made by employees towards their medical expenses, which to a certain extent are covered in their salary.

2. Improved Productivity at Workplace

Productivity is all that matters to organizations. Therefore organizations invest in Employee Wellness Programs to maintain higher levels of productivity at the workplace. Wellness Programs reduce stress and improve the mental, physical and emotional health of employees.

Employee Wellness Programs also increase the focus and attention span of employees, thereby helping employees to do more work during office hours. The major gain from Wellness programs comes in the form of reduced conflicts at the workplace and improved collaboration amongst employees.

3. Improved mental and emotional health of employees

Employee Wellness Programs not only take care of physical health but also focus on the mental and emotional Health of Employees. Having a Wellness Program which focuses on all 3 aspects improves the health of Employees which in turn leads to less internal conflicts and higher chances of growth.

Good Wellness Programs target stress-causing factors and work towards reducing their impacts on employee’s work. It is in an organization’s interest to focus on stress management in their Employee Wellness Programs.

This is because stress can be caused by several factors that exist outside of work but still can impact employee performance at the workplace.

4. Talent Retention and Satisfaction

Good Employee Wellness Programs tend to keep the employee turnover in check and help in retaining and attracting talent. Employees these days not only look at the monetary benefits of working at a place, but they also look at non-monetary benefits like health and insurance programs, work-life balance, leave policy, etc.

Several Wellness programs also include the family members of employees and therefore provide an incentive to the employees to stay with the organization for a long time. 

5. Reduced Absenteeism at workplace

Improvements in the health of employees reduce the number of sick leaves taken by employees, therefore adding several hours of productivity.

It takes time for Employee Wellness Programs to actually produce this result since employees take time to adjust to the new health norms and policies at the workplace.

Some Wellness Program aspects require the employees to change their routine and behavior like practicing meditation and stretching along with drinking green tea. However, some aspects of wellness programs don’t require employees to change their behavior like installing ergonomic furniture, fitting air filters and sending employees for annual health checkups.

6. Better Culture at workplace

Having a proper Wellness Program in place promotes a healthy working culture due to proper focus on Employee work-life balance, employee health, and their growth and development.

The top management is fundamental in ensuring that the organization’s culture remains positive.

7. Best Practice

Having an Employee Wellness Program is considered as an Industry Best Practice for Organizations.

This boosts an Organization’s public image as well as attracts a lot of talent pool to the organization. 

These days most of the big organizations have Wellness Programs. It, therefore, becomes important for a medium and small organization to have wellness programs so that they can compete with their larger counterparts for the talent pool and industry respect.

Importance of Employee Wellness Programs for Employees

1. Improved Health

A table with a laptop and a medical equipment.

Employee Wellness Programs solely focus on improving Employee Health and Wellness. They improve employee’s Physical, Emotional and Mental health and support their personal growth. 

2. Stress Management

A stressed employee sitting in front of a laptop.

Employee Wellness Programs are highly effective in tackling stress amongst employees. Stress not only impacts performance at work but also impacts employee’s behavior at home.

Stress management is important for employees since stress might be caused due to factors outside of work and family, but still, it impacts work performance and relationships.

3. Low Burnout 

A happy employee working at his desk

Focusing on employee health and wellness reduces employee burnout in the workplace. Targeting stress-causing factors, having fixed working hours and promoting health-improving practices at the workplace reduce employee burnout.

Ergonomic furniture also reduces burnout at the workplace by ensuring that employees maintain proper body posture while working.
Wellness Programs also make employees resilient to burnout and stress. 

4. Work Life Balance

4 members of a family on a vacations due to Work-Life balance.

Work-Life Balance is a very important aspect of an employee’s life, especially married ones. A good Employee Wellness Program helps employees in improving their productivity and therefore reduces the time which they have to spend at the workplace. 

5. Reduced healthcare cost

Several medical pills kept on dollar currency notes.

A good workplace Wellness Program reduces the healthcare costs of employees. These Wellness Programs help in preventing Lifestyle Diseases like Obesity, Cardiac Issues, Blood Pressure, etc.

Wellness Programs also make employees conscious about their health and therefore urges them to address any health issues which may arise.

Are Employee Wellness Programs effective?

A carefully designed and executed Employee Wellness Program can be highly effective, sometimes exceeding all the expectations which the management might have initially from the program. 

A Wellness Program is like any other business strategy, if implemented correctly, it can do wonders to the organization; otherwise can do more harm than good.

Most of the Employee Wellness Programs have an ROI in the range of $3-$5 per $1 invested in terms of savings from Lower absenteeism, reduced Employee Health costs and an increase in productivity.

Employee Wellness Program can be considered as similar to the Employee training program, both help in improving employee performance and productivity at work.

