Corporate wellness programs

Workplace wellness programs – also known as corporate wellness or health and wellbeing programs – can be an advantage to a company’s competitive edge. Research has shown that workplace wellness programs can improve employee loyalty and retention, reduce healthcare costs and even boost productivity. So how can you successfully implement these workplace wellness programs?


It’s important not to look at your wellness program with a broad one-size-fits-all approach in hopes of getting 100 percent engagement. Rather, tailor it to the specific needs of your staff. There is no magic equation that says you’ll have 100 percent engagement in your workplace wellness program.

Encourage participating employers to perform an employee wellness program needs and interests survey. Find out what employees are interested in, what they need, what they like and don’t like. By giving employees a voice in how wellness programs are shaped, can make them feel more valued and engaged in the process – which, in turn, can lead to greater participation.


Technology plays a pivotal role in many workplace wellness programs. The data generated is typically used to track team members’ activities during fitness challenges, in which employees are encouraged to wear devices, such as Fitbits, or to determine the ROI of wellness program costs.

Data can also be used to assess teams across: wellness culture; risk assessment and outreach; nutrition and food environment; physical activity; tobacco-free; emotional and mental well-being; financial well-being; incentives and communication; and evaluation. Staff can receive a score for each area, ranging from bronze to platinum.


Fitness challenges at work can be fun and motivational. But one mistake some employers make is to send the message of “exercise on your own time.”

It’s not feasible to let staff spend entire workday afternoons at the gym, of course. But in workplace cultures where sitting at desks is the norm, consider giving workers paid exercise breaks, Mileski said. At MTM, for example, employees are encouraged to take three 30-minute exercise breaks per work week.


At MTM, 659 employees (25.8%) are medical transport vehicle drivers who don’t have a company email address, Mileski said. Consequently, information about wellness program benefits weren’t reaching them. So, the company is adding a text messaging system to communicate health and benefit program updates to drivers, each of whom uses a cellphone.

Similarly, Nearpod, a classroom educational and assessment platform, is using the collaboration platform Slack to drive engagement with its wellness initiatives, said the company’s director of people and culture, Mike Teichberg. Because Slack is such a popular communications tool for work projects, employees started using it to organise healthy activities, such as visiting nearby gyms for classes, sharing favourite workout tunes and inviting colleagues to health and fitness events in their area.


Activity trackers are often the tools of choice in workplace fitness challenges. But the more advanced an activity tracker is, the greater the odds are that some employees will need help setting up and using them, noted Wright of SCHA, which partners with Fitbit Health Solutions. Wright recommends setting aside time to help employees with their devices.


A holistic view of employee health should include an emphasis on emotional well-being, said Emily Anhalt, a doctor of clinical psychology and psychological consultant for businesses such as GitHub and Indiegogo.

“There’s a societal stigma about needing emotional support,” Anhalt explained. And yet, she pointed out that issues at work “trigger all kinds of feelings” that can be difficult to handle on our own.

There are multiple components to enabling employees’ emotional well-being, Anhalt said, including providing referrals for therapists and coaches; “emotional fitness” training for managers to give them language and tools to support team members; communications training; and workshops that emphasise building teams, relationships and communities.


One of the biggest mistakes corporate wellness program managers make is not getting the full support of top executives – especially the CEO. Support doesn’t just mean approval. In an ideal world, it means actual holistic participation. In other words, C-level executives and managers should model emotionally healthy behaviours, too, according to Anhalt.

Find out more on workplace wellness programs for your team.

Workplace wellness programs in Australia provide many benefits, however the biggest challenge in offering these programs is the lack of participation.  52% of employers surveyed by Limeade admitted it was the biggest challenge, with 49% citing difficulty in maintaining interest and activation with 36% of respondents feeling like it’s a battle to help employees develop long-term healthy habits.

Human Resources Online took it to the experts and spoke to Cotton On Group, Infineon Technologies and Singapore Airlines to find out  what successful workplace wellness programmes included. They found it came down to contextualisation, control and comprehensiveness.


According to American Express, it is critical that each company has its own customised wellness philosophy and design, because there is no one design that will work for everyone. Successful wellness programmes are aligned with individual company cultures and employee needs.

Case Study: Cotton On listens to staffs needs

At Cotton On, the health and wellbeing department sits within its people and performance function, and is focused on ensuring the team are happy, engaged, motivated and healthy.

Some of these are designed for individuals such as personal training sessions at in-house gyms or health and well being coaching across its hubs. Other programmes are rolled out for its employees worldwide, including digital health education or well being events.

Meditation, Yoga, massages, Zumba classes, team hikes, Mindfulness education, fruit drops to stores and the distribution centre and the Run World fun run for charity have all been very popular programmes.

While the programmes are all optional, Cotton On found a vast majority of its staff globally are focused on health and wellbeing – across body, mind and spirit. When the organisation first began to design the programmes, employees were very much involved.

Depending on the programme delivered, the firm receives up to a 65% participation rate from its employees. According to the group, team-based games, challenges or sessions seem to be particularly successful as they provide an opportunity for people to engage with others in a positive and energetic way.


