Why workers should care about employee wellness programs

by Kaiser Permanente |
Person talking with a clinician

What if your new job offered a way to improve your health, reduce stress, and even have a little fun with your coworkers — at no cost to you? This may seem far-fetched, but it’s exactly what employee wellness programs are meant to do. Also known as workplace wellness programs, these are collections of activities and services aimed at helping you feel and perform at your best. These programs go above and beyond benefits that you already help pay for, such as employer-provided health coverage and flexible spending accounts (FSAs) or health savings accounts (HSAs).

Here’s what to look for in an employee wellness program, whether you’re searching for a new job or considering one that offers a wellness program. Working for a company with a wellness culture comes with benefits like these:

  • Higher energy and engagement
  • Less stress
  • Better communication
  • Lower health risks
  • Improved mental health
  • Enjoyable work environment

Read on to see how to evaluate and identify the benefits of a wellness program that are most important to you.

Energy and engagement

Many employees want to get more work done — in the same amount of time, of course. Doing more work isn’t simply about having a natural ability to get in the zone, and it doesn’t have to mean putting in extra hours. A big part of it is being able to focus and engage with your work, which is a result of feeling well both physically and mentally. That’s the overall goal of all of these employee wellness programs.

Attendance comes into play here too: When you’re feeling better, you’re less likely to miss work, so that’s less time you might have to spend catching up on projects.

Better still — increased energy and engagement can help improve your odds of getting a raise.

Stress reduction

Stressful situations are unavoidable in any job, but it’s your reaction to these stressors that determines how you feel. Employee wellness programs designed to help you become more adaptable can help lower your stress. In other words, they’re designed to help you roll with the punches. If you find yourself getting stressed out at work, see if your new employer offers a stress-reduction program like meditation.

Even if you haven’t tried meditation before for fear that you didn’t know how or because you think it’s not for you, doing it with a group of fellow first-timers at work can make it more approachable. Being less stressed is worth it, especially when the result could be a more positive work environment, fewer errors, and increased engagement.

Other stress-reducing offerings can include yoga, support groups, and access to confidential help.

Workplace bonding

When you hear about bonding with your coworkers, you might picture activities like trust falls on a TV sitcom, but that’s not the reality. Instead, workplace bonding is all about collaborating around shared goals and experiences through non-work activities like fitness classes, support groups, clubs, or volunteer activities.

The benefit of the bonding that results from employee wellness programs isn’t just that you can step away from your desk, get some exercise, and talk about something other than work — although that’s nice, too. Instead, the value is in developing better communication and relationships with your coworkers, which makes it easier to get your work done and improves how you might feel about your days at the office.

Reduced health risks

When you take fewer sick days and feel well enough to concentrate, you get more done, so of course your manager wants you to be healthy. But where bosses might see an improved bottom line, you might see more time and energy to spend with loved ones or on hobbies. Plus, having better health and fewer medical expenses improves your own budget’s bottom line as well.

Employee wellness programs aimed at improving your overall health take many forms:

  • Support for individual health goals
  • Group fitness activities
  • Healthier foods in break rooms
  • Financial incentives
  • Lifestyle- and nutrition-improvement courses

Whether you prefer group activities or private pursuits, the odds are good that you’ll find something that can benefit you. Plus, finding a job with an employee wellness program means you’ll be surrounded by coworkers who see your health as more than a number.

Better mental health

Millions of adults in the United States experience mental illness in a given year, but more than half of them don’t get the treatment they need. With so many of us spending so much of our time at work, many employers are finding ways to address mental well-being. This includes specific programs aimed at improving mental health and combating depression. But other activities aimed at improving physical health and bonds between coworkers often have the bonus result of boosting mental and emotional well-being too.

Mental health programs to look for include:

  • Initiatives that raise awareness of depression while reducing stigma about mental illness
  • Substance abuse support
  • Training in recognizing symptoms
  • Options for seeking confidential help

The perspective of these employee wellness programs is that we can all benefit from improved mental health in the form of better concentration, fewer sick days, increased empathy, and a more supportive workplace culture.

Elevated company culture

Some companies put a foosball table in the break room and claim to have a fun culture. But as we all know, culture isn’t about objects — it’s about how employees are valued. Games and parties can be fun and can strengthen bonds, but some companies go beyond that and strive to foster a true wellness culture every day.

Here’s what to look for if you’re seeking a job with a wellness culture:

  • Stress-reducing activities
  • Health awareness initiatives
  • Wellness goal challenges
  • Ergonomic chairs and desks
  • Relaxing break areas
  • Availability of healthy foods
  • Flexible work schedules
  • No-hassle sick days
  • Financial counseling
  • Group wellness education
  • Personalized support
  • Participation by managers and leaders

When people say they love their job, it’s often because of the people they work with. Finding a company that supports employee wellness means you’re more likely to enjoy your time at the office — and maybe at off-site activities too. If improving physical health, mental health, or bonds with coworkers are goals of yours, be sure to ask for more details on employee wellness programs when considering job offers.