A couple of weeks ago, we had the pleasure to attend Unleash Amsterdam, the world’s largest HR tech event. As such, it’s a great place to get a feel for what’s happening in the industry, which areas are buzzing with innovation and what to expect in 2019.

As is the tradition at these kinds of events, different keynote speakers give their vision on the industry – and the big themes they see emerging. One of the topics that popped up several times was employee wellness. 

Employee health & wellness

Employee health and wellness – physically, mentally and financially – has been a hot topic for a while now. More and more organizations start to understand the importance of a happy and healthy workforce.

And for good reason, because unwellness at work is extremely costly.

In the United States alone, chronic disease, work-related stress, injuries & illnesses led to an annual loss of $2.2 trillion – which represents 12% of the country’s GDP.

Needless to say, there is a lot of room for improvement and this is probably one of the reasons why the global corporate wellness market is booming: by 2025, the industry is expected to be worth no less than $84.9 billion.

Startups in the employee wellness sector are popping up everywhere offering a wide range of solutions. Some of them specifically focus on employee health while others try to tackle employees’ mental and physical health together with their wallet worries.

Why happy & healthy employees matter

Now, why exactly is it that organizations and HR should care about employee wellness? Apart from the significant financial cost of unwellness at work we mentioned above, there are several other reasons to get serious about workplace wellness:

Employee Engagement

Despite all the time and effort companies put in boosting their engagement levels, employee engagement remains disappointingly low (on average only one in three employees is actively engaged).

An employee wellness program, even a very simple one, can already have a positive impact on said engagement levels. Exercise boosts the release of endorphins – also known as the ‘happy hormone’ – so a little bit of fun exercise during the day, as much as a game of table tennis, does wonders for employee morale and performance. 


An employee health and wellness program can significantly decrease absenteeism – and the costs related to that; a study by Harvard economists shows that absenteeism costs go down by $2.73 for every dollar spent on a wellness program.


21st-century employees – and job seekers – expect more from their employer than just a competitive salary and paid holidays. Much more. They attach a lot of importance to ‘side benefits’ such as a corporate wellness program, an interesting learning & development offering and the role of mentorship in your organization.   

In other words, having at least some kind of wellness features in place can make a difference when it comes to keeping your employees from leaving the company.

Think for example of a cycle to work scheme, an in-house sauna (yes, we’ve come across a company that has one), a ping pong table or a team walking challenge. Anything is possible, so depending on the available budget you can go as crazy as you like! 

Employer Branding

Having a wellness program also reflects positively on your employer brand. It shows candidates that your organization cares about its people and wants them to feel good – in the broadest sense of the word – when they’re at work.

So, when top talent finds themselves having to choose between various potential employers, your awesome wellness package may just be what gets them to pick you instead of the competition…

A wealth of wellness

Employee happiness has an impact that goes far beyond the office. Yes, happy employees are more productive and don’t take sick days – which is good for business.

But they are nicer people in ‘real life’ too.

To their friends and families, to the checkout guy in the supermarket, the person they accidentally bump into on the street…. The fact of the matter is that when people are happy – and healthy – at work, they are better versions of themselves.

In 2019 and beyond, we’ll see a lot more employee wellness initiatives, tools, and solutions. The challenge for HR will be to keep things simple for their employees and not to get carried away (Bersin, for example, mentioned a company with more than 95 different wellbeing programs – such a wealth of wellness kinda defies the purpose).

Why not start by simply asking your workforce what it is they want and need to be their most happy, healthy selves?    


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