Skip to main content

Employee wellbeing programs: what they are and how to implement them

You have probably heard of the terms employee wellbeing program or Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at some point in time.

In recent years, global health organizations, including the US Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization (WHO), have expanded the focus of health-promoting workplaces to include the mental wellbeing of all employees.

“Traditionally, employers and EAP programs offer wellbeing programs that focus on employees’ physical health and lifestyle,” says Ken Cahill, Chief Behavioral Health Officer of SilverCloud® by Amwell®. “Mental health services are sometimes included in those wellbeing offerings, typically through face-to-face Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).”

Employee wellbeing programs: a new idea

A group of 22 leading workplace practitioners and scholars in the US and UK came together in 2020 to develop a new, more comprehensive framework for employee wellbeing: the PROWELL Model. It provides seven major components of corporate wellbeing, which fall into three categories: mental, physical, and social wellbeing.

(PROWELL Model - Image source:

“Employee wellbeing programs look at each employee on the whole, and act to help employees manage their physical health and social wellbeing, as well as their cognitive and emotional wellbeing,” says Cahill.

This holistic approach is also one that focuses on prevention and early intervention of issues that affect employee wellbeing. Examples include a healthy diet and exercise that may prevent or lessen medical conditions and getting mental health services when issues arise instead of at a crisis point.

Timely reasons to add online Mmental health to employee wellbeing offerings

Many existing employee wellbeing and EAP programs provide a good start on the road to employee wellbeing. Providing additional employee mental health services to corporate wellbeing programs became especially important in 2020 for these reasons:

  1. A surge in depression, anxiety, and stress due to COVID-19
  2. A global shortage of mental health practitioners
  3. An increase in employee interest to gain access to online mental health support
  4. A large number of recent research studies showing that digital mental health therapy is effective for common mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety

For all of these reasons, employers and EAP providers are considering adding online CBT programs provided by companies such as SilverCloud® to help their employees.

How to establish a corporate wellbeing program

If you’re considering expanding your wellbeing offerings, you’re in luck: most companies already have an employee wellbeing program in place. You may be able to add wellbeing components to your existing program, or you may want to start the process from scratch. With either choice, the path to creating a successful wellbeing program is the same one you would take to establish a wellness program.

The Society for Human Resource Management provides a detailed guide for these steps:

  1. Learn what your employees want and need through surveys and assessments.
  2. Gain management buy-in, which is crucial for funding, support, and approvals of policies and processes related to programs.
  3. Create a wellbeing committee with representatives from different departments to build support for and effectiveness of these programs.
  4. Determine goals and objectives to improve workers’ health and reduce health care costs.
  5. Develop a budget for marketing and rolling out the program.
  6. Establish wellbeing program components. These will typically include fitness options, nutrition education, weight loss management, and health screenings, in addition to mental health options, such as mindfulness programs and online mental health services.
  7. Offer wellbeing program incentives and rewards. As humans, we are driven to act by the positive consequences we expect from our actions. Money and “prizes” are typical incentives. Examples include bonuses for completing a smoking cessation program or participating in an online mental health program, movie tickets, and technology items for participation in health screenings and subsidies for health care premiums.
  8. Communicate the wellbeing plan. Use a multi-pronged approach, including direct employee communication, presentations, slogans, and visible participation in programs by upper management.
  9. Gauge the success of the program through metrics established at the beginning of the program. These will likely include health-specific improvements, such as a percentage of employees who have lost weight or the percent of participation in a mental health service. Many employers also want to measure the return on investment (ROI) and the reduction in health care costs.

Companies that include online mental health in workplace wellbeing programs

While including online mental health options in employee wellbeing programs is a relatively new concept, several companies have been pioneers in this area.

OSF HealthCare, based in Peoria, Illinois, serves nearly three million people in Peoria and surrounding areas. Prior to the pandemic, OSF turned to SilverCloud to close the gap created by a mental health provider shortage. Employees, as well as people aged 18 years old or older and living in the area served by OSF HealthCare, were able to enroll in the SilverCloud depression, anxiety, depression/anxiety combination, or stress management treatment programs.

At the onset of COVID-19, SilverCloud worked with OSF to increase support to the community and frontline healthcare employees. The demand for online mental health services led to a 300-400% increase in monthly SilverCloud enrollments during the main lockdown months, March through May, and a 200% increase during June, July, and August.

OSF achieved the following goals after implementing a SilverCloud online CBT program for employees and spouses:

  • A 97% participant satisfaction rate
  • At least a 63% clinically significant improvement in anxiety for those with moderate to severe symptoms
  • At least a 55% clinically significant improvement in depression for those with moderate to severe symptoms

St. Luke’s University Health Network is a nonprofit health system with more than 16,000 employees providing care and services at 12 hospitals and more than 300 outpatient locations in Pennsylvania. The leadership team at St. Luke’s identified a need to expand mental health services to employees for these reasons:

The healthcare profession has higher rates of anxiety, depression, and stress among employees compared with many other industries.
Demand for mental health services for employees was high, based on results of employee surveys, wellbeing program participation, and medications prescribed to employees.
St. Luke’s University achieved the following goals after implementing a guided, SilverCloud online mental health program for employees and spouses:

  • A 16.1% increase over the participant goal in Year 1
  • Clinically significant improvement in each category of depression and anxiety
  • A participation satisfaction rating of 97% for the SilverCloud program
  • 17 times its Return (ROI) on Investment of SilverCloud

A note about ROI

Positive ROI gains can be achieved in a number of ways after implementing an online mental health program:

  • Reduction in health care costs
  • Increase in productivity
  • Decrease in sick days and long-term absences
  • Reduction in turnover

The next step

Discover how SilverCloud’s digital mental health programs can contribute to the wellbeing of your employees.