Employee wellness programs have become increasingly popular over the past few years and with good reason. With returns on investment of up to 6 to 1, it makes sense why 53% of employers in the United States invested in an employee wellness program in 2023. From gym memberships to smoking cessation programs to retirement planning, employee wellness offerings go a long way in improving employee’s physical and mental health.
However, no employee wellness activities can produce healthy employees overnight. Here’s an example of why supporting employees to develop a healthy lifestyle is a great strategy:
“My work is doing these monthly employee wellness activities like sending healthy recipes and exercise ideas and I’m like…if you cared about employee wellness I wouldn’t be here during a global pandemic but thanks for the corn salsa recipe I guess?” laments a Twitter user.
Sending healthy recipes and exercise ideas isn’t the problem in this scenario. The lack of customization and motivation is. While some employees could benefit from exercise ideas, physical wellness is just one aspect of employee well-being. It’s worthwhile to get to know your employees and what wellness topics are most important to them.
Let’s explore some engaging employee wellness activities that can foster healthy habits and increase employee engagement in your worksite wellness program.
20 of the Most Engaging Employee Wellness Activities
1. Host Virtual Fitness Challenges
While many employers have embraced remote work and flexible schedules, most employees spend at least 8 hours at work. Virtual fitness challenges are a great way to break the monotony. Even better, they encourage remote employees to improve physical health and share their results within a community.
The beauty of these wellness activities is that they’re customizable. For example, you can host weekly or monthly fitness challenges where remote employees can compete in friendly competitions like step challenges, running, or cycling events. Set goals and then choose a dedicated wellness platform, app, or a simple shared document to track user progress.
You can also create a group chat for employees to share their progress, share tips, or even offer feedback. Choose appropriate rewards to boost employee morale.
2. Provide On-site Fitness Classes
Nothing says you care about your employees’ fitness better than on-site fitness activities. Be it yoga, pilates, fitness boot camp, cardio kickbox, or dance classes, physical movement is a surefire way to boost employee energy and morale. It’s also one of the best ways of encouraging team bonding.
The accessibility of fitness facilities makes all the difference. According to the American Heart Association, lack of time is the number one reason why people don’t meet their physical activity goals. Sometimes it’s not even that they can’t access a good gym; they’re just too tired from managing life and have no energy or time to use it.
Bringing the facilities to the employees regularly (whether daily, weekly, or at other regular intervals) frees up their time, making it easier for them to prioritize their physical health. That allows them to sign up for the physical activity classes based on their interests and schedule availability. They also save employees the cost of hiring personal trainers.
3. Set Healthy Living Credits and Reimbursements
Healthy living does not come cheap. From gym memberships to fitness devices, not everyone can afford to purchase what they need to improve their life. Providing credits or reimbursements for employees is a great way to boost participation in employer-sponsored employee wellness programs.
For example, you can implement a reimbursement policy for health/fitness-related spending. This can include products like nutrition counseling, stress-management therapies, or entry fees to a marathon. Employees already engaged in these activities will undoubtedly like it very much. It might also incentivize less physically active employees to do something about their mental and physical health levels.
4. Promote the Active Office Initiative
How do you encourage your employees to hit the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week when they spend most of their hours seated? Incorporate simple physical employee wellness activities into their workday. Start with simple weekly or bi-weekly physical challenges like who can do the most push-ups, squats, or hold a plank the longest. Winners could receive small prizes or recognition.
Promoting the concept of walking meetings is another solution. Start with establishing safe and scenic walking routes near the office premises. Also, encourage employees to use wearable fitness trackers or smartphone apps to track steps during walking meetings.
5. Organize Healthy Cooking Competitions
Exercise, no matter how intense or frequent, is insufficient to help achieve optimum physical health on its own. Healthy eating habits are equally important. But how do we break away from the clutches of junk food and sugary treats when they’re all around us?
Hosting a healthy cooking competition is a great place to start. Encourage employees to share healthy meal recipes. Consider hosting a healthy cooking competition where employees team up to create nutritious dishes judged by local chefs or nutritionists. Alternatively, they can bring a healthy potluck lunch to work. Organizing a group challenge where employees eat a certain number of fruits and vegetables each day is another great employee wellness activity.
