The concept of workplace wellness has evolved considerably over the last few decades. Years ago, workplace wellness typically meant offering quality employee health care benefits. Beyond that, it was primarily rooted in physical wellness—focusing on diet, exercise, body weight, etc. But nowadays, physical wellness and healthcare benefits are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to employee wellness programs.
In response to growing research surrounding wellness and its benefits, many organizations, including The Concord Group, are now embracing a more current, balanced approach to their wellness programing that integrates not only physical wellness, but also mental, emotional, social, intellectual, spiritual and financial wellness. At The Concord Group, we fully recognize and embrace these concepts and have realized a number of these benefits ourselves.
Despite this, there is still a good deal of confusion about what wellness is and how best to achieve it. Employers are also curious how wellness programs can benefit their organization and what they can expect in return. Let’s take a look at what workplace wellness is, why it’s important and some of the benefits for both employees and employers.
What is Workplace Wellness?
Workplace wellness refers to designing a work environment that supports and encourages the health, safety and overall well-being of all employees. It is realized through a coordinated collection of employee wellness programs, incentives, activities, benefits and policies.
While the overarching goal of workplace wellness programming is the same—to improve and promote employee health and well-being—the types of wellness programs vary significantly from one organization to another. Each is created and cultivated based on factors such as the needs of the employees, the company’s resources and budget, engagement and participation factors, leadership goals, the external community’s needs and so forth.
Although workplace wellness programs look different from one organization to another, many seek to incorporate several different aspects of the 7 dimensions of wellness—physical, mental, social, financial, spiritual, environmental and vocational.
Some examples of workplace wellness programs include:
- On-site gyms, fitness classes and/or fitness reimbursements
- On-site employee (or community) gardens
- On-site walking paths
- On-site yoga and relaxation classes
- On-site healthy food
- Cooking/nutrition classes
- Flexible work schedules
- Sustainable, wellness-focused offices and work environments
- Financial planning/counseling
- Addiction counseling
- Smoking cessation programs
- Health screenings and disease management
- Incentives for active commuting or car-pooling to work
- Leadership training
- Continuing education reimbursements
- eBook and audiobook subscriptions
- Community volunteer projects
- Contents, activities, giveaways, and recognition activities
Why is Workplace Wellness Important?
Put simply, we spend a lot of time at work. On average, a full-time employee spends at least 40 hours a week at work, with many of us clocking in much more than that. With chronic disease, burnout and work-related stress conditions on the rise, it makes sense that the work environment should be a place in which employees feel supported, healthy, appreciated and comfortable. Today’s employers are in a unique position to promote wellness at work and make positive impacts on the health and well-being of their employees.
The motivation for workplace wellness is simple. A properly implemented wellness program can motivate employees to adopt healthier behaviors, improving their overall well-being and decreasing their risk of developing a chronic disease. On the employer-side, wellness programs can generate savings on health care costs, cut down on the number of sick days employees take and improve employee productivity, morale and job satisfaction.
Let's Take a Look at 5 Major Benefits of Employee Wellness:
1. Workplace Wellness Programs Boost Healthy Behaviors
A fundamental goal of a workplace wellness program is to encourage healthy behavior changes in employees. Through education, motivation and support these initiatives can help drive employees to adopt and maintain healthy behaviors such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting proper sleep, managing stress, quitting smoking, developing a financial plan and taking care of their mental health. Investing in healthy behaviors can lead to lower health risks, less chronic illness and ultimately have a lasting impact on the health and well-being of employees.
2. Workplace Wellness Puts the Focus on Prevention
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and Cancer are the leading cause of illness, disability and death in the United States. They are also the major drivers of our $4.1 trillion/year health care costs, accounting for about 75% of total healthcare costs.
Many of these chronic conditions are also preventable. A workplace wellness program that is targeted to the needs of its employees, providing the appropriate resources and education, can help detect, address and ultimately prevent some of these chronic conditions.
3. Employee Wellness Programs Save Employers Money
Wellness programs can be cost-effective for employers, even providing significant returns. In fact, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, each dollar invested in wellness programming can provide a $2-3 return on investment. By creating a healthier workforce, employers can actually:
- Lower employee healthcare costs
- Reduce employee absenteeism
- Boost employee productivity and morale
- Reduce injuries, workers’ compensation, and disability-related costs
- Attract higher-quality employees
4. Wellness Programs Can Elevate Morale, Productivity and Job Satisfaction
Evidence suggests that wellness programs help employees feel appreciated, valued and supported at work—even if they choose not to participate in the programs themselves. Employees who feel valued at work are more likely to report better physical and mental health, as well as greater levels of engagement, productivity, motivation and overall job satisfaction.
According to the EBRI/Greenwald Research 2021 Workplace Wellness Survey, 76% of respondents surveyed said they appreciated their employer’s efforts to improve their overall well-being. Moreover, 76% of employees agreed their employer has a responsibility to make sure they are mentally and emotionally well, and 74% agreed their employer has a responsibility to make sure they are physically healthy and well. 69% agreed their employer has a responsibility to make sure they are financially secure.
5. Workplace Wellness Programs Elevate Recruiting and Retention Efforts
In today’s highly competitive hiring market, offering competitive employee wellness programs is a must-have—especially in attracting top-tier talent and younger generations. According to a Workforce Magazine and Virgin HealthMiles study, 87% of employees say they consider health and wellness packages when choosing an employer. Moreover, more than half of Gen Z and Millennials believe wellness programs are “important or extremely important” in making job decisions.
