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Is an employee wellness program a perk or a requirement?

Is a workplace wellness program a non-negotiable requirement or a 'nice-to-have' perk?
Published 22 Apr 2022
7 min read
Woman doing yoga in workplace

Let’s play a quick visualisation game. If you close your eyes, what does the best possible workplace look like? What kind of relationship do the employees have with their employer? What kind of vibe, be it in a physical or virtual working space, can you find there?

If you’re a new employer trying to build up an emerging team, you’ve likely thought about what kind of workplace you want to create. Once you’ve sorted through the initial complexities of employment – like setting up payroll, creating policies, distributing contracts – you may start thinking about your employee experience.

Where does an employee wellness program fit on the spectrum of a non-negotiable requirement of employment or a ‘nice-to-have’ perk that you can work on down the line?

How can we define employee wellness?

Employee wellness is the level of wellbeing within your team. This sense of health isn’t just constrained to the office; it refers to an overall sense of wellness that a person experiences. Employee wellbeing can be threatened by factors that happen internally or externally to the workplace. For example; rising inflation is an external factor that can reduce employee wellbeing, and a culture of working long hours is an internal factor that can impact employee wellbeing.

This is to say that employee wellbeing is a complex and multifaceted concept, that’s not always within an employer’s control. But there are many things that employers can do that have a positive impact.

An employee wellness program is your business’ set of unique offerings that support employee wellness. While an employee wellness program won’t be able to solve all of your employee’s wellbeing risks, it can bolster their sense of wellbeing overall.

Dwight from The Office meditating in a field
Zen vibes, unlocked.

No two businesses are likely to have the same program, and these can often depend on the industry, employment type and specific needs.

For example, if you’re a hospitality business owner with casual staff who work various hours, offering free fruit in the mornings as part of your wellness program isn’t going to be relevant. If your team mostly works remotely, having an in-office yoga session is going to be pretty pointless. Your employee wellness program should be tailored to your team, so that they (and you) can see maximum benefits and return on investment.

You don’t need to spend a lot to provide an employee wellness program. Check out our Low-Cost Employee Wellbeing Guide for tips on how you can get started today, no matter your budget.

Is an employee wellness program required for businesses?

The short answer is no.

Businesses are not legally required to have a wellness program, and it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll get a slap on the wrist for not having one (of course, always double-check the employment laws in your country). It generally does not fall into the non-negotiable category alongside things like employment contracts, payroll or policies.

The long answer?

If you care about the costs of turnover, having a productive team and building an innovative company culture – you should care about employee wellness. It’s one of the best tools that employers have when it comes to shaping employee experience.

Why is it important to have an employee wellness program?

Great leaders know that healthy and happy employees create more effective teams that stick with your business. The data doesn’t lie, our Wellness at work report found that employees who rated their employer’s commitment to wellness positively were 48% more likely to say they were loyal.

But let’s talk more generally. If you are in a crappy mood, or you’re struggling with back pain, or you’re stressed about finances, are you going to be kicking goals in your job? Probably not. A low sense of wellbeing is a killer of great work.

Putting together an employee wellness program that considers your team’s unique set of needs sends a clear message; you care about your employees, and you’re willing to invest in them.

And if you don’t create an employee wellness program? Well, then you’re sending different kinds of messages; I don’t have time to consider your needs, your wellbeing is not my priority or – worst of all – I don’t care about your health. And we know this is not the case!

What are the most important elements of an employee wellness program?

For our 2022 Wellness at Work report, we gathered essential insights around the elements of employee wellbeing that need the most support this year. The findings were clear; employees are looking for assistance with their financial, mental and occupational health.

Ultimately, your employee wellness program should be tailored to your team, and ideally influenced by something like an employee wellness survey. However, there are some key common areas that you should keep in mind when you put your program together.

Informed by our findings, we suggest that the most effective common elements of an employee wellness program for 2022 would look a little something like this…

1. Financial education and support

Our report found that a huge 63% of employees are experiencing financial stress, which is leading many to feel demotivated at work or seek alternative or additional employment. With inflation skyrocketing globally and many countries lacking formal personal finance education, it’s no surprise that many people feel that the financial rug has been pulled from under them.

