The Ultimate Guide to Wellness at Work

Written by Caroline Forsey


There’s a lot of buzz around “workplace wellness” in the HR industry recently, and for good reason.

The modern day work environment, with long periods of sitting, quick takeout meals in-between meetings, and computer screen eye strain, isn’t conducive to the mental and physical well-being of your employees.

Having happy and healthy employees has proven to result in better productivity, lower healthcare costs, and less turnover. A wellness plan is a critical strategy for making employees happier, which will ultimately improve your company’s bottom line.

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But if you’ve got a tight budget and limited resources, a wellness program might seem inconceivable at the moment.

In actuality, wellness programs can save you money in the long-run — in fact, Health Affairs found every $1 invested in wellness programs saves $3 in healthcare costs for corporations.

Additionally, there are plenty of cost-effective ways to implement workplace wellness initiatives. Here, we’re going to explore the why, what, and how of encouraging wellness in your workplace, so you can create a healthier, more productive culture.

The Five Areas of Well-Being

First off, it’s important we define “well-being” and explain its broad scope, so you can see all the areas of the workplace you might initiate change.

Gallup and Healthways have developed a “Gallup-Healthways Well-Being 5“, which defines five essential elements of well-being:

  • Purpose: liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
  • Social: having supportive relationships and love in your life
  • Financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
  • Community: liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community
  • Physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

When you evaluate these five elements, you soon realize workplace wellness encompasses a lot more than a fancy treadmill room or healthy snacks.

Each of these five elements reinforce one another. For instance, if your employees feel safe and have a sense of community at the office, they’re more likely to participate in group workout classes.

Additionally, financial stress might be a factor playing against your employees physical health — it’s more difficult to eat healthy, go to bed early, and exercise regularly if you’re stressed about your budget. Offering a free budgeting class could mitigate stress and help your employees achieve their long-term health goals.

It’s critical you take a holistic view when considering the well-being of your employees. Gallup has found, when comparing adults thriving in just physical well-being to those thriving in all five elements, that those in the latter group report 41% fewer unhealthy days, are 36% more likely to say they always fully bounce back after an illness, and are 81% less likely to look for a new job when the job market improves.

However, implementing a wellness program is easier said than done. Now, let’s look at some effective wellness program ideas that tackle each of these five wellness elements.

Employee Wellness Program Ideas

There are innumerable options to encourage and promote a healthier lifestyle at your workplace. Some of these ideas require more money or resources, while others are more cost-effective.

It’s critical you take your work culture into consideration when choosing a wellness strategy. For instance, a more competitive workplace might thrive off a monthly team challenge, while another workplace would prefer volunteering for a day.

Employee wellness programs

An employee wellness program aims to improve the overall health of a company’s employees. Employee wellness programs include strategies aimed at increasing physical activity of employees, reducing employee stress, offering information on nutrition and health, and providing health assessments to uncover employees’ specific health-related issues.

Here’s a list of 15 wellness program ideas, varying in cost and impact. For more ideas, consider attending a workplace wellness workshop in your area.

  1. Offer flexible hours.

If it’s feasible for your office, consider offering flexible hours. Enabling employees to avoid busy traffic times could reduce stress, and flexible hours can also encourage better work-life balance. For instance, flexible hours might allow an employee to go on a run during her lunch hour, or leave earlier for a yoga class. (If you’re considering flexible hours, take a look at “Flexible Schedules: The Good, Bad, & the Surprising“).

  1. Invest in standing desks.

Give your employees the option to stand and improve posture (and core strength) with standing desks. Along with improving health, standing desks have also been found to increase productivity.

  1. Organize a team for a charity walk, or plan a volunteer day.

By organizing a charity walk, you’re encouraging both physical activity and a stronger sense of community. Alternatively, you might plan a volunteer day, which helps employees feel proud of their community and socialize with peers.

  1. Create lunchtime mindfulness or yoga sessions.

Big corporations like Google, Nike, and Apple already implement mindfulness into their culture, and for good reason. Mindfulness can reduce stress and even change how your brain functions.

Plus, it’s cheap to implement. Maybe you can find an employee who teaches mindfulness or yoga already, and ask her to teach a lunchtime class. If not, you could gather a group and find a mindfulness app to teach the session.

