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What Do Employees Truly Want in a Wellness Program?

11 min read
Last Updated on 13 June, 2024

A widely known radio journalist, Brian Reed, once said, ‘Everything is designed. Few things are designed well.’ This observation rings especially true for employee wellness programs. In an era where many companies boast wellness initiatives, only a select few hit the mark and align with what employees really need.

But why does such a well-being disconnect exist?

Perhaps it's because organizations design their wellness programs based on industry trends or generic benchmarks. Although well-intentioned, this one-size-fits-all approach may overlook the diverse needs of individual employees who come from varying backgrounds and have different health and wellness goals.

To address this gap, we’ve crafted this blog to guide you through enhancing your wellness programs:

  • Understand the key reasons behind low participation.
  • Discover what employees truly crave from a company wellness program.
  • Craft engaging and effective strategies to boost participation.
  • Cultivate a supportive company culture that prioritizes well-being.

A recent Gallup poll found that today’s employees consider "an organization’s focus on employee well-being" a top priority when selecting an employer.

What's Holding Back Employee Participation in Wellness Programs?

A employee sits hopeless and demotivated because his company's wellness program doesn't provide what he wants

Understanding the psychological gap between knowing what's healthy and taking action is crucial when implementing workplace wellness programs. While many employees recognize the health benefits of activities like running or meditating, the lack of immediate tools, support, or coaching often leads to inaction.

This shows that comprehending the barriers that prevent employee engagement is crucial for designing more effective wellness initiatives.

Below are certain important factors:

1. Lack of Relevance

The issue of relevance cannot be overstated. For example, consider a typical office worker dealing with hypertension due to overloaded work.

If he is enrolled in a smoking cessation program, it may not resonate with this employee. This employee would rather benefit more from health risk assessments and regular guided mindfulness and therapy sessions designed to alleviate stress.

When wellness programs fail to address the diverse needs of their workforce—whether due to age, physical ability, or personal health priorities—employees may view these efforts as superficial or irrelevant.

2. Complexity in Accessibility

If participating in a wellness program is too complicated or not easily accessible, employees are less likely to engage.

For many employees, the first hurdle is often the enrollment process itself. If signing up for a wellness program involves navigating through multiple web pages, filling out lengthy forms, or dealing with bureaucratic approval processes, the initial enthusiasm can quickly wane.

‘If you want to encourage someone to do something, make it easy.’
- Richard Thaler, Former president of the American Economic Association

3. Non-Supportive Company Culture

A frustrated employee suffers due to her company's non-supportive company culture

The cultural aspect of how wellness is perceived within the company plays a crucial role. Even the best-intended programs will see limited participation if the work environment does not genuinely support and promote wellness.

For instance, if senior management seldom participates in or endorses wellness activities, employees might perceive these programs as unimportant or optional.

An employee might think twice about leaving their desk for a scheduled fitness class if their direct supervisor implicitly values uninterrupted work hours over scheduled wellness breaks.

This scenario often creates a disconnect between the company's promoted wellness initiatives and the actual day-to-day practices that influence employee behavior.

4. Privacy Concerns

Employees may be hesitant to share personal health information or participate in programs that track health data. The sensitivity around how this data is handled, stored, and potentially used is a substantial deterrent for many.

They fear that their personal health details could be accessed by unauthorized parties or accidentally disclosed through data breaches, which are not uncommon in the digital age.

5. Lack of Incentives

Incentives are a powerful motivator for participation in wellness programs. However, if the incentives are not perceived as valuable or directly beneficial, employee engagement can falter.

For example, a company might offer a free gym membership as an incentive to join a wellness program. While this might appeal to those already interested in fitness, it may not resonate with employees who prefer other types of health and wellness activities or those who already have gym memberships.

Thus, offering incentives that are too generic might not be compelling enough to motivate participation or sustain long-term engagement.

Suggested Read: 7 Wellness Incentive Ideas To Boost Your Corporate Programs

What do Employees expect from a Company-provided Wellness Program?

A study by WebMd health services on what employees expect from a wellness program

Now that we understand the hurdles that can hinder employee participation, let's delve into what motivates them to engage actively in comprehensive wellness programs. Here's a breakdown of key employee expectations:

1. Holistic Well-being Approach

Employees expect holistic wellbeing initiatives from corporate wellness programs

“Wellbeing is about how our lives are going. It encompasses all the things that are important to each of us and how we experience our lives. It's not only about happiness and health but also about living life to its fullest potential.”
– Iseult Morgan

Today's employees seek wellness programs that encompass all aspects of health—physical, mental, and emotional. A holistic approach might integrate:

For instance, a company could integrate bi-weekly yoga and meditation sessions to help reduce stress alongside nutritional seminars led by a professional dietitian. This combination helps employees tackle health from multiple angles—enhancing both their mental clarity and physical vitality.