Employee Wellness Ideas which cost nothing to implement

Employee Wellness Programs have both free and paid components. While both the components have their own importance, a combination of both produces the highest results.

Here are some of the best ways in which Employee Wellness can be improved without spending anything.

1. Rule of 478

An employee breathing fresh air.

This is a very effective and simple way to manage stress and anxiety. It involves a simple breathing exercise:

  1. Breathe in air through nostrils for 4 seconds.
  2. Hold the air for 7 seconds.
  3. Release the air through nostrils slowly for 8 seconds.

This exercise:

  1. Calms the nerves and mind.
  2. Improves the oxygen level in the blood, and
  3. Reduces stress and anxiety.

The exercise should be done at least 5 times:

  1. Before taking an important decision at work (or life in general). 
  2. When experiencing stress and anxiety.
  3. When feeling burned out at work.
  4. When feeling angry.

This is a highly proven method to manage stress and calm nerves. This costs nothing to practice but certainly helps employees in making better decisions and reduce errors at the workplace.

2. Stretching

An employee stretching his muscles at workplace.

Stretching is the best way to:

  1. Maintain proper blood flow
  2. Improve posture 
  3. Reduce body stiffness

Everyone should do some type of body stretches at home. However, organizations should encourage employees to do some stretching at work to improve their fitness.

These exercises can be called Deskercise. These stretches are usually recommended to people who have desk jobs like IT, Finance and Legal.

These stretches can be done by anyone, anytime, anywhere without using any equipment or changing clothes. All that a person needs is some motivation to practice these stretches regularly.

It takes 5-7 minutes to do these stretches and should be done at least twice daily: Once in the morning, once at the workplace.

3. Meditation

An employee meditating at workplace.

Mediation is one of the best ways to calm the mind and come to terms with one’s thoughts. Meditation is an effective tool to manage stress and depression and is widely practiced by several people on a daily basis. 

One should meditate for at least 10 minutes, twice daily. The ideal time to meditate is early morning and before going to sleep at night. 

All that one needs to meditate is a quiet place and some meditation music (if you want something to focus on). One can meditate at the home, office or even while traveling in public transport.

Organizations can set up rooms at the workplace where employees can meditate without being disturbed.

A 10-minute meditation coupled with a 5-7 minute stretching session in the office can increase the entire office’s productivity and promote the interaction between employees

4. Standing/ Walking meetings

4 employees standing and discussing their work.

Every organization has meetings (big and small) almost every day. These typical “sitting meetings” can be converted to “standing meetings” wherein all participants stand and participate in the discussion. Standing leads to burning off calories and makes employees more fit.

Some meetings/ reviews which don’t require the use of a screen or projector can be converted into walking meetings as well.

These meetings are recommended for a maximum of 30 minutes, post which the attention of the participants might deteriorate.

5. Climbing stairs

An employee climbing stairs at workplace.

Climbing stairs till at least the 4th floor is an amazing way to burn off those extra calories and improve fitness. Organizations should encourage employees to climb till the 4th floor of the building to make them fit.

This is highly recommended for employees who mostly sit throughout the day at their desks and refrain from engaging in any type of fitness activity.

So, these were some of the best Employee Wellness ideas which cost nothing to implement. However, these ideas take time to implement since it takes time for employees to get used to meditation or stretching or climbing stairs.

These habits have to be ingrained in the Employee’s daily lives to have a meaningful impact. It might take around 5-6 months to get employees used to such activities.

Organizations can put up posters for promotion of these practices and Top management can enforce these activities by following them first and setting an example.

Employee Wellness Ideas which offer high ROI

There are several Wellness Programs that are highly effective in terms of time and cost. These programs don’t take much time to be implemented and can deliver quick results.

Here are some Employee Wellness Ideas which deliver high Return On Investment:

1. Annual health checkup of employees

Annual health checkup of employees under their wellness program

Organizations can offer Biometric screenings/ Health checkups to their employees annually. These checkups are usually the first step in detecting any health irregularities which employees might have due to Obesity, Diabetes, Cardiac issues, etc.

Organizations can then design a Wellness Program tailored for the common health issues which the majority of the employees might have.

Organizations should also include the employee family members in these programs.

2. Ergonomic furniture at workplace

Ergonomic furniture installed at workplace.

One of the best investment which an organization can make for its employees is to have Ergonomic Furniture and infrastructure. Having proper chairs, desks (also standing desks), mousepads, etc. which promote the ergonomics at the workplace can have amazing results in terms of improvement in Employee Productivity.

Ergonomic Furniture promotes proper body posture which leads to reduced body stiffness and promotes blood flow in the body.

