Over half of US employers currently offer some form of employee wellness program. From gym memberships to smoking cessation programs, health insurance, tuition reimbursements, employee assistance programs, and paid time off, wellness programs are as diverse as the employers themselves. The tech giants even offer enticing employee perks like ping pong tables, on-site fitness centers, and free meals & drinks.
Employee benefits – particularly wellness benefits – have a strong influence on overall physical and mental health. When set up properly, these programs can also boost employee morale, increase employee engagement, enhance productivity, and foster collaboration and teamwork. A good wellness program will bring a positive return on investment (ROI) to the employer. For example, every $1 spent on the Johnson & Johnson wellness program yielded $2.71 between 2002 and 2008. An employer with 185 workers saved $1,421 per employee in medical cost claims, translating to an ROI of $6 for every $1 spent.
Why Stagnant Employee Wellness Programs Won’t Cut It
Times are changing quickly, and so are our workplaces. With rapid digitalization and AI adoption, wellness programs also have to adapt to changing employee circumstances to remain effective. Before we look at some effective employee wellness program ideas to help you kickstart 2024 on the right note, here are some areas of concern:
Developments in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
“Artificial Intelligence is superhuman; it is smarter than you are and there’s something inherently dangerous for the dumber party in that relationship,” says author and neuroscientist Sam Harris. “We just can’t put the genie back in the bottle.” Harris was one of the first people to raise the alarm about artificial intelligence and how it would affect our lives.
“We’re going to build superhuman machines but we haven’t yet grappled with the problems associated with creating something that may treat us the way we treat ants,” Harris said in his popular TED talk six years ago.
“Imagine if we just built a super intelligent AI that’s no smarter than your average team of researchers at Stanford or MI,” Harris posed. “Electronic circuits function about a million times faster than biochemical ones, so these machines would think about a million times faster than the minds that built it. So you set it running for a week and it’ll perform 20,000 years of human-level intellectual work week after week.”
Tech’s Dual Edge
Today, we can see what Harris meant. Despite its efficiency, this development poses several significant challenges we can’t ignore:
- AI eliminated 3,900 jobs in May 2023, making it the seventh-highest contributor to employment losses in May cited by employers.
- 40% of all working hours could be impacted by large language models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT-4.
- 37% of employees aged 18-24 fear AI will make their jobs obsolete in the next five years.
- 25% of companies surveyed in a World Economic Forum report believe AI will create job losses in their organizations.
- 56% of companies used AI in at least one sector in 2021.
These statistics point to one fact: although we’ve barely scratched the surface of what this technology can do, we can expect it to play a significant role in our workplaces as new developments debut. The question is how these developments will affect our employees and what we’re doing to mitigate that. We’ll tackle that shortly, but first, let’s look at another trend we expect to see in 2024.
The Remote Work Paradox
COVID-19 opened our eyes in several ways and reminded many of us what matters most. Following the Great Resignation of 2021, most employers have embraced flexible work schedules to give employees time to care for their personal needs. From fully remote situations to hybrid arrangements, today’s workers have more flexibility.
While that does wonders for most people’s work-life balance, some remote employees aren’t thriving in the new normal:
- Remote work can cause social isolation, loneliness, and difficulty disconnecting from work.
- Younger workers in hybrid working situations are more depressed and anxious.
- 54% of remote employees report experiencing pain in their necks, shoulders, and backs due to ergonomic issues.
- Zoom fatigue is a real problem affecting over 80% of remote workers in America.
12 Wellness Program Ideas that Address Today’s Unique Challenges
Today’s unique set of problems requires an upgraded approach. Here are some employee well-being programs to incorporate into your benefits plan in 2024:
1. Dynamic Work Hours
If we’re being honest, traditional work hours are restrictive and workers are tired of it. They’ve tasted flexibility during the pandemic and want more of it. In a recent survey, 24% of respondents admitted they have lied about an obligation to take time off or work remotely for pleasure. This shouldn’t happen in a supportive and healthy environment.
Employees are dynamic people with lives outside work. From children to elderly parents to long commutes, some things can’t simply fit into the rigid 9-5 schedule.
Dynamic work hours offer a breathing space, ensuring we achieve some form of work-life balance. This can mean adopting the 4-hour workweek, which 61% of workers in a recent survey say they prefer. Other employers have no problem allowing flexible working hours as long as quality work is done on time.
