–  January 5, 2015

As health care costs continue to rise and employers increase their focus on enhancing employee engagement, wellness in the workplace will move from a “nice to have” to a “must have” benefit.

A number of trends that are influencing wellness practices include alternative office spaces, new technology and increased focus on mental health and well-being. Here are our predictions for the biggest health and wellness trends for 2015:

Aligning wellness with organizational cost pressures and business goals
There will be an increased focus on developing a strategy which ensures that wellness initiatives are aligned with cost pressures and business goals. Connecting health cost pressures and employee engagement scores with wellness interventions will ensure a return on investment (ROI). For example, if drug utilization for high blood pressure is high, programs will focus on physical activity, healthy eating and weight management.

Increased value placed on VOI not just ROI
Companies will see wellness as more than a cost containment strategy but as a way to demonstrate that the “company cares.” Increasingly wellness will be used as a recruitment, retention and engagement strategy. VOI or value on investment is a product of a workforce that is happier, more engaged and consequently more productive. Companies realize that taking care of their employees beyond compensation & benefits is an important link to achieving a Best Workplace designation.

Creative use of space to foster a culture of wellness
Organizations will create spaces in the workplace that foster social wellness and connectivity. Redesigned workspaces will include lounges with fireplaces, pool tables, board & video games. Coffee bars encouraging conversation and socialization will become commonplace as will Wellness Zones where employees can take their blood pressure and pick up resources. Rejuvenation rooms which provide soft seating and massage chairs to promote relaxation as well as multipurpose rooms that double as areas for yoga and meditation will continue to be popular.

Prayer rooms which allow employees to stay connected to their faith will continue to gain momentum.

Focus on mental health and well-being
Long work days and commutes, sedentary lifestyles and the day to day pressures of two income families are just a few of the reasons employees are feeling burnt out. According to the Canadian Association of Mental Health, employees are reporting feeling stressed at least 4-5 days a week.

Organizations will start paying more attention to the mental health of their employees by offering workplace massage therapy, yoga, meditation classes and mindfulness training.

Encouraging employees to openly talk about their mental health challenges by having a “not myself today” initiative will gain momentum.

More companies will train managers to identify and deal with employees with mental health issues and introduce policies that foster a culture of health. An example of this is a “6 to 6” policy that discourages managers from sending emails before 6 am and after 6 pm and avoid weekend messaging wherever possible to help employees protect their personal time.

Quit the sit
With excessive sitting being touted as a health hazard as serious as smoking there will be increased emphasis on making the workplace more activity friendly.

Meetings on the move will become the norm as leaders look for opportunities to combine physical activity with “getting the job” done. Recent studies have revealed that “When we exercise, blood pressure and blood flow increase everywhere in the body, including the brain,” Justin Rhodes, associate professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign writes in Scientific American;

“More blood means more energy and oxygen, which makes our brain perform better.”

The promotion of mid-morning and mid-afternoon stretch breaks will also become more common. Frequent breaks help to stretch and relax muscles affected by excessive sitting and hunching over a computer.

Many organizations are also installing sit/stand work stations allowing employees to offset the impact of a sedentary work environment by changing their work position throughout the day.

Enhancing the happiness and fun factors at work
The roles that happiness and positivity play in building resilience and health will continue to gain momentum. Programs that encourage activity and team work lead to enhanced employee engagement. Happy employees are positive employees.

Encouraging gratitude and appreciation is a great way to promote positivity. An Attitude of Gratitude campaign and an Appreciation Wall encourage employees to recognize the little things that make them feel valued and appreciated.

One of the best ways to de-stress is to focus on the people around you and the things you are grateful for. Provide tips to help employees maintain a positive outlook and share their gratitude by sending online postcards to co-workers and family members.

Injecting fun into the workplace will go a long to helping employees lighten the load, reduce stress and build relationships. Coordinate a Wacky Olympics Day and encourage employees to step away from their desk for an hour of team relays. Follow up the event with fun prizes and ice cream treats.

Emergence of new technologies
The emergence of new mobile wellness and fitness apps will impact how we deliver wellness information to employees. Apps allow you to track your activities and progress to keep healthy living “top of mind.”

“500 million mobile users, or about 30% of an estimated 1.4 billion smartphone subscribers worldwide, will be using health/fitness apps by 2015,” according to Healthcare in your hands International Tribune , March 2011.

Linking wellness and corporate social responsibility
Increasingly, organizations will look at ways to connect employee health & corporate social responsibility. By fostering an “Active Living and Giving” culture, employees have fun being active with their “friends at work” for a good cause.

In 2015 more companies will move beyond the “awareness” phase of wellness programs (where education is the goal) to better analysis of how wellness initiatives are influencing employee satisfaction and affecting costs.

Veronica Marsden is co-president of Tri Fit, is a leader in developing health and wellness programs for some of Canada’s biggest brands.