Sustainable Building and the Wellness-Focused Office
There is growing evidence to suggest that the physical features and indoor environments we work in contribute directly to employee productivity and overall health and wellness. According to the World Green Building Council, the characteristics of sustainable (or “green”) buildings, such as improved air quality, increased natural light and the introduction of greenery, can generate bottom line benefits for businesses. These benefits include lower turnover and greater retention, reduced absenteeism and decreased medical costs.
Moreover, a 2018 survey from the U.S. Green Building Council suggests that employees working in LEED-certified buildings are happier, healthier and more productive than in conventional and non-LEED buildings. The survey also reveals that the majority of office employees want to work for businesses that are value-oriented, take stances on key issues like sustainability and contribute to making a positive impact in the world.
This research is transforming the way many companies think about their offices in terms of environment, layout and design. Many employers are building or redesigning their workspaces to reflect this new awareness of wellness at work. Offices are brighter and more open, enhanced with greenery and natural light. Entire spaces are devoted to collaboration or relaxation time. Break rooms are stocked with healthy snacks. Air purifiers and water purification systems are introduced. Workspaces are re-designed to reflect the needs of the team members that use them (for example, some teams may desire collaborative, shared office environments, while other teams need privacy and quiet). All of these features play an important role in designing a workplace focused on health and well-being.
Due to the complexities involved in building or designing a sustainable, wellness-focused office, many companies seek assistance from a construction consulting firm specializing in sustainability planning, with a thorough understanding of de-carbonization strategies, available financial incentives, carbon offsetting strategies and sustainable certifications.
As sustainable construction consultants, sustainability is one of our core priorities and it is quickly becoming one of the most frequent topics our clients ask us about. Our clients want to know how to incorporate sustainable elements into their construction projects, and why it’s important to consider and plan for sustainability in your project.
Workplace Wellness In Action: A Real-Life Example
At the forefront of workplace wellness is our partner, Epsten Group, Inc., a multi-disciplinary firm that provides sustainable solutions. We sat down with Lauren Wallace, Principal and Director of Certifications and Consulting at Epsten Group, to discuss the company’s innovative wellness efforts.
In 2017, the company began construction programming for a new and improved headquarters in downtown Atlanta. The result was a beautiful, sustainable office fit out focusing on efficiency, health and wellness. It also holds the unique distinction of pursuing a total of six sustainability-related certifications—LEED v4.1 ID+C, WELLv2 Pilot, Fitwel v2.1, RESET AIR v2.0, the Living Building Challenge v3.1 Petal Certification under the v4.0 Materials Petal, and the WELL Health-Safety Rating. Their new headquarters emphasizes sustainable design, sustainable materials, interior air quality and advanced lighting design to address the problems associated with traditional office spaces.
In addition to the company’s new wellness-focused office, some of Epsten Group’s creative wellness programs include:
- On-site yoga and mindful meditation classes
- Nutrition education
- Mental health education
- Dedicated nursing/lactation room
- Bicycle storage for active commuters
- “Coffeehouse vibe” kitchenette and breakroom
- Huddle-nook, heads-down room and dedicated wellness room
- “Heads-down” Fridays (no meetings, calls or emails on Fridays so you can focus!)
- Healthy food offerings (when catering, they also include ingredient lists for each item)
- Leadership training
Leadership Has a Key Role to Place in the Success of Workplace Wellness Efforts
According to Lauren, leadership buy-in plays a key role in the effectiveness of Epsten Group’s wellness program. Leadership involvement demonstrates to employees that wellness is important and valued, enhances the company culture, and signifies that it’s ok to devote some time during the day to your health and well-being.
On the flip-side, Lauren notes that employees themselves can have a significant impact on wellness program involvement and participation. For example, she noticed that employee turn-out for wellness activities was greater when employees received an invitation to participate from a fellow co-worker rather than from leadership.
Workplace wellness programs can help employees embrace healthier behaviors and boost productivity, morale and job satisfaction. They can also help employers in their recruitment efforts and even generate solid returns such as savings on health care costs and reduced employee absenteeism.
In response to growing research surrounding wellness and its benefits, many organizations are embracing a comprehensive approach to their wellness programing that integrates not only physical wellness, but also mental, emotional, social, intellectual, spiritual and financial wellness. Some organizations are even redesigning their office spaces to reflect this new awareness of wellness at work.
About The Concord Group
The Concord Group is a highly skilled development and construction consulting firm specializing in the fields of Owner’s Representation, Cost Management, Infrastructure Project Management, Cost Segregation, Real Estate Advisory Services and Technical Services (including Sustainability Management, Energy Modeling, Life Cycle Cost and Commissioning).
In response to the growing demand for more efficient, sustainable construction, The Concord Group offers a scope of Sustainable Construction and ESG services to help our clients explore sustainability planning, develop de-carbonization strategies and navigate available financial incentives, investment opportunities and carbon offsetting. In partnership with Epsten Group and AEI Consultants, both pioneers for sustainability in the Built Environment, we have launched a Sustainability Leadership Council committed to further championing our sustainability efforts, strategies and innovations.
Headquartered in Chicago and with offices in Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, Columbus, Atlanta, Florida and Dublin, The Concord Group has successfully completed over 4,000 projects over the last 26 years. We have built a reputation for delivering high quality, accurate and timely work for governmental agencies, healthcare organizations, institutional clients and architectural/engineering firms along with retail, residential and property development companies.
For more information on how we can help turn your sustainability vision into a reality, contact The Concord Group.