  1. Have personalized nutrition counseling.

If possible, hire a nutritionist to offer free counseling for your employees. For instance, HubSpot brings a Holistic Health & Nutrition Coach into the office twice a month (employees are able to sign up for a slot). With employees, the Holistic Health & Nutrition Coach discusses topics such as overall nutrition goals, daily water intake, supplements, energy level, sleep, allergies, and more.

  1. Provide access to health assessments.

Office health checks allow employees to get a general overview of their health status, detect disease or risk factors early, and learn about potential issues.

This can have a life-saving impact. For instance, more than 102 million American adults have high cholesterol, putting them at risk for heart disease. By offering health checks, you could help employees avoid long-term health issues down the road.

  1. Build a fitness center.

If you have the resources, offering a gym with workout equipment is an exceptional way to promote workplace wellness. Employees can workout during their lunch break or in the afternoon and then get back to their desks. Mid-day workouts could improve employee productivity all day long.

Additionally, you’re relieving a major financial burden by offering a free gym, so employees don’t have to pay for monthly memberships elsewhere. Yale New Haven Hospital built a livingwell Fitness Center to encourage employees (and their spouses) to get more active, and many other corporations offer similar exercise facilities.

  1. Create a “Wellness” award.

The MD Anderson Cancer Center implemented a peer-based wellness awards program, in which employees are encouraged to nominate co-workers who they find especially active and healthy. Awards provide incentive for every employee to become more physically active, and also encourage a workplace culture that focuses on well-being as something to strive for.

  1. Offer free health and wellness books.

By offering free health and wellness books, you can provide employees the resources necessary to learn how to implement and sustain a healthier lifestyle long-term.

  1. Provide healthy snacks.

If you have an office kitchen, consider stocking it with healthy protein bars, fruits, vegetables, or other healthy snacks. Alternatively, try offering healthier meals at lunchtime meetings, rather than relying on pizza.

  1. Host “walking” meetings.

Whenever possible, consider making your meeting a “walking” meeting. Take a lap around the block with your team, and use your smartphone as a meeting guide if necessary.

  1. Start a wellness newsletter.

One of the most cost-effective options in the list, a wellness newsletter gives you the opportunity to provide employees with tips on reducing stress, increasing physical activity, and eating healthier throughout the day. Additionally, you might ask employees to get involved with writing and distributing the newsletter to foster a stronger sense of community.

  1. Offer on-site medical care.

Some larger corporations, such as American Express, offer on-site medical care to curb healthcare costs and provide easy accessibility for workers. If you have the resources, you might consider offering on-site appointments with dentists, psychiatrists, and other healthcare specialists.

  1. Have in-house subsidized massages.

At Google, employees give each other “massage credits” when they believe an employee does an exceptional job on a project. The massage credits can be redeemed for a free one-hour massage on Google’s campus. Massages can help relieve stress, improve blood flow, and prevent injuries — and, as evident at Google, you can use them as incentive for teams to work harder.

  1. Create monthly challenges.

Hewlett-Packard Co. created a Global Wellness Challenge to encourage workplace wellness, and the challenge resulted in active participation from 50,000 HP employees in nearly 90 countries. Friendly competition can provide strong incentive for employees to focus on wellness, so consider how you can create your own monthly challenge. You might offer a cash prize, a half-day off from work, or a donation to the winning team’s chosen charity.

How to Successfully Implement Your Wellness Program

Over the past decade, Gallup has surveyed hundreds of employees across industries. They’ve found employees who feel their manager truly cares about their well-being are more likely to be top performers and produce higher quality work, and they are less likely to get sick, change jobs, or be injured at work.

To successfully implement a wellness program, it’s critical you ensure your managers are active promoters of the program. Additionally, it’s important you ask managers to create a culture in which an employee’s well-being is seen as a critical component to the company’s success, not a hinderance to it.

By encouraging lunchtime meditation breaks, healthy meeting snack options, and afternoon workouts, a manager shows her employees that there’s nothing commendable about allowing your health to suffer at the workplace. It’s important your managers see the long-term productivity benefits of encouraging a more well-rounded employee.

Additionally, your managers need to lead by example — if they don’t actively participate in your wellness initiative, your employees might not even know it exists, or lack the motivation to partake.

If necessary, consider offering training or resources so managers can learn how to promote wellness for their own team. Take a look at’s Wellness Culture Coaching Toolkit for more information.


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