The Benefits and Bottlenecks of Corporate Wellness Programs

As we grow to understand how best to encourage healthy behavior, it may be that workplace wellness programs will play an important role in improving health and lowering the cost of health care.” – Zirui Song, assistant professor of health care policy and medicine in the Department of Health Care Policy at the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School.

Corporate wellness programs are organized and sponsored by employers. They mainly include a set of benefits. Such employer initiatives are a way for many organizations to encourage healthy habits in the workplace.

In many instances, encouraging healthy habits reduces mid-day energy crashes and employees’ stress while improving productivity and attendance. For many employers, a selection of attractive benefits also helps them recruit and retain top talent. Some examples of such programs are lifestyle coaching, stress management, biometric screening, daily walking, yoga, on-site fitness, and mental health apps.  

One may question how mental health apps such as Headspace or Insight timer might directly support an employee in their journey to a healthier living which includes reduced daily stress. While such tools may not always directly influence an employee, they can provide tools which can guide the employee on the ‘how to’ get proper rest, practice self-care, and manage time effectively.

According to the meta-analysis of Parks & Steelman (2008), participation in an organizational wellness program can be associated with decreased absenteeism and increased job satisfaction. Later on, in 2017, Richardson studied once again the topic. In his paper, he also discussed the trend and benefits of including stress management as a component of workplace wellness programs.

However, it is also important to consider some bottlenecks of wellness programs such as poor employee engagement, lack of management support, one-size fits all approach and poor communication.

Leaders, who are focused on the financial metrics can fail to see how much stress and reduced wellbeing there is around the organization. Because of the strong focus on performance, the employees also begin to not see the value and benefit of wellness programs and hence do not participate.

Typically, wellness programs must rely on other company resources to get the word out, like email blasts, newsletters or even flyers – and it is often one-size-fits-all. There is often a lack of communication about the importance of well-being from senior leadership to middle management. Hence it is crucial to build an environment where stress is recognized, and wellbeing is put as a high priority.

A good way of assessing this is by surveying the employees and using benchmarks around stress, burnout, and engagement to reveal how employees are really doing!

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