When workplace wellness first became buzzworthy, it was the prospect of cost savings that drew in business owners. These days, that’s not the only—or even the predominate—factor, says David Evans, vice president at Dallas-based Cooper Wellness Strategies.
“They were looking for, ‘Where can we target our programs to help improve or reduce those things where there is health-related cost?’” Evans says. “While those things are certainly still important, the issue now for companies is ‘What’s the culture of our company that supports our employees in all aspects of their lives?’ The corporate fitness and the corporate wellness initiatives are appropriately finding themselves in that answer.”
Wellness in the workplace can take the form of a variety of health-related perks: Everything from standing desks or complimentary personal fitness trainers to health screenings or bananas in the break room. At first viewed strictly as a cost-saver for businesses, the $8 billion corporate wellness industry is growing off its newfound reputation as a cultural differentiator.
Businesses can’t legally require their employees to engage in wellness programs, but there’s nothing stopping employers from tying incentives to initiatives. The effectiveness of even incentivized wellness is still up for debate, however.
A recent study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign revealed that wellness programs had little effect on employee behavior. Already healthy employees were more likely to voluntarily participate in wellness programs, and those who did experienced little drop in healthcare costs.
But workplace wellness has found staying power because of its impact on worker satisfaction. One in two employees say a greater emphasis on wellness—physical, psychological, financial—matters to them on the job, according to the 2018 Global Talent Trends survey. Regardless of whether corporate wellness programs can be effective in lowering premiums or businesses’ healthcare costs, they appear to signal to employees that their employers care about their wellbeing.
Many companies roll out wellness initiatives through partnerships with third-party firms. Businesses like Dallas-based Cooper Wellness Strategies and Viverae offer health and wellness resources to companies in North Texas and across the nation.
Named among the Inc. 5000 fastest growing private companies in 2016, Viverae offers lifestyle coaching, health screening, personalized care plans, and a mobile app. It has more than 600 clients—typically self-insured, mid-market companies—and says it brought in revenue of about $50 million last year. CEO Mike Lamb says the company’s wellness plans ultimately do lower healthcare costs for companies because they minimize risk factors.
“We offer comprehensive employer wellness solutions,” Lamb says. “We did a five-year study and found that of clients who utilized best practices, members say they saw a reduction of 47.5 percent in risk factors.”
Lamb says workplace wellness is a fragmented industry where, for the most part, no two providers look alike. But Viverae competes with companies such as Aetna, Cigna, Vitality, and Virgin Pulse.
Viverae carved its niche, according to Lamb, by becoming one of the first wellness companies to offer financial wellness. The company says more than 80 percent of employees want their employers to offer some sort of financial education and rank financial problems, not health issues, as their biggest stressor. Two years ago, Viverae began to offer financial health assessments, interactive education courses, and tracking tools, among other services.
Individual companies have started to develop their own wellness plans, too. Dallas-based Satori Capital, which created initiatives four years ago, recruits new employees by highlighting its focus on holistic wellness. Hope Kahan, operations director at Satori Capital, says she tells potential employees that achieving individual health allows the company to perform at peak potential.
“We want people who don’t view our benefits as just fun,” Kahan says. “I don’t want people to think we’re just doing the latest trendy thing to keep up with benefits to attract talent. We’re very serious about performing at our best together.”
The company offers perks such as healthy food in the kitchen, a seven-minute meditation before team meetings, one-on-one fitness and nutrition coaching, and guided meditation. Employees even get an annual allowance that they can use for anything from gym memberships or personal training to yoga or new hiking boots. It also brings in quarterly speakers to discuss emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.
Kahan says the measurable results of their program come in the form of personal initiatives employees have achieved, but the company culture isn’t built around the short-term.
“We aim to support our team members in reaching their personal best,” says co-founder Randy Eisenman. “We believe this effort significantly improves their lives and helps drive the long-term success of our business.”