Building an Employee Wellness Program 101

An employee wellness program is your company’s commitment to taking care of your people. Learn what to consider as you build or re-evaluate one.

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The Calm Team

7 min read

People are the most important part of any company.

Sure, it’s a cliché—but in the day-to-day, it’s easy to forget the truth of it.

That’s why HR leaders like you are uniquely positioned to help your company reflect that value through concrete steps that everyone can see.

An employee wellness program is your company’s commitment to taking care of their people—in action.

It allows you to show (not just tell) your employees that your company values each of them as people, first and foremost. After all, it’s easy to make lofty statements about employee appreciationit’s harder to show this appreciation in a way that has impact. A company with a truly well-developed program doesn’t need to broadcast how much they care about their peopleit’s obvious through the performance, satisfaction, and well-being of employees.

As you start to build out an employee wellness program, there are some important stages along the way. Here are seven steps to guide you in creating a thoughtful, impactful program that supports your entire team for years to come.

(Already have a wellness program and want to focus on re-evaluating it? Start at Step 3.)

Step 1: Get aligned at the highest level

Bringing senior stakeholders in on the early planning stages can make the rest of the process a whole lot easier. And don’t assume all of your senior stakeholders understand the importance of a well-being program. There is likely room to educate just how important it is not only for employee wellness, but for business performance. You want your C-Suite to be openly championing your employee wellness initiativenot just greenlighting it and moving on.

Providing access to wellness offerings isn’t simply ‘the right thing to do.’ It has a meaningful impact on your employees’ lives and productivity—in and out of the workplace.

Negotiating a budget for your well-being program

As you push to justify an investment in well-being, you’ll want to highlight that these initiatives work.

A recent study in Canada showed that wellness programs can significantly impact the physical and mental well-being of employees, both in and out of work. And this kind of support is needed now more than ever—a recent LinkedIn/Glint analysis shows that workplace burnout rates are sharply rising and given the pandemic, everyone is having a tougher time.

There’s also the business case to consider. Wellness programs are known to offer increased profitability, reduced turnover, more employee engagement, and better work performance. Plus all the other cumulative benefits that come from having healthy, happy employees.

But be sure to communicate to your stakeholders that the financial ROI is a bonus—the driving “why” behind a wellness program is simply the health and happiness of your people.

We’ve included some helpful resources to build your case at the end of this post.

Step 2: Give the wellness strategy an owner

Decide who will be responsible for helping to plan and build out the program. Also, establish who will be a senior leader/sponsor/wellness officer. An impactful wellness program starts with strong leadership, but it’s sustained through constant support. Where possible, assign a senior leader in the business to champion communications (even if someone else is organizing in the background.)

We’ve seen wellness programs led by everyone from the Head of Benefits to CHRO to leaders in Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging.

Running wellness meetings

It’s important to host meetings at a steady cadence, especially during the early stages of your wellness program.

As you embark on the following steps, check in with your team at regular intervals and hold open discussions about concerns or questions that come up at each stage. If your company uses messaging software, consider creating a dedicated, private wellness channel for day-to-day updates and easy sharing of resources.

Step 3: Let your employees help shape your program

By involving your team via surveys (with optional anonymity) and informal conversations, you can find out what they truly appreciate and where they need the most support. Plus, they’ll be more inclined to engage with a wellness program they helped to build.

Ask questions like:

  • What would you like to see in your work environment to minimize work stress and maximize your well-being?
  • What are we doing well that helps you to manage your well-being at work?
  • What could we do differently to help you manage your well-being at work?

Be conscious of gathering input from a diverse sub-section of your employees, not just some. Different employees have different needs. Consider a range of employee input across different groups:

Those who feel less represented in the workplace may become accustomed to not having their voices heard. Make a special effort to have a pressure-free inquiry into how you can best involve every member of your team—you never know who may be in most need of support.

Step 4: Make a wellness strategy

Determine the scope of your strategy.

Will it cover physical wellness? Mental wellness? Financial wellness? Social wellness? Will you incorporate incentives? What kind of benefits and resources will you offer? How will you communicate about them and encourage employee engagement?

