Workplace wellness programs have come a long way in recent years. Once considered fluff by many, most organizations have embraced wellness in the workplace, and look to these programs as a key element in their overall health management, engagement, productivity, and absenteeism prevention strategies.

While wellness is now very prevalent in most workplaces in one form or another, the composition of what wellness is and what it can do for organizations continues to change.

Read: Help employees stay motivated for wellness

Here are some of the emerging trends:

A holistic approach – Wellness programs no longer include only the physical side of wellness, and maybe an EFAP program. Wellness programs now include components that address financial, emotional, social, as well as physical wellness for a holistic approach. Wellness programs are being structured not just to react to or prevent disease, but rather to foster overall well-being for a workforce of healthy and high-performing individuals and groups. This broader view is taking into consideration aspects of like the physical environment and culture.

As a result, organizations often frame their programs to include other offerings and activities such as volunteerism, financial planning, flexible work arrangements, even the inclusion of restful or green spaces within the work environment, or the activities planned by a social committee alongside more traditional wellness offerings like exercise classes, chronic disease support or smoking cessation programs.

Read: Make wellness more meaningful

Intention – Recognizing how effective wellness can be to address a number of business goals and strategies, employers have grown significantly more intentional about the design of their wellness programs and the messaging used to promote its elements.

Rather than a haphazard lumping together of existing programs like walking clubs and yoga classes (which have value in a broader context), organizations are increasingly looking into their claims experience and identifying the modifiable behaviours that are driving their health costs. Programs are then being retooled to most effectively drive that behaviour change taking into account the needs and preferences of their unique employee population. Which takes us directly into…

Personalized delivery – Employers realize that employees make decisions about engaging in activities for reasons that differ person to person. Accordingly, organizations already use a variety of messages and media to drive action for a number of initiatives—flexible benefit options choices or retirement savings participation or investment decisions are good examples. Personalization is also being extended to the way health and wellness information and activities are delivered to employees.

Segmentation is one method where information is reframed and delivered according to a person’s unique motivators and preferences (based on a series of profiles with a set of characteristics with which employees can identify), in order to reach people in a way to which they will respond. Individual health coaching is another great example of effective personalized delivery of wellness that engages participants and makes change stick.

Read: Culturally specific health and wellness

Leveraging individual data – As wearable devices like FitBit, Nike’s FuelBands or Jawbone’s UP24 have changed from trend to part of the fabric of daily wellness routines, organizations are trying to figure out how data and results from their employee’s wearable device can integrate with other health data. Many workplace wellness programs allow participants to upload their activity into trackers when participating in fitness challenges or applying for incentives. Employers are starting to incorporate this data into the holistic picture, along with Health Risk Assessment to broaden the line of sight to self-directed wellness.

Measurement – With wellness programs being structured with more intention, employers are aggressively measuring results and returns. Regular measurement includes changes in health and disability benefits data, absence data, employee biometric information, correlated productivity data, and engagement, job satisfaction and turnover data, among others.

Workspace redesign to support well behaviours – Many organizations have redesigned their workspaces to create more collaborative spaces that are more open, promote innovation, with flexible spaces that serve more than one purpose. But more and more, organizations are embracing active design principles that also promote wellness.

Workspace designs are moving toward arrangements of spaces that encourage movement throughout the day. Natural light and elements of nature are being brought back in from outside, with outside spaces also part of the overall design. Employees are being given a variety of workspace options they can choose from, which include standing desks, treadmill workstations, or lounge spaces for collaboration or meetings so that they can personalize their work experience to the way they work best.

Read: A broader view of wellness

Incentives and rewards – Employees are more likely to engage in wellness activities when they are incented to do so…this is not new information. However, what’s new is the way in which incentives and rewards are structured. More traditionally, incentives were used to drive compliance or participation…complete a health risk assessment questionnaire to get an extra $100 in their health spending account.

Incentives are moving to a more commitment-based rewards approach, relating rewards with milestone achievement in order to both recognize accomplishment and drive adherence. Also trending in rewards program design is the inclusion of different sorts of rewards: time off, sessions with a personal trainer or donations to the charity of the employee’s choosing are increasingly being found alongside gift cards or gadgets.

As these trends become best practices in wellness program design and strategy, organizations will better entrench wellness into their culture, and align their business goals with employee health for better outcomes for all.

Kim Siddall is a vice-president and local practice leader at Aon. She has more than 20 years of experience in the health and benefits industry. These are the views of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada.
Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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You make some great points Kim, especially the workspace redesign. I would maybe add to this trend, remote working/tele -commuting.To some, this option of working from home could be the most significant to their wellness factor.

Wednesday, October 07 at 9:15 am | Reply

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