What Will Wellness Look Like in 2017?

By Andie Burjek

Dec. 16, 2016

Employers are understanding the need to look at health holistically and studying other options beyond physical health.

By Andie Burjek

New year, new well.

The wellness industry is a changing, fluid industry, morphing as employee wellness needs shift. What once worked well may not anymore, and organizations can look at certain trends that are becoming more and more relevant. With that in mind, professionals in several organizations contributed their workplace wellness predictions to Workforce.

Social Well-being

“Employees tend to adopt healthy behaviors when it benefits others rather than themselves,” said Jane Ruppert, vice president of health services at health consultant Interactive Health. Wellness programs in which employees have the opportunity to positively influence a community can be a fun and socially responsible addition to workplace wellness initiatives.

For example, if a company offers to donate money to a charity if employees meet their collective wellness goal, those employees will be more intrinsically motivated to get involved.

Jane Ruppert

Ruppert cited a company based in Baltimore that did an employee walk led by the CEO. They did a 5K and went through some of the poorer areas in town. At the end of the walk, they participated in a healthy lunch promotion for the community and donated food. “It was not only about getting people to move, but also giving back to the community in which they walked around,” she said.

Expand the Definition: Total Well-being

Almost every source contacted for this also mentioned the need to legitimize other types of health, such as mental or emotional, as equally important as physical health. Financial health, as well, can stress employees and impact their health and performance.

Employers will begin to recognize that these emotional and financial problems can impact the day-to-day life of employees, which is bad for employees’ health and the employer’s bottom line. said Steve Nyce, senior economist at Willis Towers Watson. Wellness programs will more often adding resources to deal with these other types of health moving forward. “Without that support, employees are having a difficult time, and that erodes their ability to perform day-to-day,” he added.

Sleep Health

As more and more employers are understanding the need to look at health holistically, they’re looking at other health measures beyond physical health. That includes mental, psychological, financial and sleep health. “There is a strong link between poor sleep quality and not only some chronic conditions but also emotional health,” said Ruppert. Wellness programs will address the importance of sleep more moving forward.

Coming to work with poor quality sleep can contribute to short-term implications such as impacting decision-making at work, memory, and retention, she added. This could be especially problematic in employees such as truck drivers, for whom lack of sleep could threaten employee productivity and safety.

Programs Which Aim to Reduce the Need for Prescription Drugs

As pharmacy costs rise, employers may invest more in wellness programs that address chronic illnesses, according to Dr. I-Min Lee, professor in the department if epidemiology at Harvard, who contributed her prediction to a webinar recently hosted by Virgin Pulse.

HR Leaders: Data, Engagement and Attracting Talent Are in Key in 2017

The rise of pharmaceutical costs accounts significantly to the rise in health care costs, especially specialty drugs used to treat chronic conditions like cancer and multiple sclerosis. The rate at which specialty drug prices are expected to rise (16.8 percent) in 2017 is double that of other prescription medication (7.3 percent), according to the Wall Street Journal.

Chronic illnesses, which often require specialty drugs, can often be prevented or even reversed, This is where workplace wellness programs come in, especially ones that aim to reduce stress or tobacco use — two things that contribute to chronic diseases.

More Types of Wellness Offerings, Including Mindfulness

In the past year, three quarters (76 percent) have expanded their wellness programs, according to Carrie Varoquiers, vice president of global impact at Workday and president of Workday Foundation. Increasingly, workplace wellness will be a critical attraction and retention tool in the workplace.

“There will be an increased interest in mindfulness programs, as companies will see the productivity benefits of mono-tasking, taking intentional digital breaks, and building face-to-face social connections,” wrote Varoquiers in an email interview.

Measurements Matter

“Ongoing measurement is important to prove that a program is of interest, [that it’s] working and that you’re getting your money’s worth,” said Nyce.

Meanwhile, not only is taking those continuous measurements to legitimize a program important, but also the types of measurements themselves. Companies will more often consider value on investment rather than return on investment moving forward, said Nyce. Rather than just focusing on medical costs, there are other measurements to consider in the VOI, like employee participation, repeat users and employee satisfaction.

Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editorComment below, or email at Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.


Andie Burjek is an associate editor at

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