HR Pros – Old School Wellness vs Employee Wellbeing

Today’s employees demand more than medical benefits and old school wellness programs

The following materials are excerpted from a PowerPoint presentation by Suzanne Benoit, LCSW, SPHR at the Maine Human Resource Convention, May 11, 2023, #MEHRC2023

As the power shifts from employers to prospective employees with other ways to earn income and other employment offers to consider, employers who fail to understand and address employee wellbeing, will find themselves experiencing turnover. More importantly, caring employers should be concerned with lessening employee suffering and their family’s wellbeing.

Old School Wellness vs. Employee Wellbeing

Wellness programs became popular in the 80s and 90s when healthcare plan costs were rising at an alarming rate. Employers pushed back on double-digit premium increases and the more cost-containing high deductibles were born with emphasis on 100% paid annual physicals and disease prevention. Employers quickly realized that increasing physical health and preventing disease was one important way to stop the increasing escalation in costs.

Employee Wellness programs focus on physical or medical health

Employee wellness programs became popular during the 80s as the cost of medical expenses began to rise at an alarming rate. Medical plans with $150.00 deductible plans encouraged plan overuse by consumers and employers could not afford the resulting premium increases. The employee share of the premium, even if heavily subsidized by their employer, were creating difficulties with no end to the increases insight. Employers quickly learned that they had to implement more cost containment plan designs as well as try to get their employees as healthier to prevent life threatening conditions; expensive surgeries; and to catch serious illness sooner. Prevention became the emphasis.

  • Weight
  • Exercise
  • Substance use
  • Smoking cessation
  • Improving vital signs
  • Preventing medical illness
  • Preventing emergency episodes such as heart attacks

Employee Wellbeing concepts, especially as the Pandemic increased mental health challenges at an alarming rate, are a more recent concept and part of a campaign to enlist employers in helping to prevent mental health episodes and urging them to create a more employee friendly attitude toward mental and emotional health in general. The World Health Organization uses 5 dimensions of employee wellbeing. I have added a sixth here – Time Management.

Employee Wellbeing focuses on overall mental and emotional wellbeing in which company programs and policies build awareness of mental health, encourage self-care and prevent escalating mental health challenges by early intervention. These concepts ask companies to:

  • Acknowledge employee needs
  • Help employees improve their own self-care
  • Stop harmful manager or company behaviors
  • Improve the frequency and quality of one-on-one attention by managers
  • Intervening when employees are suffering mental health or emotional challenges

In order to address employees’ mental and emotional needs in the workplace, let’s take a look at the various levels of employee needs and desires from today’s workplace.


Employee Personal Wellbeing Needs Examples

Physical and Basic survival needs

  • Regular exercise
  • Community safety
  • Access to nutritious food
  • Access to affordable housing
  • Access to medical care and medications

Financial needs

  • Financial planning
  • Salary appreciation that tracks with inflation
  • Income protection – insured benefits, retirement savings
  • Solvency – adequate income, debt reduction, student loans

Social and family needs

  • Elder care and Day care
  • Connections with work colleagues
  • Support for a special needs child
  • Time off vacations, holidays, personal time
  • Community connections with their town/city, neighbors, community groups and resources

Environmental calm

  • Home – clean, functional, uncluttered space with adequate lighting, storage & tools
  • Work – clean, functional uncluttered workspace with adequate lighting, storage, materials, and tools

Time management

  • Organizing the home
  • Preparation for work
  • Managing household chores
  • Using technology to save time
  • Meal planning, preparation and grocery shopping

Mental and emotional health

  • Habits and boundary setting that promotes wellbeing
  • Spiritual practice or if desired, faith-based community
  • Periodic supportive services such as therapy or coaching
  • Access to community self-care programs – 12 step recovery programs
  • Information about maintaining mental and emotional health & self-care


Employee practical desires from their Employer

  • Work flexiblility
  • Fair compensation
  • Interesting work content
  • Advancement opportunities
  • Consistent, high work standards
  • An employer with integrity & purpose
  • An employer known for quality service/products
  • Freedom to make decisions affecting their work unit


Employee emotional needs from their Employer

  • Strong ethical leadership – Company decisions that are sensible, principled-based and that fairly balance company goals with employee needs
  • Employer who listens – Opportunities to be heard, feel heard and knowing that their feedback to the company is used
  • Management – Supervisors who care about them and listen to their concerns
  • Attention – Regular opportunities for meaningful one-on-one attention from their manager where they can share their worries and barriers to achieving their production goals
  • Social connections – Opportunities to connect with team members for both work and social time
  • Preparation – Access to information about company plans, upcoming changes, company goals, how they can contribute to meeting company goals and how meeting company goals benefits them directly


Ideas for programming enhancements

To improve human resource programs, assess the various needs noted here and review your programs with a new lens. You can identify the most important gaps and develop ways to recalibrate current programs and perhaps design new ones that better address the things employees want most in the workplace.

Consider developing a mental health awareness campaign that might involve educational information in an employee newsletter, offering links to online resources for employees to increase their own self-care. Consider having a local vendor come in for a lunch and learn series on stress reduction. You could also provide a list of local or online resources for predictable stressors like resources for new parents, coping with child behavior difficulty or elder care challenges. Finally, it is important that you let employees know that you value them and support their mental wellbeing.

Develop a “Pathway to Support” that outlines for all employees, not only the signs they may need help but what steps the company has that could steer them to helpful resources.

Thinking of financial needs, one particularly effective idea is mitigating financial presures through gift cards to a local grocery store during holidays or other company promotional events. Everyone buys groceries and food prices have risen.

(c) Copyright Benoit Consulting, LLC 2023 all rights reserved

Contact the author with questions or comments.
Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed