Opinion and research are clear: Workplace wellness is vital to employee wellbeing and the efficiency of company operations (Forbes, 2020; Jones et al., 2018).
Poor physical, mental, emotional, and social wellness in the working environment results in billions of lost profits for businesses and struggling and suffering employees on a global scale (Gallup, 2023; Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2021).
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Focusing on workplace wellness policies, strategies, and initiatives can move employees from functioning and flailing to flourishing (McQuaid & Kern, 2018).
This article explores developing and implementing workplace wellness programs that benefit both employers and employees.
Workplace wellness can be described as our “ability to feel good and function effectively” in the working environment (McQuaid & Kern, 2018, p. 11). Also described as workplace wellbeing, it offers the resources needed to navigate the highs and lows of our professional lives and feel good “physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and socially” (McQuaid & Kern, 2018, p. 11).
Such high levels of wellness and being able to achieve what we want at work have many positive outcomes, including (McQuaid & Kern, 2018):
Improved resilience and energy
Better health and happiness
Boosted social connectivity
Increased productivity and income
Sadly, rather than experiencing flourishing at work and outside, many of us are simply trying to get by or survive (McQuaid & Kern, 2018).
So, what initiatives are companies putting in place to support workplace wellness?
According to industry experts such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (2021), Forbes Human Resources Council (2020), and Gallup (2023), forward-thinking companies create targeted strategies encompassing physical, mental, emotional, and social aspects of employees’ lives.
In-house gyms and partnerships with local fitness clubs
A canteen, restaurant, and breakroom providing healthy snacks and lunches focused on balanced meals
Routine health screenings emphasizing the importance of proactive health measures
Mental health support
Supporting emotional wellbeing by providing access to counseling and dedicated mental health days
Allowing employees the flexibility to work remotely when feasible
Allowing employees to choose their optimal working hours
Organizing team-building exercises or outings that boost camaraderie and develop team dynamics
Arranging volunteering opportunities that promote employee wellbeing and community development.
Ensuring access to continuous learning platforms and reimbursement for external courses
Implementing mentor–mentee systems where seasoned professionals guide newer employees
Regular safety training
Ensuring employees are continually updated on best practices for workplace safety
Setting up robust whistleblower mechanisms that ensure employees can voice concerns without fear
Health care packages
Providing comprehensive health insurance packages
Organizing workshops on financial wellness to ensure employees are equipped to handle their finances efficiently and effectively
Workplace wellness should not just be a corporate buzzword. When backed by senior management, it’s a tangible strategy that can foster a motivated, healthy, and high-performing workforce (Gallup, 2023).
What is a healthy workplace - Te Whatu Ora | Health Promotion
This video explores several critical components of wellness in the workplace.
Developing Your Work Wellness Program
Developing a workplace wellness program typically begins by building a compelling case for leaders for why investing in workplace wellness is more than a nice-to-have; it is essential (Putnam, 2015).
Define a business case
Strategies for building a case include the following (Putnam, 2015):
Focus on costs beneath the surface. For example, what is the financial impact of absenteeism?
Identify the value proposition. How would a thriving culture impact workplace performance and employee retention?
Understand organizational and employee needs. Recognize that needs differ.
A marketing company requires innovative and engaged employees; a risk management operation needs staff members that feel psychologically safe to speak out; and a leadership team wants top performers who are deeply engaged in their teams and are resilient.
So, how do we clearly define the needs of the organization and the employee?
Make it emotional and logical. Show that workplace wellness is about doing the right thing (emotional) and supports staff and organizational performance (logical).
Next, it is vital to understand and share the “why” behind the wellness movement.
Create a vision
It is essential to capture the vision of a workplace where everyone is capable and has the opportunity and motivation to be their best selves (McQuaid & Kern, 2018; Putnam, 2015).
How could the workplace become a place where employees want to come, are treated like members of an exclusive club, achieve their ambitions, feel cared for and valued, and build deep, meaningful relationships (Rishi et al., 2021)?