Apart from ergonomic furniture, organizations should also get their workplaces designed in a way that promotes employee wellness: selecting soft colors for office walls, having meditation and fitness rooms, adding plants within office space, etc.

3. Blue light blocking glasses for employees

Blue light blocking spectacles kept on an employee's desk.

Organizations these days are highly computerized and they require their employees to do most of their work through computers. Staring at a computer screen can cause stress in the eyes and hamper the sleep cycle.

This can be avoided by making sure that employees wear Blue Light blocking spectacles. 

Organizations can reimburse the cost of getting blue light blocking spectacles to employees who already have spectacles. For those who don’t have spectacles, organizations can arrange for orange sunglasses which reduce the impact of blue light on eyes.

4. Quarterly sports day

Quarterly sports day for company employees and their families.

Organizing sports days for employees every 3 months leads to increased levels of team building. This also motivates employees to improve their fitness. Organizations can also include employees’ families in such events to ensure that the participation rate is high.

5. Provide healthy snacks

Healthy snacks being served to company employees.

Offering healthy snacks and fresh juices to employees is an amazing way to prevent them from bingeing on unhealthy food and drinks (like cola or packed juices which have high sugar and preservatives).

The best way to promote healthy eating within employees is to always arrange for healthy foods for all official events.

6. Air Filters in Office

Pollution is rising in several cities across the globe and it becomes very important to fit Air Filters at the workplace to ensure employees that the surroundings in which they work are safe and pollution-free.

This doesn’t require any modification in employee behavior and routine but still improves their health and wellness.

7. Green Tea ( No soda or sugar drinks in office fridge)

Green tea served to employees under Employee Wellness Programs.

Several offices have tea and coffee vending machines. Organizations should promote green tea consumption amongst employees since it has several health benefits compared to the negative impacts of typical tea and coffee on the health of employees.

Green tea contains antioxidants and several nutrients which improve brain functioning, promote fat loss and reduces the risk of cancer.

Organizations should also remove soda drinks and packed fruit juices from their office kitchens and official events menu since these drinks have high sugar levels and preservatives.

8. Gifting fitness memberships to employees

A man running on a treadmill at a gym.

Buying a gym/ fitness membership for employees is a great way to make them strive for fitness. This usually works when the working hours are not long and daily commute time is less than 1 hour. 

Alternatively, big organizations can set up fitness studios at their workplace. Organizing group workouts at the workplace post working hours can also promote employee health and fitness.

Organizations can also host Fitness parties on weekends for their employees and family members

9. Yoga and Meditation classes at the workplace

A yoga session for employees organised at workplace.

Hosting meditation and Yoga classes at the workplace is also a great idea to include in your Wellness Program. These classes can introduce employees to the benefits of Yoga and Meditation and some basic exercises.

Interested employees can later take up these activities on a daily basis outside the workplace.

While it might be difficult to gather all employees at the same time and place for meditation, it is rather better to set up a meditation room where anyone can go and meditate without outside disturbance.

10. Set up Massage Chairs/ Hire a Masseuse

Massage at workplace

Setting up Massage chairs at the office or hiring professional Masseuse can be highly beneficial since massages offer quick body relaxation, help in calming nerves and reduce stress instantly.

Organizations can hire a masseuse for a couple of days every month and ask employees to book their slots beforehand (Ideally 15-20 minute slots). 

11. Smoking Cessation Program

Smoking cessation program at workplace.

Organizations can host Smoking Cessation programs to help employees quit smoking. This program can also be incentivized in terms of offering food coupons or vouchers to employees who quit smoking completely.


One of the best ways to discourage smoking amongst employees is to set up smoking rooms a little farther from the workplace or even outside the workplace.

12. Desk Plants

A small plant kept on a desk besides a computer.

Give employees some mini plants to keep on their desks. Plants are considered as the source of life and looking at them can make employees feel happy and lively.

Gifting ideas to improve Employee Wellness

Changing the type of gifts that an organization gives to its employees also changes the Health and Wellness ecosystem within the organization. Gifting goods which promote Health, Fitness and Wellness can have a great impact on the overall employee performance.

Some examples of Wellness gifting options are:

1. Yoga mats 

A woman holding a blue yoga mat.

Gifting Yoga mat along with company-branded sports T-shirts is an amazing way to send a message to employees about Health and Fitness. Gifting this accessory can nudge employees to engage in fitness activities at home.

2. Acupuncture/ Acupressure goods

Acupressure equipment like balls, keychains, handles, etc. helps in activating blood flow, relieves employees of tiredness and increases the energy flow in their body.

Organizations can keep acupressure balls on each employee’s table.

3. Blue Light blocking screen guards for Laptops, computer screens and mobile phones.

This is an ideal gift for employees who have desk jobs which primarily involve using a computer screen for more than 5 hours daily.

