Is Your Employee Wellness Program Truly Effective?

Jessica Webb-Ayer

Employer wellness programs are typically designed to improve employee health and reduce health care costs. Wellness programs aimed at targeting employees’ physical health have often included activities such as tobacco-cessation programs, health screenings, exercise groups and nutritional courses designed to motivate employees to adopt and maintain healthful behaviors.

However, while a physical wellness program is not a new concept to most employers, there are many that are taking wellness a step further and offering more holistic wellness benefits. Such programs don’t just focus on the physical well-being of their employees, but also take into account the mental, financial and social health of their workforce.

Has your organization moved beyond just focusing on the physical health of your employees? There are various components of a holistic wellness program that try to take into account all aspects of employee well-being.

Physical Wellness

The purpose of most physical wellness programs is to prevent illness and lower health care costs by motivating employees to adopt and maintain healthful behaviors. Wellness programs can also make the workforce healthier by encouraging employees to pay attention to their overall health and identify their unhealthy habits.

In many cases, it is less expensive for employers to pay for preventive measures like wellness programs than to pay for treatment of health conditions that could have been prevented. Most physical wellness programs are aimed at combating preventable conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and lung cancer.

There are many types of wellness plan components from which employers can choose based on their budget, employee demographics, location and health goals. Common examples include:

  • Subsidizing weight loss programs;
  • Promoting tobacco cessation programs;
  • Providing on-site gyms and fitness classes;
  • Subsidizing private gym memberships;
  • Providing an on-site health clinic;
  • Providing free flu shots;
  • Holding exercise competitions;
  • Providing health risk assessments and health screenings;
  • Keeping more healthful foods in worksite cafeterias and vending machines;
  • Conducting a health fair;
  • Providing health and nutritional coaching or counseling; and
  • Holding brown bag lunches on a variety of health topics.
Mental Wellness

Despite numerous advances in understanding and treatment, many individuals often keep mental and emotional health issues hidden out of fear of being stigmatized. The cultural stereotype is that people should be strong enough to handle their stress and anxieties and keep feelings in check.

Many employees who feel burdened by stress and depression on the job do not use stress reduction techniques to prevent becoming overwhelmed. They frequently fear upsetting co-workers, losing their job or being overlooked for a promotion. However, ignoring stress or depression is more likely to lead to becoming overwhelmed by the situation, which can result in negative consequences.