No longer is the focus strictly on getting employees to "know their numbers” or manage specific health conditions or risks. Employers are increasingly focused on a broader definition of well-being for employees. Wellness programs may now address physical health, but also mental, emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual, vocational, environmental and financial factors—all of which work together to contribute to an individual’s overall quality of life.

Investing in people

The changing shape of wellness programs is being driven by a shift in how corporate leaders view their investment in employee health. Whereas, employers have historically said they invest in wellness programs as a cost-control measure; a growing number of executives now say they invest in employee health because of what these programs contribute to workforce capability, culture, engagement and ultimately business performance.

There appear to be sound reasons for this change, as proof of the connection between employee health and well-being programs, and organizational performance continues to accumulate.

Consider the 2015 study of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’s Corporate Health Achievement Award winners, which showed companies that have been recognized for having exemplary integrated health and safety programs outperformed the S&P 500 average. Meanwhile, an earlier study by Towers Watson demonstrated that employers with highly effective health and productivity programs generate 20 percent more revenue per employee, realize a 16.1 percent higher market value and deliver 57 percent higher shareholder return.

Tracking impact

How can employers leverage their investment in workforce health and well-being to drive business performance? Employers who lead in workplace health start by developing a comprehensive strategy that is based on best practices. Employee health organizations and benefits consulting firms have developed a number of “wellness scorecards” (such as the HERO Employee Health Management Best Practices Scorecard in Collaboration with Mercer) that align with best practices research and help employers evaluate their workplace wellness efforts. Completing a scorecard can be a good first step to assessing how to design an exemplary program.

But, even more important than the specific program design is the mindset of business leaders and the recognition that the following are important when planning employee health and well-being programs:

  • Including employee health and well-being in business objectives

  • Engaging leaders at all levels to participate and commit to employee health and well-being as a key business value, incorporating such content into leadership development programs

  • Cultivating engaged and satisfied employees through surveys to determine their interests and needs, effective communications, opportunities for learning and development, opportunities for recognition and reward and fostering a sense of purpose

  • Providing supportive policies, procedures and physical environments

  • Developing supportive cultures that are based on respectful relationships, peer support, and positive workplace norms

This approach to workplace health and well-being is a win-win for individuals and businesses, because when business leaders invest in employee health and well-being in a strategic, comprehensive, sustainable way that includes programs, resources, supportive work cultures and environments, employees feel valued. This is important because employee satisfaction, development and engagement contribute to both individual and organizational performance.