6. Coordinate Group Outdoor Activities
Are you disappointed with the poor participation rates in your current employee wellness program? Consider changing the location occasionally. Some people are unable to cultivate healthy habits not because they don’t care but because of the demands of their roles. Getting away from the office may help, allowing them to focus on other things besides work.
Organize outdoor employee wellness activities like group hikes bike rides, or rock climbing activities once per quarter or as your schedule allows. Sign your company for team sports. Sponsor a 5k race and set up practice runs for team building. The running fees can go to a charity, and the runners themselves can have some exercise. Win-win for all stakeholders.
7. Offer Free Memberships to Meditation Apps
The barrage of information that hits us daily makes it very difficult to focus. From emails to social media to text messages, there’s always something to pull employees away from their work. It’s not easier for remote employees either. Whether it’s pets, children, or other family members, there’s always something needing attention that makes it hard to focus.
Easily accessible meditation resources are great for improving mindfulness and focus. Meditation is effective at reducing workplace stress, anxiety, and depression. It also improves focus, concentration, and cognitive function, making employees happier and more productive. Best of all, these solutions are scalable and accessible to both remote workers and those fully on-site. This makes them a great tool for promoting a mindful and positive workplace culture.
8. Sponsor Charity/Volunteer Work activities
Yes, this is a great employee wellness activity to improve employee health. By default, human beings feel good when they do something good for others. Do not wait until the next CSR week comes around. Instead, poll your team to get suggestions on volunteer activities they’d like to participate in and make it a fun event. Some ideas to implement include:
- Hosting regular company-organized volunteer events where employees can sign up to participate in community service projects.
- Providing volunteer paid time off (VTO) tailored specifically for employees to volunteer at eligible organizations of their choice.
- Increasing flexible working hours to motivate employees to create a healthy lifestyle
- Establishing partnerships with local nonprofits to create ongoing volunteer opportunities for employees.
9. Organize Experiential Learning Expeditions
The best learning experiences involve direct interaction and observation. They allow people to go beyond theoretical classroom lessons to practical, real-world experiences. Here are some outside-the-box ideas for expeditious employee wellness activities:
- Local farms for organic farming and sustainable food practices
- Eco-friendly or socially responsible businesses for environmental and community wellness tips
- Interactive workshops like healthy cooking competitions
- Guided tours and demonstrations on various wellness topics
- Wellness centers to learn about holistic health practices, alternative therapies, and wellness philosophies
10. Create a Water Cooler Culture
Social isolation is a top contributor to mental health problems. As it’s often said, no one is an island. Your employees need each other’s perspectives to help them get through work and life challenges. Open communication helps foster a sense of community and create an inclusive workplace culture. Where to start? At the water cooler.
Those social interactions among employees are one of the best ways of creating a cohesive team. They foster a sense of belonging and can help reduce feelings of isolation, especially in large organizations. This then promotes mental wellness, promotes inclusivity, and contributes to a more positive organizational culture.
11. Implement a No-Meetings Friday Policy
Wanting to clear your plate by the end of the week makes sense. Having a flurry of meetings on the last day of the week doesn’t. Instead, it might reduce the quality of work done and increase stress. This is especially true when they’ve had a hectic schedule with weekly back-to-back meetings.
A No-Meetings Friday can provide a full day for uninterrupted work, enabling employees to focus on crucial tasks and projects. Having a day without meetings can also give employees time to prepare for upcoming meetings, projects, and tasks. Let it be a genuine TGIF Friday to create time for employees to recharge and start their week on the right foot.
12. Include a Healthy Breakfast in the Office
Back to healthy meals, breakfast is often the most important one for many people. But, unless you work remotely, some employees are just too busy or tired to prepare and cook healthy meals at home in the morning. Offering healthy foods even two times per week can impact their health greatly. Having a nice meal with colleagues is also a great way to socialize and improve employee relationships.
13. Facilitate Frequent Mindset Coaching
With unprecedented chaos and change in the business landscape, it’s hard for anyone still stuck in the past to succeed. Worrying about the future (especially concerning various tech developments like AI and machine learning) isn’t the solution, either.
“I see AI as augmenting the human, not replacing the human,” Apple CEO Tim Cook once stated concerning the biggest elephant in the room today. “We want the best of both, the best of technology and what the human brain can do.” Facilitating mindset coaching around various topics, including the future of work, can help employees to build resilience and maintain focus during these changing times.
14. Celebrate a Wellness Week/Month
Companies with a healthy wellness culture have dedicated weeks or months where specific well-being aspects are given a special focus across the organization. A wellness month typically involves various activities catering to different interests.
For example, week 1 can address physical activities such as step challenges, group workouts, yoga classes, etc. Week 2 can be about mental health awareness and stress management, week 3 nutrition, and so on.
Organizing workshops or bringing in guest speakers to educate employees on various wellness topics during these weeks is likely to have even more impact. It’s also the best time to offer free on-site health screenings for cancer, heart problems, blood sugar, kidney function, and other biometrics.
15. Invest in Pop-Up Wellness Stations
Maybe you can’t afford an on-site fitness facility. There’s no reason why you can’t invest in regular temporary or pop-up wellness stations. These can offer services like biometric screenings, flu shots, blood pressure checks, ergonomic assessments, and even massage therapy. They can also provide educational wellness resources on nutrition, exercise, mental health, stress management, and other wellness-related topics.
Should the budget allow, you can combine these wellness activities with consultations with various professionals. Think dieticians, physiotherapists, mental health counselors, yoga trainers, etc.
16. Plan for Pet Therapy Days
Petting a beloved pet can reduce cortisol, a stress hormone, thus promoting emotional health, happiness, and relaxation. It can also lift an employee’s spirits and improve their mood, making the whole office a much happier place.
A bring-your-furry-friend-to-work day can thus boost employee satisfaction, reduce anxiety, and boost productivity. It’s also great for enhancing social interaction among employees at work.
17. Conduct Financial Wellness Workshops
Employee wellness activities can also revolve around other dimensions of wellness, such as financial health. Poor financial health is a major stress factor that also affects mental and physical health. With the increased cost of living, even those who previously made “enough” might still struggle with surprise expenses and long-term goals like home ownership and retirement. Providing support, such as workshops and counseling on financial wellness, creates a ripple effect and makes it easier for employees to concentrate on other aspects of well-being.
18. Provide Time off to Exercise
Allowing employees even one hour off to exercise per week can make a huge difference in your corporate wellness initiatives. The key lies in planning well to ensure everyone is accommodated. Individuals can then choose what they want to focus on provided it’s exercise-related. Whether they choose to walk their dogs, take up swimming lessons, or go to the gym, it’s a win-win for employers and employees.
19. Perform Ergonomic Assessments
Preventing physical strain and related health issues is the first step in cultivating a wellness culture in the workplace. While technically not a wellness activity by itself, performing ergonomic assessments ensures employees have a comfortable and safe workspace that promotes holistic well-being.
Ensure the setup of desks, chairs, monitors, keyboards, and other equipment is examined routinely to promote good posture and reduce strain. Encourage healthy work habits like taking breaks and stretching routines. Additionally, evaluate the lighting, noise, and temperature to ensure a comfortable and conducive work environment.
20. Welcome Employee-Driven Wellness Initiatives
“A lot of companies offer workplace wellness programs to keep up the façade of a humanist, warm, in-touch company,” laments a tech employee. “It’s just good PR.” While some companies might be guilty of using employees as props, many employers are genuinely interested in employee well-being because it affects organizational success.
If you’re one such employer, encourage employees to propose and lead their own wellness initiatives. Fostering a culture of ownership and innovation in workplace wellness programs creates a supportive and healthy environment, and that’s more effective than any bells and whistles you can add.
Creativity and customization are the secret ingredients when it comes to an effective employee wellness program. Incorporate game elements like points, levels, and rewards in your wellness program to make it more engaging. Conduct sufficient pulse surveys before investing in any activity. Design inclusive programs to cater to diverse fitness levels, health conditions, and employee preferences. Additionally, ensure the communication channels are clear to facilitate feedback and keep the program fresh. With a little creativity and investment, you’ll create a beneficial and engaging employee wellness program.