Finding the Focus for Your Employee Wellbeing Program

August 17, 2017

Wellbeing can be a tricky concept to define. That’s why we spent a blog post diving into what we mean by this term and why we think it’s important to distinguish between wellness and wellbeing. One of the reasons why we prefer “wellbeing” is that it’s more broad and holistic. It doesn’t just include how you’re feeling physically, but your mental and emotional states as well.

If you’re on board with all this, you may still be wondering what this means for your company and your employee wellbeing program. Let’s take a look at some of the main areas where wellbeing and work intersect and how this might impact your wellbeing offerings.

Company culture

The term “company culture” means a lot of things to a lot of people, but in the context of wellbeing, it’s helpful to think about whether your company helps employees live a happier, healthier life. How are you supporting them to be their best selves at work? This could be anything from offering flexible working hours to cultivating a diverse and inclusive environment to instituting a thoughtful PTO policy.

Do you have a set of company values? If so, you may find it helpful to think about how you can encourage company values with programs, policies, or other offerings. For example, if “service,” is a value, perhaps you can grant employees a certain number of hours or days each quarter to participate in community service projects. If your company values inclusion, consider how you can make sure that employees from various backgrounds are supported, whether it’s through your compensation and promotion policies, the way you assign administrative tasks like note-taking and scheduling, or the resources and forums for communication you offer.

Workspace/working environment

Even if you don’t realize it, your workspace has an impact on how your employees behave and feel. Everything from desk setup and office layout to eating and breakout spaces can influence the working environment.

Are you promoting movement and collaboration with standing desks and breakout areas? Do you provide a kitchen or common area where employees can gather and eat together? Are you encouraging breaks for activity and rest with games and quiet areas? According to the Everyday Health Inc./Global Wellness Institute Workplace Wellness Study 2016, the top three workplace wellbeing detractors are the lack of:  break time, fresh air, and privacy.

Think about ways that you can design your office in order to promote connection, focus, activity, and collaboration (or whatever values make the most sense for your employees).

Healthy eating/nutrition

There’s no denying that what we eat affects how we feel, and it can influence our work as well. Our diet has a big impact on both causing and preventing heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some cancers. Eating four to five servings of fruit and four to five cups of vegetables a day can prevent some of these negative health outcomes.

Keep in mind that any time you provide food for employees, you’re making a choice that will affect their wellbeing. The Harvard Business Review reports that some small changes in things like placement of food in the cafeteria and portion sizes of snacks can have a big impact on employee eating habits.

Afraid your employees will freak out if you replace their candy jars with kale smoothies? The CDC reports that employees tend to be supportive of changes to their workplace food environment.

Here are just a few ways you can promote healthy eating and nutrition in the workplace:

  • Replace processed food with fresh fruits and vegetables in your snack areas and kitchens
  • Highlight healthy options in your cafeteria with signs or other visual elements
  • Look for more nutritious items to serve during meetings and gatherings
  • Switch from self-serve bulk bins to smaller, individually portioned items (people tend to underestimate how much they’re eating when they serve themselves)
  • Create an onsite community garden or farmers’ market
  • Offer workshops or one-on-one sessions registered dietitian


Why does fitness matter? Well, the World Health Organization believes more than 60% of the global population is not sufficiently active, yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describe regular physical activity as “one of the most important things you can do for your physical health.” And fitness has benefits beyond just making people generally healthier: Employees who get at least 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week miss on average 4.1 fewer days of work per year.

Unfortunately, many modern work environments are sedentary, with employees sitting at their desks for extended periods of time. It’s no wonder that it’s become increasingly common to hear the refrain that “sitting is the new smoking.”

As an employer, you have an ability to promote a more active lifestyle for your employees, whether it’s through onsite classes or facilities, subsidies for fitness classes or gym memberships, or by increasing opportunities for movement throughout the day with standing desks, walking meetings, or regular stretch breaks.


Whether it’s a big project with an approaching deadline, unrealistic goals and expectations, or a tense relationship with a coworker, it can sometimes feel like stress is lurking around every corner in the modern-day workplace.

In fact, 80% of workers reported feeling stress on the job and over half said they needed help learning to manage it. Four of the top ten most expensive health conditions to U.S. employers are related to heart disease and stroke (high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes, and chest pain)… and stressed out employees are more likely to experience a stroke. Plus, health care expenditures are nearly 50% greater for workers who report high levels of stress.

And stress can impact your employees in other ways, too: Stress can lead to disengagement, lost productivity, and, ultimately, turnover.

Whether you offer onsite massages, provide a quiet space for meditation, or ask leaders to set a positive example by taking time off and demonstrating their own work/life balance, you have the opportunity to reduce employees’ stress—or at least give them the tools they need to better manage it.


In many fast-paced work environments, there’s not only pressure to perform, but the expectation that you’ll work ridiculously long hours in order to prove your dedication to your company and its success. The problem with this approach is that it’s not sustainable over the long term. Eventually even the most dedicated employees will reach a breaking point.

The Mayo Clinic describes workplace burnout as “a special type of job stress—a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.” Burnout can affect employees in all sorts of ways: their ability to sleep, their energy levels, and their likelihood of abusing drugs, alcohol, and food. And, of course, left unchecked, any of these disturbances can lead to even more severe health issues.

As an employer, your approach to avoiding burnout can begin at the executive level. You have the ability to create policies and programs that encourage (or discourage!) a healthy work/life balance. Look at things like your PTO and sick day policy, personal days, and flexible working schedules. And be sure to coach managers so they practice setting a good example for their direct reports. Make it everyone’s business to create a workplace that supports taking time away when you need it.

Since part of burnout also relates to an employee’s sense of self-worth, think about how you can bolster their self-esteem. You may decide to offer things like learning and development opportunities, employee recognition programs and events, or the ability to offer and receive mentorship.

Financial wellbeing

Are finances something you should think about in the context of employee wellbeing? Absolutely! Here’s why: In its 2016 Employee Benefits survey report, SHRM noted that 61% of HR professionals described their employees’ financial health as no better than “fair,” and 17% reported their employees were “not at all financially literate.” And PricewaterhouseCooper’s Employee Financial Wellness Survey found the following: 52% of workers overall are stressed about their finances, 46% spend at least three or more hours during the workweek dealing with or thinking about financial issues, and 45% said their finance-related stress had increased within the past 12 months.

It’s not a stretch to say that concerns about finances can impact employees’ stress levels and their productivity.

When it comes to financial wellness programming in the workplace, you may choose to focus on retirement planning, debt reduction, and saving for future needs (to mention a few). If you already have a 401k program in place, you may also wish to incorporate a workshop or some other form of training to help employees get the most out of it.

What’s next?

We’ve introduced some of the most common areas of focus for employee wellbeing programs and given you a few examples of how they might be applied in the workplace. If you’re considering launching a wellbeing initiative in your company, be sure to spend some time talking to employees and leadership alike. See if you can identify common themes from these conversations. You may also wish to send out a survey to collect some quantitative data. Discover the pain points and begin to plan out your programming from there.

Want to learn more about developing an employee wellbeing initiative? Download our eBook, “Your Definitive Guide to the Employee Wellbeing Landscape.”


Topics: , , , , , , , , , .