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How Workplace Wellness Programs Can Give Employees the Energy Boost They Need

Employees need more than just access to mental health apps and fitness challenges; they require comprehensive well-being support, especially considering the impact of mental health issues and burnout on productivity.


Two business men talking in an office building.


​While companies may tout their wellness programs as a way of investing in their employees’ well-being, many are overly focused on reducing healthcare costs, so they tend to offer step challenges and gym discounts that workers don’t have time to use.

Though these efforts are well-intended, many wellness programs built on a “set-it-and-forget-it” mentality are often undervalued and inadequate in supporting employees’ needs, both on and off the job. Gartner’s 2021 Employee Value Proposition Benchmarking Survey revealed that although 87 percent of employees have access to mental and emotional well-being offerings, only 23 percent of employees use them. The same pattern also applies to physical and financial well-being programs. Worse, many companies are wasting precious financial resources on ineffective programs. Meanwhile, they suffer the costs of losing talent, replacing disengaged employees, and watching productivity plummet.

“At a time when workers continue to quietly quit and many companies are struggling to fill openings, it’s especially important for employers to revamp their wellness offerings.”

What employees need most today is an energy boost, according to wellness expert Dilan Gomih, founder and CEO of Dilagence, a company that works with organizations to create physical and mental well-being events.

At a time when workers continue to quietly quit and many companies are struggling to fill openings, it’s especially important for employers to revamp their wellness offerings now, with the goal of attracting and retaining talent and keeping workers happy and healthy, which will boost productivity and improve the bottom line.

Mental health issues impact work

COVID-19 highlighted the fact that workers expect employers to go beyond offering access to mental health apps and setting up fitness challenges. After all, many employees are struggling with serious mental health issues. Mind Share Partner’s 2021 Mental Health at Work Report showed that three-quarters of full-time US workers reported having at least one symptom of a mental health condition, and 84 percent said at least one workplace factor, such as emotionally draining work, negatively impacted their mental health.

“In recent years, many workplace wellness programs have focused on ways to lower healthcare costs, but these programs haven’t gone far enough to meet employee needs.”

Plus, the survey found that the “resource” most desired by respondents (31 percent) was a more open culture around mental health.

In recent years, many workplace wellness programs have focused on ways to lower healthcare costs, but these programs haven’t gone far enough to meet employee needs. Particularly during the pandemic, companies discovered that when there’s a drain on employees’ physical, mental, and emotional energy, productivity is naturally affected.

This impact on productivity can also be due to burnout, which is characterized by feelings of exhaustion, cynicism, and a lack of effectiveness and is often caused by chronic stress in the workplace. Companies ultimately bear the cost of lost productivity through quiet quitting, as well as the expense of replacing miserable, burned-out employees who depart. With the costs of replacing an employee cited at as much as three to four times a position’s salary, attrition due to burnout is worth preventing.

Why companies should focus on employee energy

Studies have found that employees who are in good health are more likely to feel engaged and productive at work, and employees in good mental health are less likely to experience burnout. Research has also shown that physical exercise increases effective cognition and memory in adults. A Gallup study also found that companies with high levels of employee engagement reported 23 percent higher profitability compared to companies with low levels of employee engagement.

To help organizations yield the benefits of increased employee well-being, it’s time to reframe employee wellness programs to help employees improve their energy levels. This means offering targeted and tailored solutions that address employees' specific needs, including their physical health, mental health, emotional well-being, and their sense of purpose. To support employees, companies should:

  • Increase access to services that drive efficiency and save time. Organizations should offer services, such as childcare, elder care, career coaching, personal training, and therapy to help employees find a healthier work-life balance.

  • Increase awareness of programs. Regularly remind employees about the services that are available and highlight how participation is valued by the organization.

  • Reduce the stigma around mental health problems. Employees shouldn’t spend emotional and mental energy worrying about being penalized for actually using well-being services. Managers can empower employees to use the services by acting as role models and talking about using the programs themselves.

  • Listen to employees and focus on what works. Create a regular feedback mechanism to audit what services are used and enjoyed by employees—and which ones have a higher return on investment. Continue investing in the programs that are working and cut the ones that aren’t.

By prioritizing energy management and investing in resources that support employees' physical, mental, and emotional, and energy, companies can use well-being as a strategy to improve performance and drive bottom-line results.

This article was written by Hise Gibson for Harvard Business School Working Knowledge and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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