Wellness Incentives: How to Create Impactful Programs

You are here:
Wellness Incentives: How to Create Impactful Programs

Offering wellness incentives helps employers meet the needs and expectations of the modern workforce. Furthermore, promoting sound mental and physical health creates a culture of well-being that inspires employee engagement and productivity. Let’s look at how HR can develop wellness incentives for employees that make a difference. 

What is a wellness incentive?
Why should HR consider introducing wellness incentives?
The pillars of wellness
6 Key elements in creating successful wellness incentives 

What is a wellness incentive?

A wellness incentive is a way for employers to promote healthy choices, activities, and behaviors that support employees’ physical and mental wellness. Health and wellness incentives programs offer inspiration, rewards, or recognition to employees either through individual endeavors or team-based challenges. 

Bringing wellness initiatives into the workplace helps people adopt and maintain behaviors that can reduce health risks and enhance their quality of life, making them more effective employees. 

Why should HR consider introducing wellness incentives?

Awareness for the significance of mental and physical wellness has entered the world of work. According to the 2022 Employee Wellness Industry Trends Report by Wellable Labs, 76% of companies are investing more in stress management and resilience resources for their team members to help them in both work situations and their personal lives. 

Health and wellness incentive programs that encourage better behaviors have the potential to benefit organizations in many ways, including the following:


12 Key Compensation Metrics

Download our free cheat sheet to gain access to key compensation metrics and learn how to create insightful C&B charts in Excel

  • Boosting morale – Showing employees that you care about their well-being makes them feel valued. In a Hub International survey of 300 employee benefits professionals, 54% of them cited their employee morale metric as the one with the highest improvement after implementing a wellness program.
  • Heightened productivity – A work and well-being survey done by the American Psychological Association found that over 9 in 10 workers are motivated to do their best when leadership shows support for well-being efforts.
  • Reducing absenteeism rate – Employees who maintain their physical health and manage stress are less likely to get sick or feel burned out and miss work.

Do wellness incentives work?

When wellness incentives are designed effectively and resonate with employees, they help cultivate healthy behaviors. Career platform Zippia compiled 21 different statistics on employee wellness. The data show that employee wellness programs: 

  • Reduce absenteeism by 14-19%.
  • Have an average ROI of six to one; every dollar invested translates to six dollars earned.

Zippia also broke down the data concerning what employees who participate in employer wellness programs had to say, which included:

  • 56% have fewer sick days.
  • 60% feel more productive.
  • Over 80% enjoy their work.
  • 85% intend to stay at their jobs. 

The statistics above are in stark contrast to the people who work for companies that are not engaged in their wellness. For those, roughly 40% say they enjoy work, and only 58% intend to remain with their current employer. 

According to a Rand Health Quarterly study, the following elements are necessary for wellness incentives to succeed:  

  • Varied strategies to communicate information and reach all employees.
  • Ease of accessibility and convenience for employees.
  • Making it an organizational priority with all levels of leadership engaged.
  • Leveraging existing resources and relationships to maximize what is offered.
  • Ongoing evaluation and reassessment with feedback. 

With a focus on total wellbeing being one of the key HR trends of 2023, providing wellness incentives is an excellent way to improve the overall employee experience and retention at your organization

The pillars of wellness

Wellness programs are typically based on several core areas of life that the holistic health field embraces. The following is an overview of these eight pillars with examples of correlating wellness incentives rewards:

Pillar 1. Mental wellness

Mental wellness means dealing with life in a positive state of mind with the ability to think and act in ways that benefit one physically and socially. It involves intellectual, emotional, and spiritual dimensions that affect attention, alertness, reason, memory, and critical thinking. 

Since sound mental health is vital to a person’s job performance, employers should encourage mental wellness activities that help employees reduce stress and create a more supportive work environment.

Mental wellness incentives examples

Mental wellness incentives that can help employees function at a higher level could include:

  • Mental health benefits that cover the cost of self-management programs, such as life coaching or counseling. 
  • Stress reduction workshops conducted by a mental health practitioner during work hours 
  • Mental health resources made available through a mental health app or a regular bulletin with professional tips and advice.   

Pillar 2. Emotional wellness

Emotional wellness is the aptitude for acknowledging, comprehending, and expressing emotions appropriately. Being emotionally healthy isn’t about being happy all the time. Rather, it means that you can manage your emotions in any given situation to be more self-confident, more resilient, and sustain better relationships at work.

