by Alex Palmer | March 13, 2017
The concept of wellness continues to evolve, shaped by new research and the latest fads -- and workplace wellness, and ways to incentivize it, evolves along with it. To discuss what's driving workplace wellness -- and rewards -- today, Incentive spoke with Beth McGroarty, director of research at the Global Wellness Institute. The organization aims to encourage employee health through a range of initiatives, roundtables, original research, and its annual Global Wellness Summit (held this year at The Breakers in Palm Beach).

Why should companies be investing in workplace wellness?

In a survey of American workers we did last year, we found that when a worker feels their company genuinely cares about their health and wellness, they were happier and more productive. And the reverse is true as well. One of the big disconnects we found was with non-monetary awards: "caring" companies were more than twice as likely to have programs that incorporated non-monetary awards and gift cards, versus just 30 percent of "non-caring" companies.

Another finding was that those non-monetary awards matter more to Millennials than anyone else: They were the third-biggest factor for what Millennials considered a "caring" company, after accessibility of healthy food and the ability to control one's own career path. 

How would you say wellness strategies are evolving?

The biggest change happening in this area is the epidemic of stress. We used to be focused on physical health, but mental health should be the focus now. In the last seven years, since the smartphone was invented, the separation between work and life has vanished. We've had computers for a long time, but tablets and smartphones have really taken it to the next level, so there's more likely to be burnout and companies need to address this reality. It's become a crisis.

Are there ways incentive planners and companies can use rewards to address this?

Gift cards or incentive rewards should be focused on stress reduction. There are so many fitness gift cards out there that can do this - healthy restaurants, sportswear, healthy travel. But whatever reward you give, it's important that it be relevant to that person. Especially for Millennials, when they aren't personally rewarded, where everyone gets the same thing, or they feel a reward isn't part of their story, it loses its power. 

If someone's worked an 80-hour week for a big project on deadline, reward them with a "daycation" that includes a massage or swimming or encourages fitness in some way. An older person might value a card that lets them go to stretching classes or yoga, where younger people might want sportswear for running marathons. You've got to be logical about incentivizing people where they are. But since everyone's stressed in some way, cards that are focused on stressed reduction are good ones for people of all types.