Control provided to employees

With Singapore’s medical inflation rate reported to be at 15% last year, healthcare costs are on the rise and a worrying factor for many. Other than the high costs of insurance and staying healthy, many professionals require different types of healthcare because of lifestyle choices, habits and behaviours.

While Medisave can primarily be used for hospitalisation bills, screenings and procedures, some may require more assistance than others – and this is why it’s important for employees to be given the control to choose.

Comprehensive offerings are key

With only one-tenth of your workforce equating success at work with high performance and productivity, this reveals a disconnect between the expectations of employees and their employers.

Similarly, each employee comes with different interests, lifestyles, health and wellness needs – and for a corporate wellness programmes to work, it needs to appeal to the majority of the workforce. 

CASE STUDY: Singapore Airlines ensures programmes appeal to all staff 

Singapore Airlines puts great emphasis on staff wellness and has always encouraged its staff to participate in sporting and recreational activities, and wellness programmes to keep the mind and body fit.

Launched in early 2012, the SIA wellness and health programme (WHP) aims to promote healthy lifestyles and employee wellbeing. The programs offered range from: relevant talks, sports activities to a helpline service.

Covering a wide range of popular interests, crew members are able to choose from a comprehensive list of activities, including music society or the cabin crew performing arts circle.

Staff that enjoy spending time outdoors can join various activities such as the cabin crew tennis circle or basketball club or Golf Circle to maintain their active lifestyles.

Find out more about workplace wellness programs, contact us. 
mindfulness at work
Mindfulness Meditation at work

What is mindfulness?

Many people associate mindfulness meditation at work with insight meditation, which starts by focusing on the breath. When your mind wanders, (e.g., errands, a distressing conversation, etc.) and then bring your attention back to your breath. Don’t resist your mind’s natural urge to wander, but train it to return to the present. By settling into your body and noticing how it feels, you center yourself in the moment.

Mindfulness Benefits

Mindfulness enhances emotional intelligence, notably self-awareness and the capacity to manage distressing emotions. It also delivers these measurable benefits:

  • Reduced stress
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved memory
  • Less depression and anxiety 
Mindfulness Meditation At Work

Mindfulness includes a broad spectrum of informal activities in addition to meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). Here are a few simple mindfulness techniques that you can incorporate at work:

  • Spend at least 5 minutes each day doing nothing.
  • Get in touch with your senses by noticing the temperature of your skin and background sounds around you.
  • Pay attention to your walking by slowing your pace and feeling the ground against your feet.

You can find examples of more exercises of mindfulness meditations you can practice at work here. The Mindfulness Guide for the Super Busy: How to Live Life to the Fullest

A number of well-known companies have implemented mindfulness meditation at work, including:

  • Apple
  • Google
  • McKinsey & Company
  • Deutsche Bank
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Astra Zeneca
  • General Mills
  • Aetna

An August Financial Times article describes the growth in mindfulness, and cites General Mills as one company that is making it an integral part of its company culture.

[General Mills] has even begun research into its efficacy, and the early results are striking. After one of Marturano’s seven-week courses, 83 per cent of participants said they were “taking time each day to optimise my personal productivity” – up from 23 per cent before the course. Eighty-two per cent said they now make time to eliminate tasks with limited productivity value – up from 32 per cent before the course. And among senior executives who took the course, 80 per cent reported a positive change in their ability to make better decisions, while 89 per cent said they became better listeners. The Mind Business

Mindfulness In Silicon Valley

One chapter in Contemplative Practices in Action is devoted to the impact of meditation in the lives of Silicon Valley leaders. In a seminar called Spirituality for Organizational Leadership at Santa Clara University, participants discuss how meditation practices can assist them in leading their organization. Those who complete the seminar tend to integrate what they learned into their busy lives in the following way:

  1. Anchor your day with a contemplative morning practice (e.g., Breath, Zen, Kabbala, etc.)
  2. Before entering the workplace, remind yourself of your organization’s purpose and recommit to your vocation as a leader
  3. Throughout the day, pause to be fully present in the moment before undertaking the next critical task
  4. Review the day’s events at the close of the day to prevent work stresses from spilling into your home life
  5. Before going to bed, engage in some spiritual reading

Mindfulness at Google

Google deserves special mention. Led by Chade-Meng Tan, its Jolly Good Fellow, Google introduced a program to increase emotional intelligence using mindfulness — and backed by scientific research. It’s called Search Inside Yourself and is now offered to organizations outside the Googleplex. Google Asks Employees To Take A Deep Breath

Mindfulness mediation programs are growing in the workplace. Find out more

“Smile, breathe and go slowly.” – Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Buddhist monk

There are many benefits for developing a workplace mindfulness program, but what exactly is it? In the most basic sense, mindfulness is being consciously aware of your thoughts and emotions. For one to practice good mindfulness it involves the ‘self-regulation’ of attention so that it is focused on adopting a neutral attitude toward one’s experiences in the present moment.