Emotional wellness incentives examples

Some emotional wellness measures to consider include:

  • Training on how to cope with negative emotions, such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
  • Guided group mindfulness sessions that teach techniques, such as breathing exercises or meditation for boosting positive emotions and reducing stress.
  • Events that encourage employees to have fun and connect with each other.

Pillar 3. Work environment 

Work environment wellness is having an enjoyable relationship with your surroundings and resources at work. A work setting that employees find appealing and physically comfortable will create more job satisfaction and stimulate better performance.

Providing the best work environment possible includes ensuring that the lighting, temperature, and equipment are satisfactory, as well as offering certain amenities that employees like. When it comes to remote/hybrid employees, it’s important that they also have all the equipment and tools they need to work comfortably.

Work environment wellness incentives examples

There are numerous ways to augment employees’ well-being by enriching their work environment. Here are a few ideas:

Map out your
Path to HR Leadership

Try our need tool to determine the direction in which you want to progress based on your HR career goals and capabilities.

Get Started
  • A dedicated outdoor space where employees can work or take breaks in the fresh air.
  • “Bring Your Pet to Work Days” to encourage a cheerful atmosphere.
  • Frequent short work breaks to keep people from sitting or standing too long and developing eye strain, backaches, etc.

Pillar 4. Physical wellness

Physical wellness is being in a physical condition where you have adequate energy to handle work and daily activities without fatigue or physical stress. 

Optimal physical well-being requires practicing healthy behaviors, such as regular physical activity. It also entails avoiding unhealthy behaviors, such as excessive alcohol consumption and the use of tobacco and drugs. 

Physical wellness incentives examples

Employers can help employees take personal responsibility for their physical health with these common physical wellness incentives:

  • Physical activity challenges where teams compete with each other to log the most exercise or steps to earn a reward. 
  • Resources for drug and alcohol abuse support and smoking cessation programs.
  • Employee-led exercise or sports groups that permit leaving work early for participation.
  • Reimbursement for gym memberships or onsite gym equipment and fitness classes.

Pillar 5. Financial wellness

Financial wellness is the ability to make wise economic decisions that allow you to meet your financial obligations, plan for the future, and prepare for emergencies. 

Being in difficult financial circumstances causes a great deal of stress. Helping your employees create practical fiscal habits gives them support to improve this area of their lives and prevent a loss of productivity.

Financial wellness incentives examples

Financial wellness incentives focus on providing relevant information on how to save and spend properly and how to handle debt.  Strategies for promoting financial wellness include:

  • Free or subsidized access to professional financial advisors.
  • Seminars that teach spending and debt management, investment strategies, and retirement planning.
  • Personal budget planning software offerings.‍

Pillar 6. Social wellness

Social wellness is the ability to build and maintain meaningful relationships with other humans. Strong relationships with others at work foster collaboration and bring deeper fulfillment from the job.

Social wellness incentives examples

Activities that encourage peer connection allow teams to get to know each other better and can help ease the social anxiety that some employees experience. Here are a few ideas:

  • Community volunteering days where teams serve together.
  • Onsite teambuilding games or activities that don’t require specialized skills for participation.
  • Company retreats where people can interact outside of work.

Pillar 7. Nutrition wellness

Nutrition wellness is making food choices and habits that fuel a healthy body. The food we eat directly impacts not just physical health but also how we feel. 

Nutrition wellness incentives examples

Celebrating good nutrition in the workplace can help employees choose healthy food options that make them feel better. Here are some ways to promote this:

  • Healthy cooking classes with a professional chef.
  • Providing nutritious snacks in employee break rooms. 
  • Private sessions with a certified nutritionist. 

Pillar 8. Intellectual wellness

Intellectual wellness is committing to continuous learning and critical thinking. It allows people to challenge themselves with exposure to new ideas and different sides of issues.

Employees with intellectual well-being benefit organizations because they are always looking to expand their skills, and their open minds help cultivate a more inclusive work environment.

Intellectual wellness incentives examples

You can assist employees with developing their intellectual wellness in these ways:

  • Lunch and learn sessions on thought-provoking topics.
  • Awards for earning continuing education certifications.
  • Employee-organized book clubs.

