The workplace wellness industry has seen an upward growth trend in recent years. In 2017, workplace wellness was a $48 billion market and was projected to grow to $66 billion in 2022.

Around 50% of companies in the U.S. have employee wellness programs in place, with larger companies offering more complex initiatives. Included as part of a company's benefits package, an employee wellness program can form part of an overall plan that offers immense benefits for both employers and employees alike.

Common Characteristics of Workplace Wellness Programs

Most employers offer screening and interventions, which form the basis for their workplace wellness program. Screening tools include health risk assessments, questionnaires, and biometric health screening.

There are several possible tests that could also be used, including physical fitness tests like the VO2 max test, and tests that measure health markers such as cholesterol levels, blood glucose, body fat, BMI, or lipid levels. Some companies may also consider offering DNA testing as part of their employee wellness program.

Interventions can include initiatives such as smoking cessation programs and help with healthy eating habits and fitness goals. Some companies are also enjoying the convenience of specially designed workplace wellness apps to support their program.

[Find out more about wellness initiatives in "13 Impactful Workplace Health and Wellness Initiatives"].

Concerns About Workplace Wellness Programs

Wellness is sometimes considered to be an abstract concept that is more about "looking good" or "doing the right thing" rather than an initiative that offers concrete benefits. This can lead to a reluctance from employers to consider implementing a program focused on wellness.

Some companies that carry out wellness programs may report perceived positive feedback, without having solid data to back up the benefits. However, when the data is properly analyzed, it's possible to measure the effectiveness of a program, using both subjective and objective measures.

An overarching problem with employee wellness programs is a lack of participation. Companies should consider ways to combat this problem so that employers and employees can each enjoy the benefits associated with participation. [Find out how to do so in "5 Ways to Increase Participation and Engagement in Workplace Wellness Programs"].

Overall, studies suggest that carefully implemented employee wellness programs have the potential to have a far-reaching positive impact across several metrics. As the evidence-based benefits below suggest, employee wellness initiatives can have a positive impact on employers and employees alike.

Benefits of Employee Wellness Programs

The Global Wellness Institute estimates that workplace unwellness can cost the global economy an estimated 10-15 percent of economic output every year. Contributing factors include work-related illness and injuries, stress, and lack of employee engagement.

Adopting a culture of wellness and implementing a workplace wellness program could contribute to mitigating these effects. The following wellness program benefits highlight the reasons why.

1. Improve employee health

In a database analysis of wellness program participants versus non-participants, statistically significant and meaningful improvements were found in the areas of exercise frequency, smoking behavior, and weight control.

Employees may also experience positive changes to other areas of their health as a direct result of workplace wellbeing initiatives. These include reduced stress, improved eating habits, and positive effects on mental health.

2. Reduce costs and improve the company's bottom line

Workplace wellness initiatives have the potential to save companies money as a result of improvements in various areas. These include absenteeism and productivity, which can have a direct impact on company costs.

Some companies that have implemented workplace wellness programs have reported significant and measurable benefits associated with cost reduction. For example, MD Anderson Cancer Center reported a massive 80% drop in lost workdays and 64% in modified-duty days within six years of adding a worker's compensation and injury care unit to its workplace wellness program. The total savings equated to $1.5 million.

[Find out more in "Do Wellness Programs Save Employers Money?" and "Wellness Program ROI: Are Wellness Programs a Good Investment?"]

3. Promote positive relationships between employers and employees

Workplace wellness initiatives can improve employee morale and increased retention. When they are done well and are in line with what employees want, they can help improve communication between team members and contribute towards increased happiness levels in the workplace.

A survey of 465 full-time employees of companies that offer wellness programs found that program participants had a more positive attitude towards their employer. They were also more likely to stay with their employer and refer someone to the company, as compared to non-participants. 70% of participants stated that their company's offering is an indication that their employer cares about them.

4. Increase employee engagement in the workplace

A survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) of executives and employees from companies with wellness initiatives in place found that wellness programs increase employee engagement with the company's mission and goals.

Overall, this creates a more focused workforce. Wellness program participants appreciate the integrative relationship between company culture and the benefits for their own career.

5. Improve productivity

Research suggests that presenteeism may be an even costlier workplace issue than absenteeism. Presenteeism means that the employee is physically present at work, but they may not be able to focus on their work effectively, which subsequently has a negative impact on productivity.

Both acute and chronic health issues can play a large role in presenteeism. Problems and conditions such as headaches, back pain, allergies, and digestive disorders can reduce work output as a result of discomfort, and a general inability to focus properly.

Other factors such as employees feeling undervalued or uninspired, or ongoing unhealthy habits, can also negatively affect productivity. Workplace wellness programs can form part of a plan to increase employee productivity.

Research shows that employees who improved their lifestyle or health care by participating in a workplace wellness program showed significant improvements in lost work time. This correlated with just over 10 additional hours of productivity over the course of one year.

These five important benefits of employee wellness programs highlight clear reasons for all companies to consider wellbeing as a key area of focus.