From on-site gyms to free snacks and flexible time off, employers have incorporated employee wellness programs in a variety of ways. Employers may think that the flashier the employee wellbeing program, the more likely to attract and retain talent. But these programs don’t necessarily need to be overly flashy or expensive to be effective.

The idea of employee wellness initiatives is to benefit not only employee health, but the employer as well. A healthy employee is less likely to miss work due to the flu or another illness, lowering the amount of time missed from work as well as the amount the employer will have to pay in health care costs.

Take a look at these five alternatives to the monthly employee wellbeing check-in that boost employee engagement, wellbeing and retention.

1. Employee Wellness Challenges

Wellness challenges have been a common fixture in wellness programs for decades. Challenges are a great team-building activity where employees work together to earn points for completed activities.

Instead of the traditional weight loss challenge, wellness challenges are seeing a more modern approach in recent days. Sleep challenges are being implemented where employees are encouraged to practice good sleep hygiene by aiming for 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. Water drinking challenges encourage employees to drink the recommended daily intake of water.

Wellness challenges are a great way to gamify wellbeing and can encourage employees to improve their physical and mental health while getting to know their coworkers better in a fun, engaging way.

2. Community Involvement

According to Mayo Clinic, volunteering releases dopamine, which can reduce stress and increase relaxation – leading to lower rates of depression and anxiety. Employers are encouraging company-wide volunteer programs where employees choose an organization to support. If company-wide programs aren’t an option at your organization, allowing employees to devote a few hours each month to volunteer for a cause that is close to their hearts can be just as effective.

An added bonus of community involvement is that employees will be engaged in their community, which can lead to increased engagement in the workplace as well.

3. On-Site Yoga

We’ve all heard of the "3 o’clock work slump," but what about the "3 o’clock downward dog?" Yoga has become increasingly popular for its mood-boosting effects and low-impact physical benefits. Verywell Mind states that yoga is a great stress antidote – teaching basic meditation techniques and increasing relaxation through savasana, or corpse pose.

Hiring an on-site yoga instructor can provide employees with an active break from their work, leaving them feeling energized and prepared to take on the rest of their day with newly learned breathing techniques to reduce stress. If an on-site instructor is out of the budget, preparing an empty room with a few yoga mats and access to an online yoga instructor is a great alternative.

4. Financial Wellness Programs

Financial stress can feel like an actual weight on an employee’s shoulders. It’s something everyone stresses about at some point. Being proactive about financial education can prevent a lot of headaches and worrying down the road. Employers have started implementing financial education programs to support employees who are experiencing financial woes or for the ones who want to stay ahead of the game.

While most employees receive a basic 401K educational walk-through, employers who provide their employees with education beyond this can increase trust with their employees. Possible educational sessions can include budgeting, investing and retirement planning. It is important that employers remember that their employees span a variety of ages and stages of life, and tailor their programs to be all-encompassing.

5. Themed Wellness Days

Themed wellness days are a fun, engaging way employers are encouraging their employees to be healthy and mindful. Not only will these themed days promote employee wellbeing, but they can also be a great encouragement for employees to enjoy in-person workdays.

"Meditation Mondays" can be a great way to boost employee wellbeing with a dedicated 15-minute meditation session each Monday. "Fit Fridays" could encourage employees to take the stairs and compete to get the highest step-count that day. Themed wellness days can increase engagement and health and provide employees an extra boost to get through the workweek.

A healthy, engaged employee is more likely to stick around

Employee wellness programs don’t have to be expensive for the employer, and don’t have to feel like a chore for the employee. While the workplace continues to evolve with hybrid work models and increased attention to mental health, employee wellness programs will continue to evolve as well. Allowing employees to have a say in the programs they want can increase the success rates of wellness initiatives and increase job satisfaction. Look for programs that encourage engagement, while increasing mental and physical health.