Below are 7 great benefits of integrating a workplace mindfulness program.


1. Being mindful of your thoughts and emotions promotes well-being at work

Mindfulness is a state that is characterised by introspection, openness, reflection and acceptance of oneself.

Recently in the field of psychology, there has been strong evidence demonstrating that mindfulness is significantly correlated with positive affect, life satisfaction, and overall well-being.

Mindfulness itself, however, is not a new concept; it has existed in Buddhism for over two thousand of years. Modern day research has made several interesting findings suggesting this ‘enhanced self-awareness’ diminishes stress and anxiety and, in turn, reduces the risk of developing cancer, disease, and psychopathology. A workplace mindfulness program is effective for general physical and mental health.

2. Being mindful can improve your working memory

Working memory is the memory system that temporarily stores information in our minds for further recall and future processing. Many studies have been undertaken that suggest a strong interrelationship between attention and working memory.

van Vugt & Jha (2011) undertook research that involved taking a group of participants to an intensive month-long mindfulness retreat. These participants were compared with a control group who received no mindfulness training (MT). All participants from both groups first undertook a memory recognition task before any MT had been providing. The second round of a memory recognition task was then undertaken by all participants after the month’s training.

Results were positive – while accuracy levels were comparable across both groups, reaction times were much faster for the group that had received mindfulness training. These results suggested that MT leads to attentional improvements, particularly in relation to quality of information and decisional processes, which are directly linked to working memory.

3. Mindfulness acts as a buffer against the depressive symptoms associated with discrimination

A self-report study conducted at the University of North Carolina measured the level of discrimination experienced by participants and also the presence and/or severity of their depressive symptoms. Participants also completed a questionnaire that measured their level of mindfulness as a trait, which is characterized by a conscious awareness of the present.

The results showed that the more discrimination participants experienced the more depressive symptoms they had. It was also found that the more mindful people were, the less depressed they were.

Finally, and most importantly, the findings suggested that mindfulness might be a protective factor that mitigates the effects of discrimination on the development of depressive symptoms. That is, although discrimination was associated with depressive symptoms, the association became much weaker as mindfulness increased. So, it appears that a workplace mindfulness program may be one way of preventing the onset of depression!

4. Mindfulness can help staff make better use of their strengths

“Mindfulness can help an individual express their character strengths in a balanced way that is sensitive to the context and circumstance they are in.”(Niemiec, 2012)

A lot of research has shown that mindfulness influences mental health and personality (Baer, Smith & Allen, 2004). Not surprisingly, mindfulness is related to character strengths as well.


You can think of mindfulness as a mental muscle. Every time we lift weight, we strengthen the muscle we are working on. In the same way, every time we pay attention to the present moment without judgment, connectivity of the attention, self-regulation and compassion circuitry grows in our brain.

5. Mindfulness practice raises the happiness set-point of employees

Our brain is divided into left and right hemispheres. It has been shown that our brain has high activity in the right prefrontal cortex (front part of the brain) when we are in a depressed, anxious mood.

Our brain has high activity in left prefrontal cortex when we are happy and energetic. This ratio of left-to-right activity shows our happiness set-point throughout daily activities. So, what happens to this ratio when we practice mindfulness meditation?

The research of Richard Davidson and Jon Kabat-Zinn shows that only an 8-week of 1-hour daily mindfulness practice leads to significant increase in left-sided activation in the brain and this increase is maintained even after 4 months of the training program (Davidson, Kabat-zinn et al., 2003). In brief, this finding demonstrates that short-term mindfulness practice increases our happiness level significantly, even at a physical level.

6. It makes staff more resilient

Resilience, in most basic terms, is individual’s ability to recover from setbacks and adapt well to change. Similarly, in our brain, we have a region called anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), located deep inside our forehead. ACC plays important role in self-regulation and learning from the past experience to promote optimal decision making.

The research findings of Tang and his colleagues show that mindfulness training groups that went through only 3-hour practice have higher activity in ACC and also show higher performance on the tests of self-regulation and resisting distractors, compared to the control group (Tang et al., 2007, 2009). This means that with the help of a workplace mindfulness program, we can change our brain in the way we react to setbacks and make decisions in our life.

7. It shrinks the stress region in the brain

Amygdala is a key stress-responding region in our brain and plays important role in anxious situations. It’s known that high amygdala activity is associated with depression and anxiety disorders (Siegle et al., 2002).

The good news is that mindfulness practice can actually shrink the size of amygdala and increase our stress reactivity threshold.

Recent research performed by Taren and colleagues shows a connection between long-term mindfulness practice and a decreased size of amygdala (Taren et al., 2013). By practicing mindfulness, we can change how we react to stressful situations and improve our mental and physical well-being.

How long should you practice mindfulness?

According to Richie Davidson, one of the world’s most renowned contemplative neuroscientists, even 1.5 hours of mindfulness practice leads to structural changes in the brain. “We can actually be happier people. We can suffer less if we take responsibility for our own mind.’’ 

Find out more about workplace mindfulness programs.