How Can Employers Get the Most out of an Employee Wellness Program?

While employers are not likely to ever see a huge ROI from a wellness program, there are some things they can do to make it worthwhile.

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Workplace wellness programs are popular and have increased dramatically over the last decade. In 2019, 84% of large employers – defined as companies with 200 or more workers – that offered health benefits also offered a workplace wellness program. The main purpose of employee wellness programs is to reduce health care costs, increase productivity, and employee retention. Common goals include helping employees lose weight or to stop smoking. Perks often include discounted gym memberships, free health screenings, nutritional advice, and even on-site massage therapy. But how effective are these programs at reducing health care costs and making happier, healthier, more productive employees? While there are certainly no guarantees, companies can improve their chances of success by setting clear goals, allocating a reasonable budget, and providing incentives for employees to participate.

If you’re thinking about implementing a workplace wellness program, you may be wondering if the cost and effort are really worth it and how you can get the most out of one.

Are Workplace Wellness Programs Worth the Expense and Effort?


Return on investment (ROI) is important for most workplace expenditures. Business owners may be disappointed to learn that when it comes to wellness programs, the ROI isn’t that great. The RAND Corporation analyzed the numbers and estimated an overall ROI of $1.50, which means that businesses get a return of $1.50 for every dollar that they invest in their wellness program. Another study, conducted by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, found that company wellness programs have “little, if any, effect” on healthcare expenses. So why then, are they so popular? Companies may be looking at the Value on Investment (VOI), rather than focusing on ROI that simply measures direct financial gains from an investment. VOI measures indirect gains such as employee morale, satisfaction, and retention, along with improvements to company culture and productivity.

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign study backs up the VOI theory, finding that employees who participated in their employer’s wellness program made healthier choices, were more likely to get health screenings, and believed that their employer cared about them and their well-being. These findings indicate significant value for employers.

How can employers get the most out of an employee wellness program?

While employers are not likely to ever see a huge ROI from a wellness program, there are some things they can do to make it worthwhile.

1. Set a clear, achievable goal

Now that we know that employee wellness programs aren’t a great way to save money on healthcare expenses, it’s important to set a goal that is achievable. Here are some examples of goals that may be both worthy and achievable:

  • Improving employee morale and happiness as measured by increased retention rate and employee surveys.
  • Decreasing the number of smokers by a certain percentage.
  • Increasing the number of employees getting annual wellness checks and health-risk assessments by a certain percentage. (You will want to consult an HR expert to ensure that any health checks are compliant with employee labor laws).
  • Increase the number of employees exercising at least three days per week by a certain percentage. You could even organize an office walking group or bring in a fitness trainer for lunchtime or morning exercise support.
  • Support healthy eating habits by bringing in healthy snacks on a regular schedule.
  • Help support employees with chronic health conditions as measured by reduced sick days.

Don’t forget to set a deadline for each goal as well so you can evaluate your progress by a certain date.

2. Create a budget

Clearly, the budget for a small business wellness plan is going to be substantially different than the budget for a large corporation. That also means that what’s included from plan to plan will vary. When deciding on a budget for a wellness plan, figure out what you can afford and what will benefit your employees the most. Next, make sure that your budget will cover all expenses including incentives, training, marketing materials, equipment, and your time.

3. Don’t leave out mental and emotional well-being

We know that work-related stress affects 83 percent of American workers, costing businesses up to $300 billion a year in productivity. All the changes we have endured because of Covid-19 has meant personal lives spilling into the workplace more than ever before. That’s why employers are starting to recognize the importance of supporting their workers’ mental and emotional well-being. Make sure your wellness program includes support for stress, depression, and anxiety. One way to do this is to work with an online therapy service; another is to provide stress management courses. Of course, providing more workplace flexibility is also a great way to decrease stress. The simple act of switching vacation pay and sick days to PTO so employees feel empowered to take a mental health day when they need one can be a powerful way to support overall well-being.

4. Get your employees on board

Launching a wellness program that no one is excited about or feels will benefit them is pointless. Before you decide on what to include, survey your employees to find out what they want out of a wellness program. Then, when it’s time for the roll-out, create incentives to get employees excited about signing up and participating. Some ideas to get employees on board:

  • A gift card to a store of their choice
  • Workplace competition or challenge
  • Offer to pay a little more toward their health insurance

Partnering with Makai HR

Need help managing your HR needs? We’ve got you covered through HR outsourcing! When you partner with Makai HR you can get on with the business you are trying to grow while we take care of your employee needs from payroll to taxes, health insurance/benefits and worker’s compensation. You also gain peace of mind that you are compliant with all of Hawaii’s employer laws (if you’ve ever looked you know that the list is very long and changes happen). When choosing a PEO to partner with, there are many things to consider including cost, services, and technology solutions.

With the cost of doing business in Hawaii at record highs, we know how important it is to keep labor costs in line with revenue. Our plans are priced competitively and include value-added services like time-in/time-out systems. Our three tiers of PEO service plans are tailored to the size of your business and specific needs. We offer a 100% paperless solution which means that your employees can manage their needs through a computer, tablet, or phone. We can truly improve your employees’ work benefits while freeing you up to run your business.

What are you waiting for? Companies that partner with a PEO benefit from 7-9% faster growth, 10-14% lower employee turnover; and they are 50% less likely to go out of business. Contact us today to get started!

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