HR Answers: Designing a Holistic Corporate Wellness Program for the Era of Remote Work

young woman doing yoga in home office while watching online video class
By JoAnne Gritter

5 minutes

Addressing the five dimensions of employee health can enrich employees’ lives while helping your bottom line.

For years, corporate wellness programs focused on the bottom line of reducing healthcare expenses: health screenings, exercise programs and programs that targeted dangerous behaviors like smoking and drinking. That focus paid off. Traditional wellness programs lowered medical costs for employers by about $3.27 for every dollar spent, according to a 2010 study.

Since these programs came into vogue, we’ve learned more about the determinants of physical health. Exercise is still good. Smoking and excessive drinking are still bad. But a comprehensive approach to preventing adverse health outcomes before they arise can become even more beneficial by incorporating programs that target environmental, emotional, financial and social health as well. Increasingly, employers are recognizing the value these programs hold in attracting, retaining and engaging employees.

Against a backdrop of unprecedented worker resignations across multiple economic sectors, it’s critical for organizations to undertake initiatives that enrich the lives of their employees in addition to helping their bottom line. A well-rounded corporate wellness program can achieve both goals by addressing five dimensions of employee health: physical, emotional, financial, social and occupational.

Here is a closer look at each.

1. Physical

Traditionally, employees would access key elements of their corporate wellness program (e.g., health screenings, workshops and informational pamphlets or posters) simply by showing up to the office. In the work-from-home era, it takes more effort to reach employees where they are. Employers need to allow and encourage time in the day to take a walk, work out or go for a bike ride—anything to get active. It’s easy to sit at one’s desk, focused on getting the work done, and then realize you have hardly moved all day.

Many insurance providers already incorporate familiar elements of wellness programs into their member offerings. Newer, digital-first companies focused on promoting health and wellness are often priced at a corporate rate that varies based on the size of the company. Virgin Pulse, for example, offers a suite of smartphone wellness tools that claim to increase employee productivity and presenteeism by 44%.

Unsure where to start? The Centers for Disease Control offers many free resources focused on workplace health, created from existing worksite programs, tools, resources and survey data from workplace health interventions.

2. Emotional

A positive workplace culture enhances employees’ mental health, creates better engagement, and builds loyalty. Recognizing this, the Department of Labor issued guidance in May 2022 regarding mental health and the Family Medical Leave Act. Eligible employees may now take job-protected leave under the FMLA for their own “serious health condition or to care for a spouse, child or parent because of a serious health condition” and that a serious health condition can include a “mental health condition.”

Third-party employee assistance programs can supplement a wellness plan by providing assistance with just about anything affecting job performance, from productivity issues to personal concerns. Some EAPs offer crisis response and other forms of training as well.

Remote workers might especially benefit from corporate subscriptions to mobile apps that offer guided mindfulness, meditation and other forms of assistance with stress, depression and sleep deficits.

3. Financial

Competitive wages, a robust 401(k), flexible spending accounts, and pharmacy discounts are common starting points for a competitive financial benefits package. Employers can expand the power of these benefits by engaging employees in taking charge of their financial futures

Some financial services companies offer financial planning and coaching to groups and/or individuals. They have expertise in investment opportunities, tax breaks and other investment vehicles that an employee might otherwise learn about only by consulting a financial planner on their own time.

Professional development opportunities are a wise investment in your workforce, empowering any organization to do more with the talent it has. They can also increase your employees’ earning power. Compensating employees who have leveled up their skills promotes retention and engagement and discourages complacency.

It also requires extra attention from management. In an era when pay transparency is increasingly mandated by law, it’s important to be exact when defining what constitutes “fair pay.” The bias toward paying women and people of color less than their equally qualified peers is well-documented. Software tools that help institutions identify pay inequities within their organization are a worthwhile investment.

4. Social

Social initiatives, more than any of these, tend to suffer as an organization’s workforce becomes more distributed and opportunities for casual interactions among employees are reduced. For companies whose employees span multiple states or countries, getting creative is key. Zoom meetings don’t have to be all business; they can be an occasion to recognize employees’ accomplishments, years of service, weddings, babies or retirements. Fantasy sports leagues provide an opportunity to participate in a shared activity from around the globe.

For organizations whose employees are distributed within the same region, consider planning volunteer days as a company or by department, team lunches, taste tests, participating in local 5K runs and sports leagues, or company picnics.

5. Occupational

Occupational wellness initiatives aim to improve teamwork, team dynamics and team collaboration. A number of resources exist in this domain to support individuals at all levels of the corporate hierarchy.

Gallup’s CliftonStrengths program helps teams and managers place employees in roles that maximize their strengths. Udemy offers thousands of online skills courses, many free, that employees can complete on their own time. PXT Select uses data-driven assessments to refine the hiring process, reducing the influence of human bias. Put together, these practical tools help foster a more functional and inclusive work environment.

Of course, it’s critical to tailor these initiatives to the size of your workforce and your budget. If many of these wellness initiatives are new to your organization, plan the rollout carefully. Employees who are bombarded with too many options at once are less likely to take advantage of every program available to them.

JoAnne Gritter is the chief operations officer with ddm marketing + communications, a leading marketing agency for highly complex and highly regulated industries. Gritter is responsible for overseeing and facilitating collaboration between all major functional areas at ddm, including finance, human resources, it, operations, sales and marketing. She has been with ddm since 2013 and has found success tackling creative, technical, and workflow challenges for clients and internal teams with a data-minded and curious approach.

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