Companies are investing more resources in creative wellness programs. Why? The evidence is mounting that the physical and emotional well-being of workers is intrinsically tied to the performance of organizations of all sizes.

Still, statistics suggest there’s much room for growth. The U.S. Labor Department says only 39 percent of private industry workers had access to wellness benefits in 2017, although the number was 55 percent when only professional jobs were considered. Experts say the companies that are investing in employee wellness are getting more creative and adopting new technologies and approaches as they seek better ways to help their workers stay healthy, happy and productive.

“There are a lot of shifts in direction and new trends happening right now,” says Lisa Kelly of Kelly Wellness Consulting, an Alberta-based firm that helps corporations design comprehensive wellness programs.

Kelly says that until a few years ago, workplace wellness programs were primarily focused on the physical aspects of well-being, such as nutrition, fitness and movement at work. But she says organizations are increasingly aware there many more dimensions of well-being that should be cultivated to create a “total worker health model” that supports wellness from many angles. That means maintaining a focus on health and nutrition while branching out more and more into areas that support emotional well-being.

“Now we’re seeing more trends emerging around emotional well-being, into mindfulness, digital detox, stress mastery, employee resilience, work-life balance,” she says.

Here’s a look at how three different organizations are approaching employee wellness in creative and effective ways.

Remote Fitness Competitions at Sears

Online workout and personal training company iBodyFit recently coordinated an online corporate wellness plan and fitness competition for 1,000 employees at retail giant Sears that gained widespread adoption and resulted in an aggregate 9 percent reduction in BMI for the participants.

The fitness company’s CEO, Franklin Antoian, says it offers several hundred video-based workouts categorized by clients goals. The Sears program started with a personalized workout and diet plan for each participant and automatically tracked each user’s progress. The initiative also offered weekly and monthly health and fitness challenges in which workers could compete against co-workers, all employees or as part of a team to win prizes such as gift cards or time off. The software automatically tracked participation, from full-on workouts to simple tasks like reading a fitness article, and awarded points.

Antoian says the competition and rewards were key to driving participation. “As you’re going through the challenge you can see who’s in the lead, where you are personally, where your team is and what you need to do to reach the leaderboard,” he says. “We offered rewards at the end of the challenge, and that was what really got this program going. We noticed once we put the seven- to 30-day challenges in, that jumped everything up.”

Building From Scratch on Campus

Less than a decade ago, Babson College, an independent, nonprofit institution in Massachusetts with a focus on entrepreneurship, didn’t have a wellness program. But these days the school has a robust program for its 1,000 faculty and staff members that covers everything from yoga to nutrition to composting and education.

Alexa D’Agostino, an employee and compensation representative in the school’s HR department, says the program covers six dimensions of wellness: be fit, be nourished, be sustainable, be intellectual, be mindful and be social. All aspects are free to employees.

The program includes innovative initiatives such as a tool that lets employees order local and sustainable food from farmers and have it delivered to campus, as well as a wide range of more traditional fitness classes and health seminars. D’Agostino says the program has been developed and tweaked with input from employees.

“We heard from many employees who were not comfortable working out with students, so we have made our programs available to employees only,” she says. “This provides employees a safe place to focus on their health and wellness, to connect with other employees across the college, and a comfortable way to step out of their comfort zone.”

She says the effects have been clear and the feedback from the college’s employees has been overwhelmingly positive. “Over the course of the program’s lifetime, employees have shared numerous success stories, including significant weight loss, running their first ever 5K, becoming more focused and productive at work and home as a result of their program participation, and the creation of new friendships across campus,” D’Agostino says.

Simple Yet Creative Approach

Team Building Hero, which produces team-building experiences for organizations in multiple U.S. cities, has found success with a simple yet creative approach to its wellness program that includes three main components.

The company, with about 30 workers who are either full-time, part-time or contract, offers a monthly massage credit to help employees relax physically, a monthly housekeeping credit to help employees relax mentally and a monthly healthy-living credit for employees to use how they like, which often means gym memberships, yoga classes or a spa visit.

Alex Robinson, the company’s general manager, says the housekeeping credit is aimed at remote employees who often work from home. “It seemed like a nice benefit to help them work in a cleaner, more organized space,” he says.

The healthy-living credit came out of the company’s quarterly assessments with employees, who revealed they were interested in some sort of supplement for gym memberships or similar services. “Together, this program costs us about $170 per employee per month, and it’s a great investment,” Robinson says. “I would say one of the best signs that it’s working is that people actually use it.”

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