“It seems pretty clear that the companies that are full time in-office are having a harder time attracting talent than the companies that offer some level of flexibility,” Rob Sadow, CEO and co-founder of Scoop, told Time in July. This proves flexible work isn’t just about productivity; it’s about showing employees their value.
2. Primary Care Subscriptions
Like most industries, today’s healthcare is moving fast and adapting to the digital age. Notable advancements to help support employee health include:
- Healthcare-as-a-Subscription: The traditional fee-for-service healthcare model is gradually becoming obsolete as healthcare providers adopt subscription-based primary care models like One Medical. Just like we subscribe to streaming or magazines, healthcare too can be straightforward and continuous. Sweden, Australia, and the United Kingdom have already adopted this model.
- Predictable Costs: Fixed monthly fees mean predictability. No surprises. This eases financial stress for both the company and the employee, knowing there won’t be unexpected medical bills.
- Holistic Care: These subscriptions often cover a broad spectrum of healthcare needs, from mental and emotional health support to general check-ups and specialist referrals.
3. Tech Detox Retreats
Being constantly tethered to your gadgets does no good. Sure, you could be on top of every task in your to-do list, hitting reply before an email has even cooled in your inbox. You might be the master of multitasking, juggling Zoom calls, Slack pings, and calendar reminders. The question is at what cost to your physical, mental, and emotional health. Before long, your eyes will tire, and your posture slacken. Coffee won’t be enough to ward off the fatigue.
Including tech detox retreats in your corporate wellness program is an excellent way to improve employee health. You can offer them quarterly to help employees reconnect with themselves, nature, and the world at large. They’re also great for fighting tech burnout and building real human connections among team members, especially those in a remote or hybrid work arrangement.
4. Job Security Workshops
As we pointed out earlier, AI is the current elephant in many organizations. Even if you’re on the fence on the issue, you have to admit this force has reshaped the world of work in a relatively short while. Your employees are probably wondering where they fit in this evolving landscape, especially if your organization is among the 56% that have already adopted AI in some way.
Will my role become obsolete? Most importantly, is my job secure? These concerns aren’t just whispers in the hallway; they’re pressing, genuine fears that, if left unaddressed, will erode morale and productivity. Include job security workshops in your wellness program to counter these potential challenges.
Hold candid discussions about the company’s vision concerning AI and potential role transitions. Let employees ask questions on the issue to demystify it. This will cultivate trust, foster loyalty, and inspire hope that will live on come what may.
5. Training and Development Opportunities
Future-proofing isn’t just an employee’s personal responsibility. It is an employer’s as well. As things stand, there’s no static skill set to speak of. Be it in healthcare or the arts, the job market is continually evolving, so as an employer, you must invest in reskilling your loyal employees.
Simply put, training and development must be part of your employee wellness program in 2024. Design courses that will diversify the employee’s skill set to help them embrace change proactively. Alternatively, consider revamping your tuition reimbursement program for chosen courses that are in high demand.
Soft skills like emotional intelligence, cross-cultural communication, critical thinking, innovation, and adaptability are good areas to invest your training dollars in. If tailored to the currents of the industry, these courses will ensure employees don’t merely react to shifts but expect and prepare well to embrace them.
6. Virtual Team Bonding Activities
While remote work brings unparalleled flexibility and the luxury of working from our comfort zones, sustained isolation is bad for mental health. Without face-to-face interactions, water-cooler chats, and impromptu lunch outings, it’s easy to grow detached from the team and affect the teamwork.
Virtual bonding activities are a digital-first solution that works for big and small teams. Forget the prolonged video meetings and routine team check-ins. Consider wellness activities that spark creativity and collective participation. Try virtual escape rooms where groups collaborate, think critically, and solve puzzles in a race against time.
Host a virtual talent show that allows everyone to let their hair down and bring out their inner artist. From music contests to stand-up comedy routines to magic tricks, these are great bonding activities. If time is an issue, consider hosting multiplayer gaming sessions. Engaging, competitive, and fun, these sessions can be the perfect antidote to the monotony of isolated workdays.
7. Instant Mental Health Support and Resources
The mental health crisis is a major area of concern for employers globally. In the US alone, 1 in 5 adults experienced mental illness in 2021. Additionally, 5.5% (1 in 20) of US adults experienced severe mental illness in the same period. The mental health professional shortage makes the situation more dire because mental health crises don’t work 9-5.