With a vision clearly defined, it is time to create the program with input from across the organization.
Build the work wellness program
Collaborate with a diverse, cross-functional team to build the wellness program, creating company-wide strategies rather than isolated, localized initiatives.
While there are many approaches to workplace wellness, the following five pillars are helpful topics for wellbeing workshops to cover (Putnam, 2015; McQuaid & Kern, 2018).
1. Physical health and wellness
Healthy eating and exercise are essential for wellbeing. Education on what makes up a good diet, such as reducing the intake of processed foods and a good combination of healthy fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, can be life changing. Also, while exercise is essential, it should be supported by incidental movement throughout the day (Putnam, 2015).
2. Emotional and mental health
Emotional wellbeing is closely aligned with resiliency — the ability to rebound and recover from difficult times. Focusing on all aspects of the PERMA model (positive emotions, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and achievement) can help make wellbeing a habit (McQuaid & Kern, 2018).
3. Financial health
Effectively managing financial resources can help individuals feel safe and secure. Workshops can support learning how to be smart with money and spend wisely. When our personal financial needs are satisfied, we benefit from diverting our energies to other areas of our wellbeing, such as forming and maintaining relationships (Putnam, 2015).
4. Sustainable health
Mental and physical wellness is not something that happens as a one-off. Instead, we must embed it in how we live, in the everyday habits we form, and in a healthy outlook; for example, choosing water and healthy juices over soda and taking the stairs rather than stepping into the elevator (Miller et al., 2018).
5. Family health
Maintaining a healthy work–life balance supports mental wellbeing and fosters stronger relationships outside of work. Some organizations encourage bringing family members to wellness workshops and events to support a broader wellness culture (Putnam, 2015).
The following tips foster an effective wellness workshop (Lowe, 2023).
Set clear objectives
Define specific goals and objectives for your wellness workshop to ensure participants know what to expect and what they can gain from it.
Encourage active participation and engagement throughout the workshop using interactive activities, discussions, and group exercises.
Choose relevant topics
Select wellness topics relevant to your audience and address their needs and interests.
Create a positive environment
Foster a welcoming and safe atmosphere where participants feel comfortable sharing and learning.
Offer helpful resources, handouts, and materials that support participants in their wellness journey beyond the workshop.
After the workshop, collect feedback from participants, assess the program’s effectiveness, and make improvements for future seminars.
The eight dimensions of wellness - College & Career Ready Labs
Check out the Eight Dimensions of Wellness video to learn more about the vital principles involved in workplace wellness.
10 Creative Ideas for Your Program
Trying more unusual and creative approaches to workplace wellness can help employees move out of their comfort zones and engage with colleagues and ideas central to the wellness program (Workhuman, 2023; Robinson, 2023).
Virtual nature walks
Organize virtual nature walks where employees can connect with nature through online videos or virtual reality experiences.
Encourage employees to keep gratitude journals to promote a positive mindset and reflection.
Art therapy workshops
Host workshops where employees can express themselves creatively using art therapy.
Virtual team challenges
Create friendly team challenges that promote camaraderie and healthy competition, even in remote work settings.
Emotional intelligence training
Provide training on emotional intelligence to help employees understand and manage their feelings effectively, develop empathy, and improve communication with internal and external clients.
Virtual coffee chats
Encourage employees to have virtual coffee chats with colleagues to maintain social connections.
Online book club
Start a mental wellness book club to foster learning and discussion around wellbeing.
Random acts of kindness day
Dedicate a day to performing random acts of kindness at work and in an employee’s personal life.
Organize laughter yoga sessions to boost mood and reduce stress through laughter.
Mental health resource hub
Create a resource hub with articles, videos, and tips related to mental health for employees to access.
Extraordinary workplace wellness programs
In this fascinating video from Johns Hopkins University, Ron Goetzel introduces three companies that have created cultures of workplace wellness.
