The Evolution of Workplace Wellness

The International Foundation has surveyed benefit practitioners about their workplace wellness initiatives for nearly a decade. Over that time period, there has been a marked shift in the primary motivation for offering these benefits—from controlling organizational health care costs to improving overall worker health and well-being.

The Evolution of Workplace Wellness

In the recent Foundation study, Workplace Wellness Trends: 2019 Survey Report, this evolution is demonstrated in the initiatives offered by responding organizations. Respondents continue to offer time-tested offerings like physical fitness, nutrition, health screening and tobacco/smoking-cessation programs.

However, organizations are adding initiatives aimed at improving mental and behavioral health, offerings designed to target worker growth and individual purpose, and programs created to enhance social and community connections. Below are some of the initiatives being offered by 514 U.S. survey participants in these emerging categories. Compare this list to your organizational offerings: you may realize that you offer more wellness initiatives than once thought.

Mental/Behavioral Health Initiatives

International Foundation research has shown an increased emphasis on mental and behavioral health as part of respondent workplace wellness initiatives.

  • 90% offer access to employee assistance programs (EAPs)
  • 87% provide workers with mental health coverage
  • 73% offer substance abuse treatment coverage/benefits
  • 35% include a mental health assessment in their health risk assessment (HRA) offerings
  • 34% host mental health educational/informational sessions at the workplace
  • 23% offer stress management programs
  • 23% host on-site meditation/mindfulness classes
  • 17% provide gratitude/appreciation journals/initiatives for workers
  • 15% offer mental health first aid/crisis training to identify and help individuals who are in a mental health crisis or may be developing a mental health problem
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Worker Growth and Individual Purpose Initiatives

An emerging field of wellness initiatives is targeted at the professional and personal growth of workers. Currently, 97% of respondents provide one of more of these offerings.

  • 69% design service recognition programs
  • 66% provide tuition reimbursement/assistance
  • 64% reimburse for worker professional memberships
  • 61% notify all staff of internal job openings and encourage qualified candidates to apply
  • 58% host lunch and learns
  • 58% offer flexible work arrangements including telecommuting, condensed workweeks and job sharing
  • 55% design their performance reviews to be tied to the organizational mission
  • 54% encourage worker transfers when internal opportunities better fit worker interests
  • 53% subsidize worker professional development
  • 53% encourage workers to use vacation time
  • 50% provide financial education initiatives
  • 50% offer manager training initiatives to improve worker growth and individual purpose
  • 47% fully or partially subsidize continuing education for professional designations
  • 38% offer leadership opportunities outside the job hierarchy structure through work teams, committees and/or councils
  • 32% design formal mentorship programs for more experienced workers to guide younger workers through their tenure
  • 23% provide transportation/parking subsidies, which can be valuable in areas of congestion or among workforces with longer commutes
  • 14% conduct stay interviews, a retention tool that entails periodic meetings designed to keep and engage talented workers
  • 13% provide built-in creative/autonomous time for workers, defined as the flexibility to spend a certain amount of time on independent or “pet” projects
  • 10% offer student loan payment programs

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Social/Community Initiatives

More than nine in ten respondents (91%) offer at least one wellness initiative intended to create and enhance connections in the workplace and in the community.

  • 80% host on-site events/celebrations
  • 63% arrange community charity drives/events, including food and school supply drives
  • 56% participate in community volunteer projects
  • 54% organize staff outings
  • 50% host on-site blood drives
  • 45% arrange various team-building activities
  • 36% provide cultural/diversity initiatives or training
  • 34% offer paid time off for volunteer activities
  • 29% provide matching gift/matching donations
  • 25% host themed dress-up days
  • 22% organize happy hours
  • 15% arrange game leagues such as bridge, chess and fantasy sports

[Related Reading: Top 40 Wellness Offerings to Make Work a Better Place]

Learn More About Workplace Wellness Trends

The Foundation’s Workplace Wellness Trends Report is a great resource to benchmark your organization’s wellness initiatives. Available free to International Foundation members!

Workplace Wellness Trends

Justin Held, CEBS
Senior Research Analyst at the International Foundation 

The latest from Word on Benefits:

Justin Held, CEBS

Senior Research Analyst at the International Foundation

Favorite Foundation Service: Foundation Research Surveys


Benefits Related Topics That Interest Him Most: Behavioral economics, socially responsible investing, apprenticeship training


Personal Insight: Justin loves everything baseball, visiting and checking off ballparks as he travels. In this free time, he enjoys hiking at national parks, cycling and reading about U.S. history.

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