Wellness benefits have become a mainstream offering formost large companies. Smokingcessation, nutrition, fitness and health screenings allhave been embraced by employers as a way to address health carecosts and improve employee loyalty.

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But as wellness programs become the norm, a new way of lookingat wellness has emerged, and nontraditional wellness programs arenow seen by many employers as a way to get an edge on recruitmentand retention efforts. The envelope is being pushed in manydirections, but the good news is that an expansive view of wellnesshas paid off for employers, in attracting young workers, retainingolder ones, and even in seeing a good return on investment.

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Paul Terry, chief science officer at StayWell, a Minneapolis-based companythat provides wellness programs to employers, said a holisticapproach to worker wellness and nontraditional offerings arehallmarks of successful companies.

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"There is an emerging interest among employers to move fromwellness to well-being, which reflects their understanding thathealth improvement occurs best in environments where employees feelgreat about their work and their life in general,” Terrysaid. “Some of our more forward-looking clients are looking atthe relationships between employee health, resiliency, satisfactionand engagement with a growing appreciation for how each of thesedomains contribute to higher employee and company performance.”

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The IFEBP survey

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A new survey from the International Foundation of EmployeeBenefit Plans found that these nontraditionalwellness benefits are on the rise.

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“What we’re seeing is more organizations are turning to thingsthat are not traditionally considered to be part of wellness,”Julie Stich, IFEBP director of research said. “Things that we’recalling social and community initiatives, as well as personal andprofessional development initiatives.”

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Stich said the nontraditional wellness offerings are becomingmore popular with employers because the focus of wellness hasshifted.

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“The genesis of wellness programs came about to really hold downhealth care costs, which were escalating,” she said.

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“But now the data shows that more organizations think the No. 1reason is to improve their employee’s wellbeing and engagement. Andso that translates into some of these other offerings — it’s notjust physicalhealth anymore, it’s more all-around employee wellbeing,"she added.

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Stich said her group’s study found that employers wereexperimenting with benefits such as encouragement of using vacationtime, tuition reimbursement and community charity drives.

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Here are some of the top nontraditional benefits with whichemployers are experimenting.

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ptoEncouraging Use of Time Off

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The study found that employer initiatives to encourage employeesto use all their earned time off or vacation time was the mostpopular of the nontraditional wellness benefits. Sixty-six percentof employers in the survey said they were offering suchprograms.

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“So many employees leave some of their vacationdays laying on the table,” Stich said. “I think more andmore companies are recognizing that it’s good to encourageemployers to take that time, get refreshed, and come back ready towork some more.“

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mental healthMental HealthCoverage

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Mental health coverage may not sound nontraditional: TheIFEBP study showed that 80% of businesses surveyed offer employeeassistance programs (which commonly provide mental health treatmentservices), and 62% offer mental health coverage as part of theirmedical benefits.

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However, other mental health-related benefits were on the riseas well. In the survey, additional mental health offerings includedcritical incident/crisis response counseling (32.8%), stressmanagement programs (23.6%) and mental health assessments as partof an HRA (21.1%).

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tuition reimbursementTuitionReimbursement

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Tuition reimbursement was very popular, especially with youngerworkers, many of whom face the possibility of crushing studentdebt, either from past educational costs or from training they maybe considering. Nearly 63% of the businesses in the IEBP surveyreport offering some form of tuition reimbursement.

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A 2013 study by the Society for Human Resource Managementfound that 61% of employers offered undergraduate educationalassistance, and 59% offered graduate-level educationassistance.

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“As with career development benefits, educational assistance notonly helps the employee but also benefits the employer bydeveloping a more educated workforce,” the SHRM study said.

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community charity drivesCommunity CharityDrives, Community Volunteering

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According to the IEBGP survey, 57% of employers surveyed sponsorcommunity charity drives. In addition, 46% of companies offer sometype of community volunteering opportunity to employees.

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The SHRM study had a similar finding, showing that 47% of thecompanies in its survey offered community volunteeropportunities.

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“Community volunteer programs offer organizations an excellentopportunity to provide value-added benefits to the business,employees and community. These programs can be tailored to bestsuit the needs of the organization’s mission, vision and businessgoals,” the study said.

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non traditional employee benefits

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On-site Events/Other Celebrations

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IEFEBP found that just more than 50% of employers offered thisstress-reducing and community-building option, while noting thatmany employers have offered similar events long before anyoneconsidered the wellness aspect of an office party.

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The SHRM study found similar offerings were popular, includingcompany picnics (55%), discount ticket services (35%) andcompany-purchased tickets to outside events (26%).

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“Social gatherings provide the opportunity for employees to getto know one another outside of the job, which can lead to betterworking relationships at the office,” the report said.

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money growth

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Financial Education

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Another benefit that adds to peace of mind for employees isfinancial education. The SHRM study found about 25% of employersoffered financial counseling, either one-on-one or via onlineservices. The IFEBP survey found 29% of employersoffering financialeducation.

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Purchasing Power noted that in the aftermath of the lastrecession, many workers were still recovering from the hit theirinvestments took.

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“While gains in the stock market and the economy have led somecompanies to believe their employees are also recoveringfinancially, that’s not the case,” the site said. “According tomost research, many employees are still struggling financially andthe associated stress is distracting them at work, impactingproductivity. Non-traditional voluntary benefits that improveemployee financial wellness will be sought be more employers offerand will see a higher employee participation rate.”

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The Payoff of Nontraditional WellnessBenefits

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In the past, Stich and others said, employers closely watchedreturn on investment numbers to judge whether their wellnessefforts were a success. That mindset might be changing, though.

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“Employers are seeing a positive impact of wellness on thingslike productivity and employee engagement, so you don’t have quiteas much turnover,” she said. “Those are some positive aspects ofwellness that employers haven’t always considered or lookedfor.

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“We do see that wellness is evolving now, with employers lookingat the employee holistically; as a whole person.”

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