How Has Corporate Wellness Evolved Over Time?
If the number of fitness apps, gadgets and programs are anything to go by then there are no prizes for guessing that the health and fitness market has come on leaps and bounds. But what about corporate wellness? Has it become more than an in-house gym and free water coolers when ti comes to looking after employees and health and wellbeing?
Our 10 corporate wellness experts tell us how they think this area of the business has developed and changed over time.
Corporate or employee wellness programs have and are evolving. The past five years represent a continuation of changes that started decades ago. Most notably, more and more employers are adopting wellness programs in general. This includes employers of all sizes. Also, the use of technologies and software platforms are replacing and supplementing traditional wellness services. This is partially due to employers’ desires to support and deliver comparable wellness benefits to geographically dispersed teams. Lastly, employers are slowly moving away from legacy services like biometric screenings and health risk assessments
that have shown to have little or no value.
Nick Patel, CEO of Wellable.
Wellness was once synonymous with physical health, like body weight, activity levels and healthy biometrics. Today, wellness incorporates so much more, like mental and financial wellbeing, as stressors in these areas often have long-term links to physical health and poor productivity. The discovery of this linkage has put forward the need for proactive and preventative strategies. Tackling stressors of ill health head-on and holistically prevents conditions from worsening or even turning chronic. It also empowers employees to build resilience in their everyday lives, knowing personal issues often influence workplace productivity.
Liz Walker, HR Director, Unum UK.
In the grand scheme of things, the corporate wellness industry hasn’t been around all that long. The origins of corporate health and wellness programs began in the 1980s, when employers realized that the well-being of their employees not only created a better work environment, and helped save money on healthcare costs. Of course, as the times changed, so did corporate health programs. While aerobics may have been a trend in the 1990s, for example, today yoga, kickboxing, and circuit training are some of the more popular options. There’s also an increased focus on mind-body health, and more of an emphasis on mental wellness along with physical health. Finally, the corporate health program industry has started to rely on technology to ensure engagement, create team-wide challenges, track data, and provide a seamless solution for RSVPs, check-ins, and scheduling.
Sammy Courtright, founder and CEO of Fitspot Wellness.
Wow! Corporate wellness has developed hugely over the past decade. Really beginning with sick pay and private medical insurance, it was all extremely reactive, only kicking in when an employee was at crisis point and in need of intervention. Over the last three to four years, we have seen a huge shift into the world of wellbeing at work meaning a preventative programme supporting people to be more resilient, with the goal of stopping employees reaching a crisis point in the first place.
Lucy Tallick, Head of Wellbeing at Reward Gateway.
In the early days of corporate wellness, the focus was very much on physical health. One of the earliest examples dates back to 1879 when The Pullman Company introduced an athletic programme. In 1926, Ford introduced a 40-hour work week limit, under the impression that encouraging work/life balance would make employees more productive. These corporate trailblazers didn’t intend to start a revolution, they just wanted to increase staff output. Fast forward to the today and workplace wellbeing has become a central pillar of most businesses, with a focus on total wellbeing (e.g. mental health, sleep, fitness, financial security).
Alaana Linney, Director of Business Development at Nuffield Health.
A good friend of mine recently wrote in his book release ‘we need more than free bananas’ (The Rebel Playbook by Glenn Elliott and Debra Corey). It’s not about a ‘wellness week’ once a year where companies get some fruit and push forced participation or about having a weekly fruit box delivered that only gets shared among senior directors. We are seeing more companies with the right intent, (which is great) but we need to see a sustained movement to recognise this as part of the overall business strategy and measure it. Companies that don’t invest in this area will soon pay the price as more young people enter the workforce. Millennials and generation Z workers are more educated and aware of the impact long hours and stress has on their health and wellbeing and therefore have many non-negotiable demands of an employer. Those companies who are not offering what they desire will be left behind.
Joe Gaunt, CEO of Hero Wellbeing.
Although wellness has been around forever – often under the occupational health banner, it is only over the last decade that wellness has become front and centre. The internet has played a major part in educating people that they have the tools to talk about wellness via dedicated websites, classes, chatrooms and social media. This increased understanding of wellness has a link to business productivity and ultimately results and that has highlighted that those organisations that positively impact wellness will not only win but have engaged employees as a competitive advantage. Today’s workplace wellness programs reflect a more holistic approach, caring for employees’ physical, mental and social well-being. The benefits include a better work environment, better health and reduced costs.
Shaun Bradley, Director of People at Perkbox.
Having worked in corporate wellbeing for many years, we’ve seen the shift from the focus being solely on treating ill health and providing health insurance to preventing poor health and helping people to thrive both physically and mentally. As well as the obvious movement of offerings online and utilising fit tech, we are now seeing mental and emotional health being an essential part of wellbeing strategies, along with a focus on diversity, financial health, the impact of our environment on our health and the interaction between technology and our wellbeing.
Ruth Tongue, Co-founder of Elevate.
Corporate wellness has been around since the late 19th Century when the focus then was providing safe working conditions. Throughout the 20th Century the focus shifted to providing appropriate interventions for employees at high risk of work related illness or injury. Such a focus was very much reactive and often led by regulation. Thankfully, companies now take a more proactive approach to their people’s mental and physical wellbeing. There’s also a better understanding of the internal and external factors which influence wellbeing at work. The net result, widespread endorsement that investing in wellbeing makes sound business sense.
Sam Fromson, Co-founder of Yulife.
While certain traditional programs may be fading, workplace wellness programs aren’t being phased out. They’re evolving and becoming more sophisticated, in order to meet the specific needs of employee populations. In place of traditional, outdated programs, employees are being offered mobile apps, personalised technology, relevant rewards, and social feedback loops. Instead of an analogue weight-loss program, workers are encouraged to use wearables to track and learn from their behaviour. Rather than merely providing an EAP hotline, employers are offering tools and technology to help employees build resilience. It’s time for older programs to cede to emerging technologies that have been designed specifically to enable positive, healthy behaviour change. The rise and fall of traditional workplace wellness speaks to an exciting evolution in the industry, one that’s being widely discussed: the move from wellness to wellbeing.
Jill King, Director of International Markets at VirginPulse.