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From Workouts to Wellness: CEO Expands Scope to Whole-Body Health

'Participation [in wellness programs] triples when the leadership team is involved in pushing the benefit to the employees and leading by example.'

The company Cesar Carvalho co-founded 12 years ago has come a long way from its roots as a vehicle to make it easier for people in his native Brazil to exercise at gyms. Originally called Gympass, the now New York City-based company was rechristened as Wellhub earlier this month to fully reflect the vast array of health services it offers to its 15,000 corporate clients and their 2.7 million employees.

Aside from offering ways to stay physically fit, Wellhub also provides mindfulness training, meditation instruction, sleep help, and nutritional counseling through partners including Headspace, Nutrium, and SleepCycle. The cost to clients is determined by the number of eligible employees plus add-ons such as extending membership to workers’ families.

Carvalho said the comprehensive options allow employees to select services that meet their needs and support their mental and physical health. Mental health options are very important, according to Wellhub’s Return on Wellbeing 2024 report, which surveyed 2,000 HR executives at companies with wellness programs. The respondents said employees value mental wellness support more than any other benefit.

SHRM Online spoke to Carvalho about why his business underwent the transformation and what it means to program participants. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

SHRM Online: Why did you rebrand?

Carvalho: Our product has evolved. We went from just access to in-person gyms and studios to digital fitness, and then we started signing partnerships in the mental health space, the mindfulness space, the nutritional space, and ways to help people sleep better. Our name didn't reflect that. We had to do such a heavy lift to communicate our value proposition. We would have a moment in a meeting with our corporate clients when they said, “You are way more than just a gym pass.” We had to make the change.


SHRM Online: Why did you start branching into all the new areas?

Carvalho: Our clients were pushing us. They would say, “Can you include this app in your offering because we like it and we want to offer it and it makes sense for that solution to be under your plan.”


SHRM Online: What did you think when you saw that mental health benefits were the most valued by employees?

Carvalho: It didn't surprise me at all. Mental health services are one of the fastest-growing services on our platform. What’s really important here is that there are many ways to improve your mental health, like sleeping well and eating well. These activities reinforce each other so that everyone can have more resilience, less anxiety, and better mental health.


SHRM Online: Was there anything in the survey that surprised you?

Carvalho: They [HR leaders] have seen a 2-to-1 return for every dollar of assets [they spent], mostly in reduced health care costs. It was a positive sign. Two is a very good number. What really matters is employee adoption. Participation [in wellness programs] triples when the leadership team is involved in pushing the benefit to the employees and leading by example. I didn't know how big the impact and the influence that the leaders can have on their organizations’ [wellness programs].


SHRM Online: How can we end the stigma of discussing mental health in the workplace?

Carvalho: If I have to pick one thing that would make a dramatic shift, it is the effect of the leadership of the organization. I think they have a blind spot because they think everyone can do [what they can do]. As leaders of organizations, you have access to different mental health providers. You can have your gym membership, you can work with a coach, you can move things around to fit your schedule. If you’re not talking about [mental health], you're not creating an example for other people. You have to have a plan to help people who might not have access to the resources that you do.


SHRM Online: Why do you think people need all the apps when so much of the information is out on the web?

There’s just too much out there. It’s complex. If you want to improve your sleep and you Google [how], 200 different ways to improve your sleep come up. That’s where we come in. We’re signing partnerships with the best players in each space. We're helping people build healthy habits with different solutions.





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