As you’re deciding the scope of your strategy, consider the different elements you’ll want to include to cover each aspect. Here are some potential options to look at:

For physical wellness—Think smoking cessation programs, gym memberships, fitness classes, nutrition classes, personal training sessions, and sports training.

For mental wellness—This includes self-serve wellness platforms like Calm, remote therapy sessions, Employee Assistance Programs, and resilience courses. (A recent Calm for Business post has ideas around mental fitness as part of an employee wellness strategy.)

For financial wellness—Goal-setting workshops, debt management counseling, budgeting courses, and guest speakers.

For social wellness—Buddy systems, team-building events, peer recognition opportunities, and group volunteering activities.

Set goals.

Gather your wellness officers and start pinning down meaningful, achievable goals for the next six months. Think about different metrics you can use to measure changes in your people’s well-being—things like intermittent self-rated surveys, program engagement, number of sick days used, performance scores, productivity, employee turnover…

Encourage everyone to use what they learned in Step 3 (alongside their own research) to visualize the healthiest, happiest possible version of your workforce. Start to plot out the way there in realistic increments.

While allowing for a degree of flexibility, sketch out what longer-term goals look like. These goals should sit somewhere between the vision of your idealized outcome and the natural development of your shorter-term goals.

Make sure these goals are, above all, measurable.

Step 5: Evaluate tools and technology

You have your team’s input, you have your strategy laid out—you’ve got momentum. Now it’s time to see what’s out there in terms of wellness platforms.

More than ever, there’s a wide array of wellness technology available to help facilitate the physical and mental health of your people. Fitness trackers, guided classes, EAPs, online therapy—the list is long.

This is where Calm comes in. That said, no one wellness platform will be an end-all solution to employee mental health. Improving mental health for your people is an ongoing, layered process and wellness platforms function best as part of the solution. This guide to Employee-Centric Employee Mental Wellness Platforms can help you think it through.

Step 6: Implement

Time to spread the word! Welcome your people to their program with a focus on empathy and education. Remind them that they helped to build this and show why it’s so important. Remember, the best wellness program is the one that actually gets used.

As you convey the benefits, clearly outline how they can best engage with their wellness tools (ideally on their own terms). Self-service options they can use discreetly, on their own time, really shine here.

When the launch winds down, be sure to continue highlighting the availability and accessibility of wellness tools regularly. The best program kickoff isn’t one-and-done, it’s a process.

Step 7: Measure

It’s important to constantly have an eye on your program performance and engagement metrics. Maintain a dialogue with your employees and mix in some feedback surveys, ensuring that your assessments cover the entire workforce. No one should feel left out! Wellness programs can backfire when employees feel unconsidered or ineligible to use the new and shiny care efforts that were presumably designed for them.

Keep watch on a few key metrics:

  • Employee engagement levels (with the program as a whole and the tech.)
  • Engagement over time (is it trending up? Why? Why not?)
  • Surveys (what are your people telling you?)
  • Employer NPS or similar scores (if you’re already tracking employee engagement, you should see the impact of your wellness program on that.)
  • Tracking days off for illness and medical costs can also indicate how your wellness program is doing (without claiming too direct of a connection.)

After some time has passed, revisit and re-evaluate your goals. Were your short-term goals realistic? Are you doing the right things? Are you communicating clearly and often? Tweak where you can, keep measuring, keep your goals achievable, and celebrate your wins.

Report back—to execs and the whole business. Share the wins and be honest about the misses. Prove this is a long-term commitment, not a fad.

A good wellness program is an ongoing process.

But it’s also an ongoing reminder that your company’s values aren’t just words. Your efforts can make a genuine impact in those moments when your people need to feel supported.

Without the implementation of wellness tools and strategies, you risk them reaching out and finding nothing at all.

Despite all of the moving parts, the heart of a wellness program is doing right by your people. That will always be a goal worthy of the effort it takes.

Some of the world’s best companies have integrated Calm as a key component in their employee wellness programs. It could be a great fit for your organization. Book a demo and let’s find out together.

More helpful case-building resources:
The Real ROI for Employee Wellness Programs
The Business Case for a Healthy Workplace
43 Employee Wellness Statistics Every Employer Should Know in 2021

Help employees stress less, sleep better, and build more resilience with Calm Business

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