Employee Experience

How to build a healthy company culture with employee wellness programs

Employee wellbeing is more than just physical health; your employee wellness program needs to reflect that. Take a holistic approach to wellness and reap the benefits of an engaged workforce.

You wouldn’t expect results from eating healthy but not getting enough sleep and neglecting your exercise regime, so why take that siloed approach with your employee wellness program? Here’s how to construct a holistic wellness program that meets all of the needs of your employees – and bolsters employee experience in the process.

What’s an employee wellness program?

An employee wellness program is a suite of resources that organizations make available to employees to support their overall health and wellbeing. Once a nice-to-have, wellness programs continue to grow in popularity, helping to support (and normalize) mental health issues, as well as promote the benefits of a physically healthy workforce.

What’s the ROI of employee wellness?

Thinking about introducing an employee wellness program at your organization, but unsure of the impact on the bottom line?

Here are some of the benefits (monetary and otherwise) of implementing an employee wellness program at your organization:

  • Reduced healthcare costs. According to a 2010 Harvard Wellness Program Meta Study, for every dollar that’s spent on a wellness program, a company saves $3.27 because of reduced healthcare costs.
  • Decreased absenteeism. Wellness programs improve employee health and morale – two factors that decrease absenteeism.
  • Better employee engagement. A survey by Virgin Pulse found that 85% of companies say wellness programs support employee engagement. Approximately 42% of the survey respondents reported that their top reason for implementing a wellness program was to improve employee engagement.
  • Employer of choice. The American Psychological Association reports that 89% of employees will recommend their company as a good place to work if the company supports wellbeing initiatives.
  • Heightened feelings of empowerment. Employees who say their company proactively shares mental health resources are 61% more likely to feel their company is communicating to them the information they need to look out for their own wellbeing.

Employee wellbeing during a pandemic

Employee wellbeing, especially mental health, has been impacted tremendously by the COVID-19 pandemic. A study of more than 2,000 employees conducted at the end of March and early April 2020 in Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK and the US revealed that two out of five (41.6%) respondents felt their mental health had declined since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Respondents who said their mental health had declined stated more anxiety, more stress, and a worry about losing their job contributed to that decline.

When asked what was contributing most to their increased stress levels, people listed:

  • Contracting COVID-19
  • Financial pressure
  • Being stuck at home
  • Loneliness/social isolation
  • Fears about job security

The good news? Wellness programs can help employees cope with many of those challenges.

Find out how Qualtrics Return to Work Ongoing Pulse can help you understand the changing needs of your workforce as you plan your return to the office.

How to construct a wellness program

Whether you’re constructing a new wellness program at your organization, or looking to bolster your wellness offerings in response to COVID-19, here are some aspects your employee wellness program should cover:

  • Physical health: Employees’ physical health plays a major role in their overall wellbeing, as well as their engagement and attitudes towards work. When employees practice unhealthy habits – such as not getting enough sleep or eating diets low in necessary nutrients – not only do they not feel their best, they can’t perform their best at work. Wellness programs, such as on-site (or virtual) yoga classes, fitness challenges, nutrition coaching, sleep training, and more, can help support and promote healthy habits.
  • Mental health: Stress is one of the biggest threats to employee engagement, and as mentioned above, employees’ stress levels are skyrocketing during COVID-19. To help employees cope with stress, wellness programs can offer mental health resources – such as counseling – through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or other stress management resources. These could include (on-site or virtual) stress management classes, courses in meditation or yoga, or chair massages.
  • Financial wellbeing: Some of your employees might find managing a budget or even paying for everyday expenses difficult. Offering support around financial wellbeing, such as webinars or online courses, can help employees feel more confident in managing their personal finances – and better prepared for the unexpected.
  • Social wellbeing: Employees who have supportive connections in the workplace are more likely to feel connected to their jobs and more engaged with their work. For those employees who lack social connection, wellness programs can help facilitate like-minded connections in a healthy setting. Whether it’s through book clubs, running (or walking) clubs, on-site fitness classes, or fitness challenges, employees feel more engaged (and happier!) when they can connect with their colleagues.
  • Occupational wellbeing: Wellness and productivity go hand-in-hand. Employers benefit from supporting healthy habits that boost work performance. For example, companies can encourage employees to take regular breaks throughout the day, go for a walk when they are feeling stressed, and provide healthy, energy-boosting snacks in lunch and break rooms.

When designing your wellness program, remember to do so holistically; the sum of the above components is greater than the individual parts.

Companies with great wellness programs

Bright Horizons

Bright Horizons knew that only 20% of their teachers were using their 401(k) program, even though it was considered a valuable retention benefit in the industry. Instead of guessing, Bright Horizons went to the source and asked their employees why they weren’t taking part in the program.

In our overall wellbeing survey, we found that financial wellbeing was identified as an area of concern for our center staff

particularly around managing a budget and paying for everyday expenses,” said Kristin Henderson, Director of Institutional Research at Bright Horizons.

In response, Bright Horizons created a financial wellness program that included webinars, online resources, and personal coaching. Participants in the financial wellness program scored higher on a wellbeing scale than non-participants. They also showed increased confidence in their ability to create budgets and financial plans.

“Ultimately, we wanted to help people feel financially secure,” said Kristin. “It really was about looking at what we had, repackaging it, rebranding it, and communicating it to our workforce.”


At the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, Telefónica sprung into action by building and launching a pulse survey with Qualtrics. The pulse uncovered the biggest challenges facing Telefónica employees globally, and how the company could act in the right way.

“Longer workdays and working at home dealing with family responsibilities were our two biggest concerns globally,” said Sergio De La Calle Asensio, Head of Engagement at Telefónica. “When we looked at what people wanted, over a quarter wanted more guidance on organizing their day. Nearly half were after more information balancing work and life.”

That feedback led Telefónica to implement processes and programs to support employees’ wellbeing during COVID-19, and beyond.

Find out how to ask your employees about their wellness needs