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Five Free (and High-Impact) Employee Wellness Program Ideas

Ross Simons

Ross Simons

Director of Inbound Marketing
Five Free Employee Wellness Program Ideas

When HR professionals think about investing in employee wellness, they often think about costly, high-tech solutions like fitness trackers, mindfulness apps, on-site gyms, and nutritional food delivery. But while significant investments in employee wellness can pay huge dividends, many lower-ticket options can be just as effective.

Think of it this way: If you’re trying to develop an exercise habit, you could spend thousands on a web-connected exercise bike capable of streaming virtual classes into your living room. But your doctor would be just as happy if you started with a 30-minute walk every morning.

The same is true for employee wellness. You can achieve many of the organizational benefits of an employee wellness program — including increased productivity, less absenteeism, higher engagement, lower healthcare costs, and reduced turnover — for almost no money at all.

Here are five free wellness program possibilities that will improve your employees’ health and wellbeing and your company’s bottom line:

1. Give (or Continue Giving) Employees Flexibility About Where and When They Work

Many employers shifted to remote or hybrid working arrangements during the COVID pandemic. As the pandemic fades into the rearview, several employers are mandating a return to the office. But there are some convincing wellness-oriented reasons to put a pause on your organization’s RTO plans.

Studies show that remote and hybrid work can reduce employee stress and burnout. When freed of their aggravating, time-consuming commutes, employees often find more time and energy to exercise, plan healthy meals, pursue their interests, and nurture relationships with friends and family.

(Plus, the jury is still out on whether returning to fully in-person work would genuinely boost productivity.)

Flexible scheduling, where organizations trust employees to manage their own time, has similar wellness benefits. Flexible scheduling and remote/hybrid work promote the work-life balance that modern employees prioritize as a key component of wellbeing and mental health

2. Encourage Virtual or In-Person Socialization

One downside of the remote work lifestyle is loneliness. Researchers have found that working from home can increase loneliness by 67%. Loneliness is associated with depression and other mental health issues, and reduced interaction with colleagues can contribute to employee disengagement and poor performance.

You can help your employees (remote or otherwise) build the supportive relationships that are so critical to wellbeing by organizing opportunities to socialize in-person or virtually. Low-cost or free options include:

  • An after-work book club
  • Running, walking, or cycling meetups
  • A virtual trivia team
  • Board game or roleplaying gatherings
  • Volunteer outings
  • Mental or physical health support groups

As a side benefit, non-work-related socialization may foster greater employee cohesion and a shared sense of mission.

3. Focus On Providing Purpose

A job isn’t — or, at least, shouldn’t be — just a way to earn money. We spend a significant percentage of our waking hours at work, and if those hours feel devoid of meaning, it can take a sizable toll on our mental and physical wellbeing.

Studies show that feeling a strong sense of purpose can help people live longer, sleep better, avoid disease, experience less stress, and think more clearly. On the other hand, people who feel purposeless tend to take worse care of themselves; they may eat poorly, get less exercise, and not seek help for their mental health issues.

If it seems as if helping employees live purposeful lives falls outside the HR purview, keep in mind that, according to a 2020 McKinsey study, 70% of employees say work defines their sense of purpose. “So, like it or not, as a company leader you play an important part in helping your employees find their purpose and live it,” the authors write.

Helping your employees find purpose starts with defining your organization’s purpose. For most employees — especially the members of younger generations — simply “making a profit” won’t cut it. Employees want to feel like their work makes a difference, whether that’s improving people’s lives or the environment, creating useful products, or simply making customers happy.

As you work to define your organization’s purpose, you can help employees take ownership of this process through surveys, discussion groups, and one-on-one conversations. Crucially, your purpose should be integrated into everything your company does. If your employees feel your company’s stated values and goals are just surface-level marketing, they may become disenchanted.

4. Offer Mindfulness Breaks

Mindfulness is one of the most affordable wellness practices in existence. All you really need to practice mindfulness is a mind — which we all have — and a few moments of relative calm.

And it works. According to countless studies, mindfulness practices like meditation and breathing exercises can reduce stress, improve memory and focus, and help with the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

You can give your employees some space and time for mindful recentering by scheduling short mindfulness breaks throughout the day. Employees can be encouraged to unplug and simply be during these quiet moments. Some may choose to listen to guided meditation recordings, which you can provide through a company portal or microsite.

Other low-cost ways to encourage mindfulness in the workplace include:

  • Holding “mindful meetings” where phones and other distractions are forbidden
  • Setting aside space for a meditation or quiet contemplation room
  • Sharing links to free online mindfulness resources such as The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley

5. Host a Nutritious Recipe Swap

You don’t need a private chef to eat healthily. Plenty of nutritious meals can be prepared at home — even by novice cooks. The trick is finding the right recipes.

With a recipe swap, you can encourage your employees to share their best ideas about healthy cooking and eating. You can distribute recipes by email or through a company portal. Some employees may enjoy creating and sharing video cooking tutorials.

Not only will this give your employees a trusted source of quality, tasty, healthy recipes, but the power and support of the community will help many employees find the strength to achieve their food-related wellness goals.

Here’s another way to support healthy eating at work:

If your office has vending machines or free snacks, work with your vendors to supplement or replace fat-laden, sugary snacks with less-processed alternatives. In many cases, the healthier options will cost no more — or even less — and taste just as good while providing the nutritious boost your employees need to get through the workday.

Employee Wellness: An Investment Worth Making at Any Cost

Wellness is a multi-trillion-dollar worldwide industry. But that doesn’t mean supporting employee wellness has to be expensive. As the five ideas shared above show, your company can help employees live happier, healthier, more balanced lives without blowing your budget.

And if you decide to take it to the next level and spend a little bit more on your employee wellness program, you will likely see your investment returned many times over. Discover several more ways to supercharge your company’s wellness programs with these 23 must-have tools for your employee wellness toolkit.

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