2. Mental Health Resources

Access to mental health resources is crucial at an age where hustle is normalized. Illnesses like depression and anxiety are skyrocketing at luminous speed. And when the mind is not one’s best friend, procrastination and absenteeism at work are inevitable.

In fact, according to WHO, every year, depression and anxiety lead to a staggering $1 trillion loss in productivity worldwide, predominantly impacting the global economy.

Suggested Read: Your All-in-One Corporate Mental Wellness Guide For Employers

Popular mental health support apps like Headspace, coupled with monthly in-house workshops on topics like stress management and resilience could be provided.
Educational seminars on mental health topics could be held, and the sense of taboo associated with mental health issues should be considered a thing of the past.

3. Personalized and Tailored Offerings

Employees expect personalized and tailored initiatives from corporate wellness programs

One-size-fits-all does not work when it comes to wellness. With diverse workforces come varied health needs and preferences. Employees expect wellness programs that cater specifically to their health conditions, fitness levels, and personal goals.

This could mean providing adjustable workout plans, diet regimes suited to different nutritional needs, or even local health clubs with personalized health coaching/plans. Such customization ensures that every employee can benefit from the program, regardless of their starting point.

4. Convenience

The accessibility of wellness programs directly influences their effectiveness. Employees prefer options that integrate seamlessly into their daily lives. On-site facilities, virtual workouts, and apps that track wellness activities encourage employees to engage with wellness initiatives without disrupting their schedules.

Programs should be flexible enough to accommodate different time zones and work schedules, especially in global companies.

5. Inclusive and User-Friendly Initiatives

Employees expect corporate wellness programs to be inclusive and user-friendly

It should be accessible to everyone within the organization, including those with disabilities or those who are technologically less savvy. This could involve providing -

  • alternative formats for content,
  • ensuring physical accessibility to wellness facilities, and
  • designing user interfaces that are intuitive for all users.

Inclusivity also means offering a variety of wellness activities that cater to different cultural backgrounds and personal preferences.

6. Confidentiality and Data Privacy

Transparency about the handling of personal health information is critical. Employees need assurances that their data is secure, with clear policies on how it is used and who has access to it.

Companies should comply with relevant privacy regulations and communicate these policies clearly to all employees, emphasizing that participation in wellness programs will not impact their employment status.

7. Authentic Wellness Culture Supported by Leadership

Leadership's involvement can significantly influence the uptake of wellness programs. If a CEO participates openly in wellness challenges and shares their personal stories related to health, it sets a powerful example for the rest of the organization. This leadership endorsement can inspire wider employee engagement.

Vantage Fit's CTO Anjan Pathak inspires his employees running the Mumbai Marathon

For instance, Vantage Fit’s Co-Founder, Anjan Pathak leads by example by actively participating in wellness challenges and sharing personal health stories. His involvement sets a strong precedent for the organization, inspiring employees across all levels.

8. Motivation

Motivation plays a crucial role in driving participation and engagement in workplace wellness programs. Employers must carefully design their wellness programs to cater to both types of motivation, ensuring they meet the diverse needs and preferences of their employees.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation adhere to the wellness program expectations of employees

The most effective wellness programs are those that skillfully blend intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. They create an environment where employees are educated about the benefits of healthy habits, supported in their personal health goals, and encouraged by both internal satisfaction and external rewards.

9. Community-focused and Socially Responsible Initiatives

Employees expect community focused and socially responsible initiatives

Modern employees increasingly seek meaning and purpose in their work, which includes a strong desire for their employers to contribute positively to the community and the broader society. And so, community-focused and socially responsible initiatives within wellness programs can profoundly foster a sense of collective purpose and satisfaction.

A company can integrate community service and social responsibility into its wellness programs in various ways that resonate with employees. For example, organizing group volunteer days allows employees to work together on local community projects, such as:

  • planting trees,
  • cleaning up local parks, or
  • building homes with organizations like Habitat for Humanity.

And you know what you can do to notch it up a bit? Host a step challenge along with such a community volunteering activity. Your employees benefit doubly: Winning incentives for completing a step challenge and basking on the glory of doing something noble for the community.

10. Financial Wellness

A wellness program is as futile as a tiger going vegan if financial wellness is not one of its crucial features. Money is essential, or people won’t work long hours for no reason. However, financial wellness goes beyond just a paycheck.

An essential component of financial wellness is educational workshops and seminars.

These sessions can cover a range of topics, from basic budgeting and debt management to more complex subjects like investment strategies, retirement planning, and understanding employee benefits.