Organizations can reimburse the amount to the employees who buy blue light blocking spectacles and screen guards.

4. Fitness bands

Fitness bands track heart rate, sleep cycle, steps and a lot of other metrics. Organizations can gamify these metrics and award those employees who show improvement.

Some of the metrics can be: walking 5K+ steps daily, sleeping for 7 hours daily, etc.

5. Indoor plants

Plants are considered as the source of life. Placing them on desks can make employees feel healthy, happy and motivated.

6. Green Tea packets

Green tea contains Bioactive Compounds that improve health. Also, promoting the use of green tea is better since other forms of hot drinks like Tea and Coffee have harmful impacts on health.

7. Sugar-Free sweets with no preservatives

Organizations give sweets to employees on several occasions. It is better to prefer sugar free sweets with no preservatives for gifting purposes.

8. Healthy snacks

Organizations should gift healthy snack packets to employees to prevent them from bingeing on unhealthy snacks and sodas.

Apart from gifting these snacks, organizations should also offer these snacks for free of cost to employees on a daily basis.

9. Gym/ Yoga-Meditation studio Memberships

Sending employees to fitness and yoga-meditation studios is an amazing way to improve workplace productivity since employees not only get fit but also improve their mental health which leads to smoother functioning of the organization and fewer conflicts at the workplace.

10. Marathon Passes

There are several marathons that are organized for employees only.

Sending your team to these marathons/ events is an effective way to send out a message that the organization takes care of Employee Health and fitness.

11. Wellness and health targets in Annual Reviews

Organizations should focus on employee health and wellness in their annual work review.

Employees should be asked to mention their health and wellness goal at the beginning of every year and their progress should be reviewed in the annual performance assessment.

Implementing this policy will push employees to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

There are several other ideas as well, but the key is to choose only a couple of these ideas and implement them properly before going on to the next stage (which usually involves increasing the spending on Wellness Programs).

Things to take care of while implementing Employee Wellness Programs 

Employee Wellness Programs can make or break employee efforts. Having a carefully designed Wellness Program can promote Employee Health, Fitness and Wellness, and having an improper plan can break employee efforts and reduce productivity at the workplace.

The management must take the following precautions while implementing a Wellness Program at the Workplace:

1. Get the leadership team on-board first.

The first step to implementing any Wellness Program is to get the leadership team on-board.

Having a Leadership team that pushes its employees and participates with them in Health activities motivates the employees to engage in the Wellness activities even more.

2. Don’t go for a complex program. Simple is always better.

Sometimes going for the simplest forms of Wellness Programs can deliver the highest amount of results.

Organizations should implement wellness programs in stages, going with basic activities first and then moving to more advanced ones at a later stage. 

3. Let the employees know why Wellness programs are important and get them on-board.

Proper communication is key. Letting the employees know about the importance of the Wellness Program can be highly helpful for getting employee support and participation.

Employees will participate more if they are aware of the benefits of the program.

4. Use positive incentives instead of negative incentives to promote the wellness program

The use of rewards rather than fines and punishments is the best way to incentivize employees for participating and giving their full efforts in the Wellness Program.

5. Internal staff + External consultant

It is always better to have someone from the Human Resources team assist the external Wellness company/ consultant in designing and implementing the wellness Program because the HR personnel knows about the organization’s work culture, employee profile and requirements.  

6. Include Employee’s family as well

One of the biggest mistakes which Organizations make is to exclude the employee’s family from the Wellness program.

It is easier to get healthy when you know that your family is also benefiting from it. It is all about social support.

7. Monitor

If an organization is not careful about its Wellness Program costs, it can get too expensive and then it might not give out desired results.

It is essential to monitor the progress of each wellness program closely. Organizations should always focus on implementing a basic program first and then measure their results.

If the basic programs work, then only should the organization move ahead with more advanced programs.

Cost of implementing Employee Wellness Programs

Employee Wellness Programs costs can vary depending on the type of activities an Organization wishes to include in the Program.

The cost per employee can range from $20 for a very basic program to more than $1000+ for an advanced level program per year.

Conclusion

An organization must look into its objectives and desired outcomes before selecting a Wellness Plan. It is always recommended to start with a small budget and then increase the budget as and when the targets are achieved. It is best to pick one target/ objective at a time and not get overwhelmed in the process.

Employees are the most important assets of any organization and maintaining employee’s health and fitness is also their responsibility. So, an organization must have a Wellness program in place.

There should be regular audits and revisions of the Wellness program as per the changes in circumstances (employee health, new challenges/ diseases, etc.), budgets and requirements of Employees.

Every organization should have an Employee Wellness Program in place. After all, Employees are the biggest asset of any organization.

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