Many organizations view employee wellness as a luxury, if not another cost of doing business. However, many forward-thinking companies are learning to embrace employee wellness not only as a responsible corporate strategy, but as a strategic advantage to increase employee retention, engagement and productivity. That’s the view of Deloitte, who in their recent article, Well-being: a strategy and a responsibility, assert that, “Well-being is now front and center as a business imperative for leading, high-performance companies.” The reason? Employees are facing an increasingly stressful and challenging workplace, and significant gaps remain between what employees expect and what employers offer. If organizations want to attract and retain the highest levels of talent, while empowering employees to become their most productive selves, it’s no longer an option to let wellness programs slip by the wayside – companies need to embrace them as a strategic priority. Meeting expectations and driving productivity It should come as no surprise to HR professionals that workers are stressed; Deloitte notes that 40% of American employees feel that their jobs are either very or extremely stressful. With the “always on” model of digital business, it can difficult for employees to detach themselves from their work and proactively seek wellbeing. While corporate wellbeing initiatives initially emerged nearly 20 years ago as a way to promote health and safety, today they have grown into a sprawling wellness marketplace designed to address this growing number of “overwhelmed” employees and promote the holistic, end-to-end wellbeing of the individual. This market, Deloitte observes, has topped $8 billion in the U.S., and is expected to grow $3 billion more by 2021. But it’s not merely that corporate wellness programs are a reaction to growing employee stress – they are, demonstrably, a proactive strategy to increase engagement and productivity. For instance, Deloitte found, in their Global Human Capital Trends survey, that wellbeing programs improve employee retention for 60% of companies. Moreover, 61% of companies say that their wellness programs improve both productivity and the bottom line. Yet, relatively few companies are leveraging such benefits in a strategic manner. For instance, just 23% of companies say that their wellbeing programs are designed to reduce insurance costs. In spite of these facts, there’s often a significant mismatch between what employees want and what employers offer. For example, while 67% of employees would value reimbursement for wellbeing expenses, just 26% of companies offer such programs, according to Deloitte. In the same vein, 67% of employees would value having designated office space for wellness, but only 27% of organizations boast such a feature. Furthermore, 60% of employees would value mental health counseling, while only 21% of employers offer it. In other words, many companies are missing out on a significant opportunity to both improve their productivity and engagement and project the kinds of workplace benefits that highly talented workers expect. Leveraging employee wellness as an asset “It is our view that expanding well-being programs to encompass what employees want and value is now essential for organizations to treat their people responsibly—as well as to boost their social capital and project an attractive employment brand,” said the authors of Deloitte’s report. In order to compete in the modern talent marketplace as a forward-thinking organization, companies must come to view their wellness programs (and employee benefits, generally) as a value-adding, strategic asset – a win-win for both employer and employee. Yet, it need not be challenging for organizations to build wellness programs that meet the expectations of their employees. Rather than offer benefits that employers think their employees may want, it’s often most effective to provide employees with the power of choice. For instance, by offering employees a benefits spending account, you can empower them to spend their benefits dollars in the most valuable, personally enriching manner – whether that be for fitness, mental or financial wellness, or even personal development. While both employers and employees today face difficult workplace challenges – attracting and retaining the best talent and building a productive lifestyle of wellbeing, respectively – there are plentiful opportunities for both parties to meet in the middle. As is so rarely the case, finding such a middle ground is both good practice and good business.