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Alight named by Fortune as one of the ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ in 2024

Why is having an employee wellbeing program important?


Workforce wellbeing has become a business priority. A resilient workforce is critical to an organization’s success. Building a resilient workforce means investing in employee wellbeing.

Companies are becoming increasingly aware that a higher level of employee engagement can improve productivity and lower absence rates. This serves to improve the overall company performance.

These overarching reasons for improving the wellbeing of employees have not changed in more than 350 years.

A brief history of employee wellbeing

In the 1680s, Bernardino Ramazzini the “forefather of occupational health” was the first to record workplace challenges affecting worker wellbeing.

The next significant development was the eight-hour workday. In 1926, Henry Ford announced the 40-hour, 5-day workweek. Ford believed his workforce needed time for their family.

It was typical for factories to operate 12-hour plus shifts, six days a week. As a result, many suffered long-term physical damage.

In the 1950s employers started to offer employee wellness initiatives. These early Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) primarily focused on alcoholism and mental health issues. When given access to support services, employees performed better. Employers saw this and started offering resources as an employee benefit.

The most significant change in employee benefits this decade is the shift from wellness to wellbeing.

One-size-fits-all wellness programs were set up to improve the physical health of employees. These programs tend to focus on one-off actions such as health screenings. This approach often fails to address real concerns.

The most significant change in employee benefits this decade is the shift from wellness to wellbeing.

One-size-fits-all wellness programs were set up to improve the physical health of employees. These programs tend to focus on one-off actions such as health screenings. This approach often fails to address real concerns.

Employee wellness is about physical health. Focus on getting fit, losing weight or improving other physical indicators. Wellbeing is about the whole person; of which Alight’s definition of the whole is mind, body, wallet and life.

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered the most dynamic changes we’ve experienced in how we live and work. The lockdown periods highlighted people’s real concerns. Including the links work, life, finances, mental and physical health have on a person’s four pillars of wellbeing – physical, mental, financial and social health.

Wellbeing research and recommendations

In Alight’s International workforce and wellbeing mindset report, fewer than half (44%) of employees rate their overall wellbeing positively. How we thrive is unique and closely linked to how secure we feel in our roles and responsibilities. More than half of employees (54%) say work flexibility is key to managing responsibilities outside work.

  • Rather than one-off events, wellbeing programs provide long-term support. Personalization drives success. Tailored resources, services and education programs are designed to encourage employees to make good holistic lifestyle decisions. The program learns with the user based on their interactions. Many programs don’t have the same agility.
  • To be inclusive and equitable, intelligent wellbeing programs recognize where employees with pre-existing conditions could benefit from additional support or ideas. They also should consider potential challenges and opportunities across the employee spectrum.
  • Needs will differ and change. Someone with debt should have recommendations around budget planning or emergency savings rather than long-term retirement support, for example.

If a wellbeing program is not adapting with an individual’s needs, your people are unlikely to feel seen or valued. According to the Alight 2022 International workforce and wellbeing mindset report, just 34% feel their employers genuinely care about their wellbeing.

Usability and structure are also vital

The average employer currently offers up to 15 wellbeing offerings from 10 vendors. This doesn’t include the additional options offered to employees via health carriers, Human Capital Management (HCM) platforms and/or learning and development tools1.

When services are delivered via complex setups and interfaces, there’s a high risk of information paralysis. Users don’t know where to start, what’s useful or how to progress with assistance.

It’s also likely that many will access information using a mobile device. A responsive, consumer-like user interface and signposting are important for service uptake. The higher the usage, the better the measurable wellbeing improvements will be.

A holistic wellbeing strategy is good for business, its people and its customers

More positively, a good employee wellbeing program coaches individuals to make smart decisions about their health, wealth and mental choices. Prevention is better than a cure.

This is one of the fundamental principles of modern health care. It is inherent in the health and social care strategies of many countries. It, therefore, makes sense this approach is replicated in employee wellbeing programs.

A company with a culture that breaks the stigma of asking for help demonstrates to stakeholders that it’s invested in its workforce. Implementing a comprehensive wellbeing program and platform, backed by a clear and measurable strategy, cements this intent as authentic.

Linking the platform to existing health, wealth and wellbeing employee benefits to create a “digital wellbeing hub” extends the perceived value of total rewards packages. This can be a great talent attraction and retention tactic. More than one-in-three (35%) say employer wellbeing benefits and programs make the company more attractive to potential employees.

Ultimately, a well-structured, targeted employee wellbeing program can set everyone up for success. Business leaders, HR, individuals, teams, investors and customers.

If you need help with your employee wellbeing engagement or solutions strategy, a member of our Employee Wellbeing Solutions team will be happy to help

Large sample of 60 large employers from Alight book of business, 2022.

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