Wellness benefits have officially changed teams. These health-inspired programs and resources are no longer viewed as health care initiatives, but rather as a “new talent value proposition,” said Mike Maniccia, specialist leader for Deloitte in Los Angeles.
“The origins of wellness programs were about saving money by creating a healthier workforce,” he says. But the financial returns on wellness investments have been notoriously difficult to measure, which diminished their value and caused them to lose the backing by cost-conscious execs.
However, in a low unemployment economy where millennials dominate the talent pool, wellness has gained new life as a powerful recruiting tool. Offering on-site yoga classes, healthy food options in the cafeteria, and a suite of physical and emotional wellness apps can help win over hard-to-land new hires. “Appealing to millennials is dominating the wellness conversation,” he said.
Companies like Google, Apple and Patagonia win constant accolades for their innovative wellness efforts, which often include over-the-top offerings like on-site massage therapy, weekly cooking classes, and free outdoor-inspired daycare centers. Maniccia worries a bit that the hype generated by a handful of mission-driven and well-funded wellness programs will make it impossible for others to keep up. “It’s difficult to replicate that kind of culture in manufacturing, retail or a small business,” he said.
However, in reality, companies don’t have to spend a lot of money on wellness to impress talent, as long as they are creative and offer programs that employees actually want. Deloitte’s 2018 “Human Capital Trends” report found that the top two wellness benefits desired by employees are flexible schedules and the option to telecommute, both of which require no real financial investment and can actually cut overhead costs.
Benefits Come From Within
Beyond flex time, employees are seeking wellness tools that fit their unique needs and interest. That’s has caused an evolution in the types of programs offered and how employees are encouraged to take part, said Linda Natansohn, head of corporate development, meQuilibrium, a resiliency training company in Boston. Most companies have evolved past things like incentives for biometric screenings, in part because of negative publicity that saw incentives as a form of coercion, but also because they didn’t generate the desired results.
“No amount of extrinsic rewards will drive people to change their behavior,” she said. “Employers have to figure out what is meaningful to their people.”
To connect with these personal drivers, companies have begun curating an assortment of offerings to address employees’ physical, social, emotional and fiscal needs. Many of them come in the form of apps and wearables that encourage healthy behavior and offer intrinsic motivators, like leader boards and positive messages when users hit daily goals.
Though not everyone is motivated by an app, said Steven Noeldner, head of total health management for Mercer. Some employees like self-directed programs, but others will prefer real-time workshops, consulting, or small group classes. “The idea is to have a broad array of services designed for different segments of the population.”
That includes social and emotional wellness programs, which are gaining popularity as companies realize the value of having a happy and well-adjusted workforce, noted Natansohn. These offerings can range from on-site therapists, to meditation apps to “kindness clubs,” where employees work together to create a better and more inclusive culture, she says. “It’s a more holistic approach to well-being.”
Regardless of the scope of offerings, managers and executives have to show their support for using these programs if employees are going to get on board, according to Noeldner. “Organizations with strong leadership support have higher participation and better health outcomes,” he said.
He recently completed work on a joint study between Health Enhancement Research Organization and Mercer that found organizations whose leaders actively participate in health and well-being initiatives reported higher median rates of both employee satisfaction with health and well-being programs (83 percent) and employee perception of organizational support (85 percent) compared to organizations whose leaders did not actively participate (66 percent and 67 percent, respectively).
“The C-suite and management create the climate around wellness,” he said. No matter how carefully companies select their wellness offerings and vendors, leadership support for the program will be critical to their success.