Benefits & Work-Life Focus


Survey Shows Shift from Wellness to Holistic Well-Being

By Jim Fickess, WorldatWork  |  April 2015

A recent WorldatWork study confirms that employee wellness programs are evolving into more holistic well-being strategies.

The "Total Rewards and Employee Well-Being Practices" survey, released in March, shows organizations are adding well-being programs as they receive more support from the C-suite.

Nearly three in four organizations with existing programs (74%) plan an increase or considerable increase to their current well-being programs. Another 24% plan to maintain program level with only 2% planning to reduce programs.

Since the first survey in 2011, the "primary champion" of such programs is slowly shifting from human resources to an organization's CEO or other non-HR senior management.
"When you see support of a program moving more to senior managers, that's when you start to see a cultural shift and more program success," said Rose Stanley, CCP, CBP, WLCP, CEBS, a total rewards practice leader at WorldatWork.

Wellness programs focus on physical health while well-being addresses "all things that are stressors in an employee's life," Stanley explained. "Organizations are starting to put 2 and 2 together and realize that if they take a more holistic view of stressors, they will get more bang for their buck."

Effective well-being programs generally have relatively low costs and increase employee satisfaction, engagement and productivity, Stanley pointed out.

While a vast majority (70%) of respondents say they communicate their well-being programs on a frequent and ongoing basis, that is a vital function that needs to be regularly reviewed, Stanley said.

"Many organizations have several excellent programs that could be enhanced if they were integrated and communicated better," Stanley said. "While consistent communication is key, think about changing up that message and emphasizing programs employees may not know about."

Also, don't be afraid to ask employees what kind of programs they would like. "Put yourself in the receiver's head — ask what they are you looking for," she said, noting a person's well-being program wants and needs change over time.

One member organization offered a financial-wellness program, covering such basics as responsible credit-card use and getting out of debt, and had five times the participants than was projected. "One of the participants who went through the program told them, 'This was like getting a raise,' " Stanley said.

The majority of organizations (58%) empower line managers and supervisors to support employees participating in well-being programs.

That is a crucial link in the process, Stanley said.

"It is still a challenge in getting managers trained in the benefits of the program," she said. "For example, is there flexibility to let an employee use the gym over the lunch hour?"

Other findings of the survey include:

  • Improving employee health was the most frequently mentioned (82%) reason for offering well-being programs followed by: decrease medical premiums and claim costs (78%), perceived value to employees (77%), increase employee engagement (74%), improve employee productivity (70%) and improve employee retention (64%). Those responses were consistent with the 2011 survey.
  • Organizations that offered employer-sponsored health care said they would keep most of their well-being offerings if they dropped health-care coverage. The well-being programs that organizations are most likely to be retained are workplace safety (95%) and encouraging taking time away from work (92%).
  • Well-being program effectiveness is measured by a vast majority of organizations (72%) with participation rates being the most mentioned measure (52%), followed by health-care costs (37%).
  • While many of the top well-being elements are health related, there is shared distribution among health-related and work-life balance programs. The top five utilized programs are: 1. Physical health-risk assessment; 2. Workplace safety; 3. Flexible schedules; 4. Encourage time away from work; and 5. Physical fitness (exercising).

Some of the questions were retooled for the 2015 survey. In the first survey, respondents were asked if they encouraged employees to take their vacation and other time-off days. This time, they were asked if they encouraged employees to unplug from work when they take time off. Sixty-one percent said they do.

"That's an encouraging response," Stanley said. "You really need to take a break from work when you are taking time off."

While it's difficult to see trends with just two surveys, it's clear holistic well-being initiatives will continue to grow as senior management sees the business benefits over traditional wellness programs, Stanley said.

"You want employees focused on their job," she said. "One way to do that is to offer well-being programs that address the stressors that take their mind off their job."

The "Total Rewards and Employee Well-Being Practices" report summarizes the results of a December 2014 survey of 6,484 WorldatWork members who had noted compensation and benefits or work-life in their job title and indicated a total rewards job function. A total of 446 responded to the electronic survey, a 7% response rate.

The demographics of the survey sample and respondents are similar to WorldatWork members as a whole. The typical WorldatWork member works at the managerial level or higher in the headquarters of a company in North America.

About the Author

Jim Fickess writes and edits for WorldatWork.

Read the April edition of Benefits & Work-Life Focus.

Contents © 2015 WorldatWork. No part of this article may be reproduced, excerpted or redistributed in any form without express written permission from WorldatWork.

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