Implementing Your Initiatives: 4 Strategies
Workplace wellness should not be compartmentalized and cut off from other aspects of the business (Putnam, 2015).
Successful wellness initiatives must be interdisciplinary and cross-functional; department silos must be ignored or at least overcome. Strategies to ensure an effective implementation include (Putnam, 2015; Boniwell et al., 2021; McQuaid & Kern, 2018):
Building a diverse implementation team
Identify, engage with, and involve key staff from across the business.
Maintain buy-in at all levels
Keep communicating and engaging with staff to ensure multi-level support, with no one left feeling excluded. All voices must be heard and given equal consideration.
Embed the initiatives
Don’t fight existing structures; use them. Embed wellness initiatives in the organizational initiatives that are already in place, including:
Staff development plans
Team development initiatives
Product review meetings
Q&A sessions with leadership
Make it last
Ensure initiatives are sustainable and enduring.
Form deep connections between the needs of the individual and the organization.
Use nudges and cues to ensure the transformation is achievable and does not create resistance.
Encourage a growth mindset, framing change as an opportunity rather than an obstacle to overcome.
Ultimately, for workplace wellness initiatives to be successful, they must be easy to embrace and their impact on performance, energy levels, and health understood and believed (McQuaid & Kern, 2018).
5 Helpful Worksheets and Activities
We have many free tools available that are valuable additions to any workplace wellness initiative, including:
Strengthening Ikigai in the Workplace
Use this worksheet to make time in the workplace more meaningful by considering the answers to the following questions:
What are you good at?
What do you love to do?
What does the world need?
What do you (the organization) need from the market?
Workplace Mindfulness Mindfulness is a powerful way of adopting a state of loving-kindness to ourselves and others and significantly benefits how we handle stress at work.
Returning to Work Checklist
Use this questionnaire to reflect on skills gained inside and outside the workplace when rejoining the workforce.
Performing an Avoidance Stocktake
Employee stress can damage performance and wellbeing. Reflect on its causes and when using unhelpful avoidance strategies.
According to wellness consultant Laura Putnam (2015), developing and delivering a wellness movement is not for the faint hearted. Transformation takes agents of change ready to face and overcome many challenges and find bold solutions.
Common obstacles and approaches to overcome them include (Putnam, 2015):
Lack of buy-in from decision-makers
It is essential to win the support of those at the top by helping them see and understand the value of investing in employee wellbeing. This might include highlighting lost hours because of stress or illness, poor performance resulting from lack of engagement, or the expense of high employee turnover.
Beyond receiving buy-in, ensure managers visibly participate as champions and participants.
Create conditions and environments where it is easy for staff to connect with the wellness program. Provide the time and opportunity to become involved in active employee engagement.
Slowly build a healthy, vibrant culture where adopting wellness policies and strategies is the norm and taking part is seen as OK.
It must be clear that the organization and employees are both accountable. Create an environment where there is the capability, opportunity, and motivation to become involved and fully engaged.
Changing behavior Behavior change typically begins small. Wellbeing habits may start by swapping unhealthy snack machines with more nutritionally balanced options and encouraging staff to always take a lunchtime break, perhaps engaging in in-house fitness or mindfulness activities.
Those leading a workplace wellness program within an organization must be clear on why they are doing so and become great communicators (Putnam, 2015).
Resources From PositivePsychology.com
We have many resources available for workplace coaches and counselors supporting employees.
Employers have an opportunity and a responsibility to create workplace wellness programs that continue to adapt to the needs of their staff and support their mental and physical wellbeing (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2021).
Forward-thinking companies can boost the mental, emotional, and social aspects of employees’ lives through strategies that include fitness incentives, mental health support, remote and flexible working, online and safety training, and comprehensive health care packages.
A strategic workplace wellness program begins with a business case and a vision that recognizes the needs of the employees and the company. It seeks support and buy-in at all levels and across the organization.