Employers can alleviate the burden by investing in mental health AI chatbots. While these tools do not entirely replace therapists or human support, they can be good first responders during a crisis because, unlike human therapists, chatbots are on standby 24/7.
Another solution is investing in an app linking to on-call mental health professionals for immediate guidance. For employers, including this offering in your employee wellness program is a great way to collect anonymous data on employee well-being to help you tailor better interventions.
8. Money Mastery and Financial Health Classes
Understanding money matters is a basic life skill in today’s fluctuating economy. Per a study by the American Psychological Association, inflation is a major stressor for 89% of Americans. 69% of adults are worried about the economy, and 66% are stressed about financial wellness in general. These numbers are significant because financial stress doesn’t stay at home; it follows employees to work.
Excellent financial health equals less stress. That’s better focus at work and peace at home. Adding customized financial wellness classes to your employee wellness program can help employees reduce stress. Consider the workplace demographics to ensure everyone –from the new 20-something-year-old to the senior members about to retire – benefits.
9. On-site Fitness
Physical wellness is the foundation upon which productivity, creativity, and engagement stand. Without it, even the most attractive employee perks lose their attractiveness.
This is important in the digital age, where employees spend more time sitting than ever. In fact, experts warn that sitting has become the new smoking. Physical inactivity accounts for $117 Billion in annual healthcare costs and is a risk factor for chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity.
You can still offer gym subscriptions in 2024 to promote physical wellness. Offering on-site fitness classes, such as yoga, pilates, and HIIT, can also promote mental and physical health without leaving the workplace.
To add to that, encourage employees to activate micro-movement alerts for physical activity. Promote healthy habits like walking meetings. 3-minute stretches, desk exercises, or deep breaths can dramatically boost energy and reduce stress.
10. Community Volunteering Opportunities
Work should be about more than hitting deadlines and achieving deliverables. In a PwC study of 502 business leaders across the United States, 79% of respondents agreed that purpose is central to business success and to an organization’s existence. “Employees crave an understanding of how their work makes a difference in the lives of others,” the researchers noted.
Facilitate more volunteer opportunities in 2024 to bridge the gap between everyday tasks and greater societal impact. Coming together for a cause strengthens team bonds. It’s teamwork in its rawest form—collaborating, not for company gain, but for community uplift. Engaging in altruistic activities is known to boost happiness levels, so this employee wellness idea is a win-win for everyone involved.
11. Childcare and Parental Support Initiatives
Employers should have an employee wellness program focusing on working parents because parenting is hard. The combination of work stress and parental woes can be too much, which explains why working moms are up to 40% more stressed.
Flexible parental leave that goes beyond the legal minimum is a godsend. Extended leave, phased returns, or even parental sabbaticals can make the challenging early months of parenthood more manageable. For parents with toddlers, nothing says you care better than employer-sponsored daycare services. This isn’t about being generous—it’s about being human and showing empathy to a fellow human being.
12. Employee Recognition Programs
An employee recognition program is one wellness idea that will never grow old. In a world of constant digital notifications and fleeting ‘likes,’ genuine appreciation stands out because it’s so rare.
Ditch the one-size-fits-all ‘Employee of the Month’ plaques. Go personal. Understand what makes each employee tick and tailor rewards accordingly. Give public shout-outs in front of colleagues during team meetings. Revamp your peer recognition program because no one understands the nuances of an employee’s contribution than their peers. Foster a culture of mutual appreciation by allowing teams to recognize each other.
Celebrate milestone celebrations. Let people know you appreciate their serving a certain tenure, project completions, or even personal achievements like completing a marathon or publishing a book. These moments, both big and small, matter. By celebrating them, you’re saying, “We see you. We value you.”
The digital revolution isn’t just reshaping our tech; it’s flipping how we approach employee well-being altogether. As algorithms get smarter, we must ensure we put ‘human’ back in human resources. Don’t just rush to tick boxes or follow trends; ensure you tune in to your employees’ unique needs and challenges.
In 2024, the companies poised to lead are those that understand a simple truth: Invest in your people, genuinely and innovatively, and they’ll invest back—with passion, dedication, and unparalleled employee engagement.
Whether it’s harnessing the power of AI without sacrificing human connection, prioritizing physical health in a digital world, or simply acknowledging an employee’s hard work, the underlying principle stands: See the individual, respect their journey, and offer the support they deserve.
Here’s to building workplaces that flourish. Let’s make 2024 count by seeing employees as people and striving to enrich their lives holistically.