Employers can, and should, help their teams fill financial knowledge gaps. Our research found that employees are looking for employer guidance, especially when it comes to retirement and pensions, and savings.

Remember, financial support might fall on deaf ears if your team doesn’t feel like they are being paid fairly – so always run a little temperature check before you start offering it. If you’ve had lots of complaints about pay or you’re not sure if your team’s salaries are in-line with industry standards, resolve this first.

How can your business provide financial education and support?

  • Offer free sessions with a qualified financial advisor to your team
  • Run training sessions with general information from a qualified financial advisor
  • Share official, ideally government, financial information and resources with your team
  • Provide discounts on everyday items and services through a platform like Employment Hero
  • Set up groups to share savings tips and goals

2. Tools to tackle burnout

Mental health was another hot topic throughout our report. Specifically, burnout.

Burnout is affecting well over half of employees, with 56% of our survey respondents expressing that they had felt burnout within the last three months. After two relentless years of uncertainty, pivoting, disappointments, fear (need we go on?), employees are feeling overwhelmingly exhausted.

Cartoon dog sitting in kitchen on fire saying "Everything is fine"
Everyone, everywhere.

Burnout pushes employees to the edge. It can cause absenteeism and a drop in motivation, as well as being the slippery slope to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Smart employers and leaders will know that there’s no time to waste, burnout must be addressed here and now.

How can your business tackle burnout?

  • Provide free counselling to your employees with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
  • Open up the discussion around mental health in 1:1s, and train your managers on how to have these conversations
  • Get involved in events like World Mental Health Day, and use them as an opportunity to share resources about mental health
  • Encourage working from home or hybrid working
  • Organise team bonding events, be they virtual or in-real-life
  • Encourage mental health days, allowing your team to take sick days when they need mental or physical relief

3. Learning and development pathways

Employee development has not traditionally been a part of an employee wellness program, but it really should be, especially when you look at the changing sentiments around careers.

Our survey found that 43% of employees agree that Covid-19 has decreased the importance they place on their career. This raises a lot of questions around occupational wellness; are employees feeling fulfilled in their roles? Are they being supported in their development? Does the business have strong values that teams can align with?

To resist the impacts of the Great Resignation, occupational wellness needs to be on the agenda. One way that you can incorporate this into your employee wellness program is by constructing learning and development opportunities that truly invest in your team members.

How can your business provide learning and development pathways?

  • Financially support your employees to complete training at external institutions and providers that will fill gaps in their knowledge
  • Match up senior and junior members of your team for mentorship
  • Use goal-setting frameworks like Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), so that your team know they are working towards a big picture, and making an impact
  • Always consider internal talent for promotion when reviewing new roles

4. Ergonomics

It’s one of the least cool parts of physical health, but ergonomics is increasingly in the spotlight of employee wellness.

It was an existing issue before the pandemic, but working from home has increased the risks of bad ergonomics. We’re feeling the effects of dodgy chairs, distracting environments, sitting for hours on end and ‘working from couch’. While we believe the working from home revolution was one of the few silver linings to come out of the last two years, not using the right equipment to do it can cause aches and pains.

It’s easy to brush off ergonomics as a non-essential, but ••if you get it right in your workplace, you promote your team’s physical and muscular health. If you get it wrong, you could be causing your employees consistent aches and pains. Get it really wrong, you could be facing increased workplace compensation claims.

How can your business support ergonomics?

  • Invest in better chairs in your office, and supply these or provide a chair budget for remote employees
  • Provide headsets and monitors to assist with posture and reduce neck strain
  • Encourage and provide time for movement or walking breaks throughout the workday
  • Organise walking catch-ups, be they in-person or over the phone
  • Provide access to on-demand virtual yoga, pilates or tai chi classes
Kitten lying on its back stretching
Stretch it out.

Put workplace wellness on the agenda

While workplace wellness may not be a legal requirement, your business and your team will be a whole lot better for it. After you’ve gotten the compliance part of employment sorted, a workplace wellness program should be your next priority.

If you’d like to learn more about the state of workplace wellness in 2022, download our exclusive Wellness at Work reports. We surveyed over 6,000 employees in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and the United Kingdom – and the results are essential reading for all employers.

Download our Wellness at Work report

The Team
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