The Real Value of Investing in Wellness Programs for Employees

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Written by: Mark Donohue, Founder & Executive Chairman of LifeGuides

Everyone knows you can’t work with the flu. Instead, you take time off and return to the office when you’re healthy and able to perform your job. But what about less acute problems? Do life’s persistent, and often unavoidable challenges – caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, dealing with divorce, the loss of a pet to name a few – also impact our performance at work? Do we carry the weight of stress caused outside of work with us into the office?


The answer is not surprisingly, “yes.”

Research has consistently shown that stress, mental health disorders, and trauma significantly impact job performance. In a revealing study by Cigna, 62% of workers reported being less productive on days they came to work distracted by personal matters. And that’s just one telling example of the enormous impact Life Challenges have on the workforce.

How Can Employers Help?

While a few sick days may suffice for the flu, it takes more compassion and empathy to ensure holistic employee wellness. To start, ask why your employees are “sick.” Is it really a health issue, or a well-being, life balance issue fueled by stress?

The good news is that many corporations are stepping up the plate and prioritizing employee well-being. In a bid to attract, retain and nurture top talent, organizations are increasingly investing in employee health and wellness programs.

Today, 9 in 10 companies offer at least one wellness initiative, according to a recent study by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. The programs have been shown to offer:

  • Improved employee health habits

  • Reduced healthcare costs

  • Improved productivity

  • Fewer missed workdays

Here are a few examples of some of the most effective programs leading employers are offering today.

Yoga, Meditation, and Mindfulness Programs

In the past, perks like office yoga studios and meditation rooms were rare outside of Silicon Valley. But they’re becoming more mainstream as employers realize that healthier employees mean healthier bottom lines.

A study by Ohio State University researchers found that guided workplace meditation and yoga lowered feelings of chronic stress—which is closely related to chronic disease—in employees by more than 10%. These employees reported feeling less distracted during the day, as well as enjoying better sleep at night.

When Aetna noticed that highly stressed workers were costing their business an additional $2,000 a year per employee, the company launched a yoga and mediation initiative to promote better team wellness. The results? Employees experienced lower resting heart rates and increased productivity—and Aetna reduced its benefits costs by 7%.

Similarly, although “mindfulness” has become a bit of a wellness buzzword, science has long supported its benefits, and leading employers are beginning to make it available to their teams.

One of the most famous mindfulness programs Search Inside Yourself began as an internal program for Google employees interested in exploring workplace mindfulness. Wildly successful on campus, it evolved into an independent nonprofit that works with corporations around the world. The results are impressive, and illustrate the connection between stress, happiness and productivity:

  • Participants report less emotional drain, with a 36% reduction in stress levels after completing the program.

  • 64% of participants experienced a greater ability to focus and be more productive.

  • Participants felt more prepared to lead, with 67% reporting a better ability to remain calm during challenges

Mentorship Programs

Formalized mentorship programs can be valuable in helping employees make lifelong connections and experience less job-related stress. Women and minority professionals especially value mentor relationships, according to a recent survey on corporate culture.

Of those surveyed, 30% of women and 27% of minorities said their mentorship was “extremely important.” With turnover rates higher for underrepresented groups, retaining and nurturing top talent is essential.

Five years after Coca-Cola instituted a mentorship program to increase corporate diversity, 80% of participants had advanced at least one step on the management ladder, and representation of African-Americans in salaried positions and leadership roles increased significantly.

Peer-to-Peer Connections

It’s unsurprising that mentoring brings about positive change in the workplace. Studies have shown that peer support has the power to increase self-esteem and confidence, reduce stress and empower people to make life-changing decisions. Human connections, as it seems, are as essential as ever in the modern era.

Just as corporations offer internal peer programs, they have an opportunity to assist employees outside the workplace. By offering qualified, trained guides to employees experiencing life challenges, companies can enhance their organization’s culture of caring, increase productivity among workers and reduce healthcare costs.

A 2018 study following individuals who used peer-staffed crisis centers found that those who accessed the services experienced lower hospitalization rates. Additionally, the one-on-one connection of peer support has been shown to:

  • Improve quality of life

  • Holistically improve health and reduce the incidence of chronic illness

  • Increase engagement with complementary services and supportive care

The Takeaway for Employers

“I’m not interested in bringing Buddhism to Google,” Search Inside Yourself co-founder Chade-Meng Tan explained in his 2014 book. “I am interested in helping people at Google find the key to happiness.”

While the pursuit of happiness has traditionally been a personal endeavor, corporations are realizing that what’s good for the individual is good for the team. In supporting employees experiencing Life Challenges, companies can create a holistic culture of wellness. As they say, health is wealth.

How critical to you and your business is the well-being of your people?

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