6 Key elements in creating successful wellness incentives 

Health and wellness incentives programs that inform, inspire, and engage employees go a long way in incorporating well-being into workplace culture. Since organizations vary in size and culture, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, but you should consider the following six essentials:

Key Elements Of A Successful Wellness Incentives

1. Get management buy-in

Management needs to have the kind of buy-in that goes beyond approval and into participation. When leadership sets an example it matters to the rest of the organization. 

The American Psychological Association work and well-being survey referred to above found this to be true. It revealed that for companies with senior management that supported and got involved with wellness initiatives, 73% of employees said the organization helps them cultivate healthy lifestyles. On the other hand, only 11% of employees within the companies that lacked leadership support for wellness said the same.

HR professionals who become strategic HR business partners are in the best position to illustrate the value that this type of initiative brings to the business and get management on board.

Tips for HR: 

  • Be well-versed in the benefits of wellness incentives.
  • Present relevant data to leadership that shows how worthwhile the investment is.
  • Demonstrate how employee wellness will contribute to achieving organizational goals.
  • Seek input from management about incentives they would be enthusiastic about participating in.

2. Conduct research and planning

It’s crucial to understand your audience by gathering information to determine what types of wellness incentive initiatives employees are looking for. 

A State of Employee Well-being 2022-2023 study done by HR.com Research Institute has some interesting insights to consider. It found that mental and emotional well-being has become the priority over physical well-being for employer wellness programs. The significance went in the following order:

  1. Mental and emotional (78%)
  2. Work environment (70%)
  3. Physical (66%)
  4. Financial (56%)
  5. Social (48%)

Tips for HR:

  • Conduct employee wellness surveys to learn about their needs.
  • Get input from team leaders to gain their perspectives on what types of incentives will be effective.
  • Look for patterns in employee relations issues that reflect a need for wellness support.

3. Determine your goals and desired outcome of the program

You must set goals for any new wellness incentives initiative to know specifically what you’re trying to achieve and define what success looks like. Understanding the needs of employees and the organization will help you determine the point of the wellness incentives. 

Is it reducing sick days and absenteeism? Decreasing smoke breaks and increasing productivity? Minimizing on-the-job injuries? Reducing employee stress and improving morale? Recruiting and retaining employees? 

Tips for HR:

  • Invest in your goal-setting skills by learning how to set SMART goals.
  • Be able to tie your wellness incentives goals to existing business objectives by demonstrating how improved employee well-being makes them more achievable.
  • Seek feedback from stakeholders before finalizing your goals.

4. Get employee buy-in

Creating awareness for well-being needs and getting the word out to employees will set your program up for success. The more connected employees feel to wellness initiatives, the more likely they will be to participate. 

Tips for HR:

  • Use diverse, customized communication methods to reach all audiences. (Internal messaging/email/mobile device reminders, leadership promo videos, interactive bulletin boards, etc.)
  • Encourage middle managers to lead by example and tailor incentives for their teams.
  • Find well-respected employees and leaders to share their experiences with pursuing wellness for a positive outcome.

5. Measure effectiveness with metrics

Gauging the effectiveness of your wellness incentives program is the only way to know if it’s adding value. Data will help you identify how many employees are participating and what’s being accomplished. 

Tips for HR:

Listed below are some of the employee well-being metrics you can track.

  • Program access and participation numbers
  • Communication/program awareness
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Turnover
  • Changes in absenteeism

We have also created an indepth guide on employee well-being metrics HR can track.  

6. Evaluate the efficacy and adjust accordingly

Acting on the insights you’ve learned from data analysis and making adjustments where necessary will help your wellness incentives program thrive.

Tips for HR:

  • Establish feedback channels for employees and managers to provide input and ideas for improvements.
  • Compare the most and least successful aspects of the program to learn what works and what doesn’t.
  • Explore ways to save employees and the company time or money.

To conclude

Making wellness a priority is a win-win situation. When you invest in health-centered initiatives for your employees’ well-being, they will have more to invest back into the organization. Carefully planning and executing a wellness incentives program that focuses on the right pillars of wellness for your employees will better their productivity to make a positive impact on business performance.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to stay up-to-date with the latest HR news, trends, and resources.

Are you ready for the future of HR?

Learn modern and relevant HR skills, online

Browse courses Enroll now