A cross-functional team is required to ensure policies, strategies, and programs are well thought out and achieved through a planned, targeted, and managed roll-out.
As mental health professionals, we are in a vital position to provide support and knowledge to ensure that such programs are appropriate, adaptable, and ultimately sustainable.
Why not build your workplace wellness program using some of the approaches described in this article, adopting many of the exercises, activities, and interventions we offer to improve employees’ lives and help them reach their highest potential?
What are 7 strategies to achieve wellness at work?
Proven strategies to help achieve wellness at work include workshops targeting mental, physical, and financial health; fitness incentives such as partnering with local gyms and clubs; health screenings; dedicated mental health support; remote and flexible working; mentoring; and comprehensive health insurance (McQuaid & Kern, 2018; Putnam, 2015).
What are the 4 areas of workplace wellness?
Workplace wellness initiatives must be specific to the needs of the employees and their situation. Areas of focus typically include (Putnam, 2015):
Physical health and wellness, such as encouraging balanced diets and regular exercise
Emotional and mental fitness, including focusing on positive emotions, engagement, and building healthy relationships
Financial health, including sharing learnings regarding being smart with money
Supporting and maintaining wellness in the employees family
What indicates a workplace wellness program is successful?
A successful workplace wellness program can be identified by reduced employee turnover, lower absenteeism, high employee satisfaction and engagement, and a notable increase in initiative participation. Perhaps more than anything, a program is truly successful when the conversation of mental health challenges has been normalized in the workplace (Jones et al., 2018; Greenwood & Anas, 2021).
Boniwell, I., Green, S., & Smith, W. A. (2021). Positive psychology coaching in the workplace. Springer.
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. (2021). Health and wellbeing at work 2021. Retrieved October 9, 2023, from https://www.cipd.org/globalassets/media/comms/news/qqqhealth-wellbeing-work-report-2021_tcm18-93541.pdf.
Forbes. (2020). Council post: 12 employee wellness initiatives that actually help. Retrieved October 9, 2023, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeshumanresourcescouncil/2020/03/27/12-employee-wellness-initiatives-that-actually-help/.
Gallup. (2023). Employee wellbeing is key for workplace productivity. Retrieved October 9, 2023, from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/215924/well-being.aspx.
Greenwood, K., & Anas, J. (2021). It’s a new era for mental health at work. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved October 9, 2023, from https://hbr.org/2021/10/its-a-new-era-for-mental-health-at-work.
Jones, D., Molitor, D., & Reif, J. (2018). What do workplace wellness programs do? Evidence from the Illinois workplace wellness study. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 134(4), 1747–1791.
Lowe, T. (2023, July 25). 6 essential tips to run a successful employee workshop. Loving Life. Retrieved October 9, 2023, from https://lovinglifeco.com/employee-wellbeing/6-essential-tips-to-run-a-successful-employee-workshop/.
McQuaid, M., & Kern, P. (2018). Your wellbeing blueprint: Feeling good and doing well at work. Author.
Miller, M. R., Williams, P., & O’Neill, M. (2018). The healthy workplace nudge : How healthy people, culture, and buildings lead to high performance. John Wiley & Sons.
Putnam. (2015). Workplace wellness that works : 10 steps to infuse wellbeing and vitality into any organization. Wiley.
Rishi, S., Breslau, B., & Miscovich, P. (2021). The workplace you need now : shaping spaces for the future of work. John Wiley & Sons.
Robinson, A. (2023, May 23). Employee wellness programs & activities for the Workplace. teambuilding.com. Retrieved October 9, 2023, from https://teambuilding.com/blog/employee-wellness-program.
Workhuman. (2023, March 14). 12 employee wellness ideas for the workplace. Retrieved October 9, 2023, from https://www.workhuman.com/blog/wellness-ideas/.
About the author
Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D., is a writer and researcher studying the human capacity to push physical and mental limits. His work always remains true to the science beneath, his real-world background in technology, his role as a husband and parent, and his passion as an ultra-marathoner.