For example, a company might bring in financial experts to conduct monthly webinars on topics such as "How to Maximize Your 401(k)" or "Strategies for Paying Off Student Loans." These sessions can be tailored to the different life stages of employees, ensuring relevance whether they are early in their careers or nearing retirement.

Suggested Read: 5 Proven Steps To Achieve Financial Wellness For Employees

Connecting employees with financial assistance programs can provide crucial help during difficult times.

11. Caregiver Support and Work-Life Balance Considerations

Employees expect caregiver support from employee wellness programs

The challenges of balancing professional responsibilities with caregiving duties can significantly impact employees' mental and physical health. One of the core aspects of supporting caregivers is offering flexible work arrangements.

This flexibility can take many forms, such as remote work options, flexible hours, or compressed workweeks.

For example, allowing an employee to start their day earlier or later can enable them to drop off or pick up children from school or attend to a family member’s medical appointments without the stress of conflicting schedules.

Similarly, remote work options can reduce commuting stress and provide employees with the ability to be physically present at home, offering direct support as caregivers when needed.

Companies can also offer emergency or backup care solutions. This could involve partnerships with childcare providers or emergency in-home care services for their elders. This kind of support is invaluable, as it reduces the panic and disruption often associated with last-minute caregiving challenges.

12. Environmental and Sustainable Wellness

One foundational step companies can take towards environmental and sustainable wellness is to create green office environments. This can involve using energy-efficient appliances and lighting, ensuring that buildings are LEED-certified, or implementing comprehensive recycling programs.

Encouraging active commuting is another effective way to promote environmental wellness. Initiatives like cycle-to-work programs can be supported by providing the office with secure bicycle storage and shower facilities.

Corporate wellness programs can also include partnerships with local and sustainable businesses. For instance, companies might cater office events with food from local organic farmers or host markets where local artisans and eco-friendly vendors can sell their goods to employees.

Employers can also offer incentives for employees who choose environmentally friendly commuting options, such as -

  • public transport vouchers,
  • carpooling systems, or even
  • rewards for walking or biking to work.

Moreover, companies can gamify sustainability through eco-challenges where departments compete to reduce their carbon footprint or achieve specific sustainability goals. Won't that be fun?

Challenges might involve reducing energy consumption, minimizing waste, or increasing recycling rates.

Recognizing and rewarding the winning teams can further motivate employees, making environmental responsibility a fun and integral part of the corporate culture.

13. More Time Off

Employees expect more time off from corporate wellness programs so that they get to spend time with their families

Companies that extend beyond the standard two-week vacation allowance give employees more opportunities to disconnect, recharge, and pursue personal interests or family time.

For instance, you can adopt policies that allow for unlimited paid time off (PTO), under which employees can take time off at their discretion, provided their performance meets their responsibilities.

Specifically allocating days for mental health is becoming increasingly common. These are paid days off that employees can use to manage stress, burnout, or other mental health concerns without having to classify it under general sickness.

By explicitly acknowledging mental health as a valid reason for absence, companies destigmatize mental health issues and underscore their commitment to the overall well-being of their workforce.

Many talented workers are leaving for workplaces that align with their personal belief system and show an authentic concern for individual employee wellbeing. People want a good job and a life well-lived.
- Iseult Morgan

How Have Tailored Wellness Programs Led to Success for Employees?

Testimonials of companies with successful wellness programs

These programs demonstrate that when employers invest thoughtfully in the health of their employees, the returns extend far beyond simple cost savings, leading to a more engaged, healthy, and committed workforce.

Vantage Fit Corporate Wellness Program

Vantage Fit Corporate Wellness Program

At Vantage Fit, we believe everyone's wellness journey is unique. That's why our platform customizes wellness plans to each employee's needs, tracking everything from daily steps and heart rate to sleep patterns and nutritional habits.

Our app enriches your workplace wellness with mindfulness sessions to calm the mind and exciting gamified fitness challenges that ignite friendly competition. Plus, employees love our interactive challenges, real-time leaderboards, and rewards that acknowledge their personal achievements.

The app also integrates seamlessly with your existing HR systems for a smooth setup and works perfectly with major health platforms, making it a flexible option for any organization, big or small.

Ready to elevate workplace wellness?

Connect with us to see how Vantage Fit can help you foster a happier, healthier, and more productive team. Schedule a demo today, and let's design a wellness program your employees will truly embrace and enjoy.

This article is written by Bijaya Lakshmi Sarma, a content marketer and wellness expert at Vantage Fit. As an avid runner for over a decade and a keen reader of books on holistic wellness, Bijaya aims to guide people toward lifestyle changes that help them surpass their wellness vision. To get in touch, reach out to editor@vantagecircle.com

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