When I first started fundraising for my workplace wellness marketplace, Welnys, it was not uncommon for an investor to look at me, incredulous, and say, “what company is going to pay for massages and yoga classes for their employees?”
I don’t ever get that question anymore because workplace wellness spending has now topped $17B in the US and and additional $17B in Europe, as more corporations embrace expanded benefits, like Starbucks and their subsidized child-care initiative.
Due to the wide adoption, hundreds of companies have popped up to serve this space, and many of them, like Spring Health, are raising impressive seed rounds.
But what exactly is driving this mainstreaming of wellness at work, and what are some of the next trends to be aware of?
Some of the factors contributing to the growth of workplace wellness are:
Self-insured employers who bear the financial risk of their employees' health care claims. Most companies with over 1,000 employees are self-insured, which means they pay out of pocket for all employee’s health claims- in other words, they act as their own health insurance.
These companies are going upstream to impact employee health in the interest of reducing claims, and this has certainly driven adoption. However, whether or not these activities actually drive down costs and provide an ROI is a topic of hot debate.
The War on Talent is at its apex due to low unemployment and high demand for skilled workers. This means that the employee experience is increasingly important. “Lifestyle” wellness programs and strong benefits help attract and retain talent.
Shifting views on corporate responsibility. Many Welnys customers tell us that they are offering health and wellness programming not because of any particular goal, nor to reduce costs, but because they genuinely care that their employees are happy and healthy.
What Are Some Trends To Watch For?
As this industry continues to grow, a few trends to keep your eye on:
More partnerships. According to CB Insights, we are going to see more workplace wellness companies team up with benefits platforms or carriers, like Justworks+Classpass, Zenefits+Thrive Global and Empire BCBS+FitBit.
Ubiquity of in-office services. CB Insights also predicts that companies will bring in more services to the office like fitness and meditation. Deloitte expects this trend to extend to commercial landlords who will want to provide on-premise programming to companies in their building in order to attract and retain tenants.
Diversification of benefits. Companies will offer alternative benefits to their employees, think: child-care as a benefit (Helpr), caregiver benefits (Wellthy), financial wellness (Financial Gym), fertility benefits (Carrot), nutrition (Lighter), on-premise health and wellness services (Welnys), and mobile medical (Floss Bar). Note: all of these companies are women-founded and operated.
Who Is Ahead of the Curve?
Some notable companies who have been paving the way towards a healthier corporate culture include Facebook with their Life@ program, Google, which is famed for their Search Inside Yourself mindfulness training, Salesforce, which offers on-site nutrition and fitness programs and $100/month reimbursement for wellness expenses and General Mills, who was on the forefront of meditation at work.
Two companies who have stood out in particular for their efforts are Aetna and IDEXX.
Aetna’s journey towards corporate wellness began when CEO Mark T. Bertolini suffered a near death experience and subsequently turned to yoga and meditation to aid in his healing process. Feeling rejuvenated and invigorated, Bertolini became fascinated by the history of yoga, both intellectual and cultural.
Upon becoming CEO at Aetna, he was determined to bring the benefits of yoga and meditation to both his employees, and Aetna’s customers. 239 employees volunteered to participate in Bertolini’s workplace wellness study with one-third practicing Viniyoga, one-third taking a mindfulness class, and one-third as a control group.
At the end of three months, the data revealed that employees who stuck with either the yoga or the mindfulness reported significant decrease in both stress and sleep difficulties. In addition, the study also found that their physical measures of heart rate variability and cortisol levels had decreased.
Aetna has retained these free yoga and meditation classes and rolled them out to the entire company. The goal, as Bertolini stated to his employees at Aetna’s Jacksonville office, is that “If we can create a healthier you, we can create a healthier world and a healthier company.”
IDEXX, a leader in veterinary diagnostics and services, was recently recognized as “Best Employers for Healthy Lifestyles” by the National Business Group on Health.
The company shows support for wellness programming with a dedicated Wellbeing Program Manager, Sarah Caron, who oversees plank challenges, on-site medical clinics, kindness challenges, on-site chair massages, gym facilities and sleep seminars especially tailored for their third-shift workforce. Caron believes that wellness is a corporate responsibility that is also good for the bottom line.
With an additional 5% growth in the market predicted this year, it’s clear that workplace wellness has arrived, and is here to stay. Happily, this is great news for employees, who benefit from the increased access to services, tools and education provided to help them to live healthier lives.
Heather Waibel is the CEO and Founder of Welnys, a platform that makes workplace wellness easy for companies like PayPal, MongoDB and Jet.com. Welnys connects companies to vetted health and wellness professionals in yoga, nutrition, mobile medical and more, and give employers digital tools to manage their program. Heather is an avid hatha yoga practitioner, a certified scrum-master, and member of MassChallenge HealthTech 2019.