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Do Employee Wellness Programs Really Work?

By Kandy Cantwell on November, 15 2023
5 minute read

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The short answer is yes. However, there is a big caveat. They are effective only if they are properly designed and implemented.

A well-executed wellness program can make a substantial difference for your company.

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How should an employee wellness program work?

Employee workspace wellness programs are meant to improve the health and well-being of employees and prevent the development of serious diseases. A functioning wellness program is also able to trim significant business costs.

For employers, employee wellness programs help reduce

  • health care costs
  • employee turnover
  • sick leave and absenteeism
  • short and long-term disability payments
  • employee benefit costs
  • worker’s compensation claims

Beyond financial gains, they also serve as magnets for top-tier talent, elevating productivity, engagement, and overall employee satisfaction.

While quantifying the direct impact of wellness programs to fully understand their effectiveness is challenging, several studies have examined various results and outcomes. So, let's delve into the hard numbers.


What do the numbers say?

A recent study from RBC reveals that two-thirds of Canadians with access to employer-provided benefits rate their overall well-being as good or excellent, compared to only half without such benefits. The return on investment for wellness programs averages an impressive 3.27, translating to $3.27 in savings for every dollar invested. And as if that wasn’t enough, another research from the University of California and Washington University highlights a 5% increase in worker productivity—a tangible gain equivalent to adding one extra day of productivity per month.

Yet, in reality, not all companies experience these positive outcomes. 


Why do wellness programs sometimes fail?

Companies often look for our advice, concerned that their investments in employees’ well-being didn’t pay off. How can it be possible that the multi-billion-dollar wellness industry is growing, but its benefits fail to materialize for some firms?

Short-term focus and an incorrect target audience are two major reasons.

Short-term focus

Wellness programs are a long-term investment that yields results over time. However, companies often place a short-term focus on activities, expecting immediate results, which is unrealistic.

Incorrect target audience

Additionally, simply offering healthier food options in the office and discounted gym memberships may not suffice. Studies indicate that such offers are usually taken up by those who are already health-conscious. Those who are not proactive about their health often ignore these programs.

Therefore, wellness programs need to cater to the diverse needs of the entire workforce. They should address the issues of those who need them most in ways that are accessible and usable for all.


How to make employee wellness programs work?

Employee wellness extends beyond physical health.

While the focus on physical health aspects such as preventing heart disease remains relevant today, the modern work environment necessitates an equal if not greater emphasis on mental health, addressing the underlying causes of both emotional and financial concerns.

Ask employees what they want! 

We see it very often, that the happiness of individuals in the workplace is closely tied to their ability to control and manage their time according to their own needs. This is especially important in knowledge-based industries where computer work is predominant. However, rather than providing a simple solution such as flexibility, organizations often allocate significant resources to wellness-related programs, many of which go unused.

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Companies could make better use of these funds by asking employees about their specific needs and providing more flexibility in allocating these resources. It is equally important to ensure employees are aware of these programs, how to access them, and the benefits of doing so.

Fix management issues first.

Even the most effective wellness program can fail if there are fundamental issues, such as a culture of overwork or harassment. Therefore, it is essential to address management issues as a priority in order for any program to succeed.

Last but not least, we want to provide you with a few examples of wellness programs that we have observed to work effectively for our customers. We hope these examples will be valuable to you.


Ideas for the wellness programs that really help

  • Remote working
  • Flexible Working Hours
  • Subsidized Ongoing Education
  • ​​On-site Individual or Group Counseling
  • Naps
  • Smoking cessation programs
  • Celebrating employee success
  • Childcare Facilities
  • Vaccinations
  • Standing Desks
  • Employee Activity Clubs (e.g., Walking, Bicycling, Books club)
  • Financial education 
  • … and many more



Employee wellness programs that prioritize personal needs are often the most successful and appreciated. A significant shift occurs when companies start to consider their potential to positively impact individuals' well-being. Listen to your employees, motivate them, value diversity, and foster inclusion, to set your program up for success.

Employee Wellness 101: How Healthy Employees Lead to Healthy Returns

  • Reduce absenteeism
  • Improve workplace engagement and productivity
  • Save employers money

Download now