What’s Next for Wellness Programs? Watch These Four Trends.

In both offerings and messaging strategies, the workplace wellness program is evolving. An executive with the Corporate Health and Wellness Association highlights a few trends to follow.

Employee wellness programs aren’t just about healthy office snacks and discounted gym memberships anymore. From new offerings to more varied ways of keeping participants informed and engaged, employee wellness is evolving—and tech is only part of the shift.

That’s according to Jenny Jenkins, executive program director at the Corporate Health and Wellness Association. In her role, she tracks trends as CHWA works with the large companies that generate much of the experimentation in the wellness field, such as The Gap, PepsiCo, Delta Air Lines, Hewlett-Packard, and Deloitte.

Associations Now asked Jenkins about the trends in wellness programs that associations should be watching as they consider the best program elements for their employees. Among them:

A stronger focus on mental health. Corporate wellness programs have long focused on work-life balance, but Jenkins notes a move toward a more holistic approach to mental health issues, beyond what might be included in an employee assistance program (EAP). “Employers are looking at ways to offer better services for mental health and stress and resilience,” she says. In addition to traditional mental health offerings such as counseling—typically accessed through an EAP—she cites Google’s “blue dot” support program, which encourages workers to talk to their peers privately when facing work challenges (“certified listeners” wear blue dots on their employee IDs). Jenkins says many companies are taking the lead on issues such as opioid addiction and specific mental health problems that may not be adequately addressed by traditional programs.

The rise of “precision health.” Jenkins says preventive care is becoming more personalized, relying on genetics and giving people better insight into health issues that should be on their agenda. “Employers find that to be a very big cost saver, for employees to understand their health,” particularly their risk of developing serious diseases like cancer, she explains. Privacy is a concern, and many employers are addressing that issue with both their benefit team and legal counsel. “I do think that the benefits outweigh the concerns in a lot of areas, and so I do think that employers will adopt it,” she says. “You’re seeing it already, with employers like Levi Strauss.”

More channels, more digital. Jenkins says that while traditional channels for communicating with employees—signs in the break room, letters in the mail—aren’t likely to go away, technology tools are providing new ways to reach workers who prefer newer forms of engagement. Many wellness apps, for example, help employees track their progress toward specific goals. “Technology is a game changer when it comes to managing your health and engaging your population,” she says, naming Virgin Pulse, Limeade, and Go365 as the “big three” tools for digital-based engagement. But not all additional communication channels require technology: Jenkins adds that lunch-and-learns, seminars, and similar offerings are effective for engaging with employees on wellness issues during the workday.

A convergence of tools. Looking further out, Jenkins notes that benefit tools, such as those offered through EAPs, will likely eventually be offered in a single package rather than piecemeal. “I think the five-year trend will be that you will have a one-stop shop for employees to go and learn what their resources are,” she says. Educational tools focused on chronic ailments, such as diabetes and heart disease, are likely to gain popularity in the near future, she predicts.

Even as wellness programs evolve, she says, the basics still matter. Among them is a continued focus on inclusivity.

“Community and volunteerism, diversity and inclusion should also be a big initiative within your program,” Jenkins says. “And you always have to have alternative options for people that may or may not be able to participate in certain activities. That’s very, very key.”

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Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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