What Does Meaningful Workplace Wellness Look Like?

A free Oura ring. Pre-meeting breath work sessions. Post-meeting gratitude breakouts. A required 41 days off each year, including every other Friday. Access to functional health doctors and therapists. At coffee alternative company Mud/Wtr, these perks are just part of a typical day at the office.

The company is one of many betting on workplace wellness as a means to attract and incentivize employees, as mental health has become top of mind especially as workers return to the office regularly. Goop is another example. At the wellness company, employees enjoy regular sound baths, yoga sessions, massages, acupuncture, facials and more. According to Mud/Wtr founder Shane Heath, these offerings not only support healthier workers but also more productive ones.

Mud/Wtr team participating in a yoga and breathwork class during an all-hands trip.

Mud/Wtr team participating in a yoga and breath work class during an all-hands trip.


“The surprising part about it is it’s more rooted in performance than people might think,” he said. “We look to optimize the mental and physical states of our team to get the best performance, and I’ve found that practices like breath work and mindfulness can actually lead to high-performing cultures.”

While many health-centric companies like Mud/Wtr and Goop are putting their money where their mouth is with regular programming, corporations across industries are looking at how to incorporate wellness, especially post-pandemic. For several, it comes in the form of meditation apps, monthly classes or virtual content, but the question remains: what is and isn’t effective? Are some solutions just Band-Aids for larger issues like long hours and toxic environments?

A recent study by Dr. William Fleming, the Unilever research fellow at Oxford’s Wellbeing Research Centre, found that by and large, most corporate wellness programs are ineffective because they don’t actually address the real issues at hand. While Fleming doesn’t see meditation apps or virtual classes as a negative, on their own, they don’t do much, especially when it comes to addressing the root causes of mental health issues.

“A lot of the programs are offered… like a Band-Aid on some of these problems. It’s like, ‘Oh, if we offer strategies, which maybe help enhance people’s coping mechanisms, then that’ll be enough rather than thinking about, ‘Oh, why do we need to enhance coping mechanisms?’,” Fleming said. 

Data shows there is a lot of room for change. According to surveys from Mind Share Partners and the American Psychological Association, 84 percent of people said that work impacted their mental health and 81 percent said they would seek out future employers who support mental health.

According to Fleming’s Work Wellbeing Playbook, the 12 key drivers of workplace wellness are achievement, appreciation, compensation, energy, flexibility, inclusion and belonging, learning, management, purpose, stress, support and trust. 

“We’re pointing towards improving work and how it’s done, rather than trying to improve an individual’s health and well-being in isolation from actually what’s going on,” he said.

Mud/Wtr’s mandatory time off is one such policy that it believes improves the overall work structure. Concurrently, experts argue that companies can’t just introduce programming and expect a significant return right away, especially in terms of reduced medical costs. 

“If employees see it as a cynical attempt to try to reduce medical costs or to reduce their access to care then the programs don’t work very well at all,” said Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier, who runs the Corporate Health Improvement Program, which creates programming for Fortune 500 companies. “It’s this psychological barrier between the employer and the employee that needs to be addressed.” 

According to Pelletier, the three elements of a successful workplace wellness program are consistent messaging from the company, management-level support and regular evaluation of its efficacy to adjust as needed. In addition, like Fleming, Pelletier acknowledged there are certain drivers such as financial incentives and moments of recognition to drive employee participation. 

While findings show that many corporate wellness programs fall flat, newer models are looking to change this by learning employee pain points and creating more personalized approaches. 

For example, there’s Peoplehood. The relational wellness concept offers programming specifically for corporate cohorts, whether in-person or virtually — Peoplehood’s gathers include music, breath work and guided topics for attendees to answer questions and sharpen their listening skills. For cofounder Julie Rice, also the cofounder of SoulCycle, establishing effective communication is essential now, as hybrid work has diminished connection and soft skills. 

Peoplehood @ Work

Peoplehood @ Work


“Assuming that people are going to be able to go from Zoom to Zoom, knock out agendas, make no sort of time to get to know each other or to talk about challenges or collaborations or what success looks like, these things are not going to just happen if we don’t give employees the skills to work together effectively,” she said. 

Therefore, Peoplehood @ Work provides employees a framework to get to know each other better and talk about the key challenges, an approach that many corporate wellness programs are missing. 

“We work with the team leader to address whatever the team needs,” Rice said, pointing to themes like collaboration, trust, innovation and transparency. 

While each program is adapted for the specific company, there are two main versions: The Watercooler Replacement, which fosters connection, and The Silo Buster, which aims to connect separate teams to better collaborate. The questions asked during Peoplehood are customized around each company’s needs and so far, the brand is seeing success with its work-centric offering, according to Rice. Many companies are bringing in the service for off-site meetings and implementing a multiweek series. 

“People are coming out of the session saying ‘I can’t believe that I’ve been on Zoom with somebody for three years and in 55 minutes, I learned more about them than I have doing a weekly or daily meeting with them’,” Rice said. 

While Peoplehood has in-person and digital experiences, some workplace wellness offerings are totally virtual. For example, Zeera, a mental health platform formerly known as Real, recently relaunched to tackle workplace wellness specifically. 

Screenshot of the Zeera app.

Zeera platform.


“A person cannot maintain mentally well in a workplace where they are frequently yelled at or doubted or mistrusted,” said Zeera founder and chief executive officer Ariela Safira. “Similarly, a workplace cannot remain well if individuals are inadequately suffering through grief, insecurity, hard family dynamics, communication issues, or just trying to figure out their identity and purpose. What happens at home impacts us at work, and vice versa.” 

On the platform, users can access on-demand tools and guided audio, as well as anonymous group therapy sessions where employees can discuss workplace issues they may not feel comfortable talking about with their manager. 

“Growing across workplaces looks like learning from and partnering with HR leaders, who have been bearing the emotional labor of their workforce for years now,” Safira said. 

In contrast to these programs, there’s also the more technical approach to workplace well-being — think air filtration, better lighting, filtered water and functional meeting spaces. Companies such as JPMorgan Chase, Citi and MAC Cosmetics are doubling down on this approach by meeting the International Well Building Institute’s (IWBI) Well Building Standard, a third party-verified certification that’s “a vehicle for buildings and organizations to deliver more thoughtful and intentional spaces that enhance human health and wellbeing,” per the company’s website. 

“The standard was created around… air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind and community,” said Janera Soerel, senior director global market development of real estate at IWBI.

Now, the IWBI has established more than 5 billion square feet of certified builds. The intended impact? Healthier, more productive workers. The Well’s new Bay Harbor Islands residential and office outpost, expected to open in 2025, is one example.

The Well Bay Harbor Islands rendering.

The Well Bay Harbor Islands rendering.


“You don’t realize [how] your physical built environment impacts your mood, your stress,” said David Martin, chief executive officer of Terra, the development firm behind the complex.

Aside from air quality and water filtration, the site will also include an array of outdoor spaces, which the IWBI identifies as a tenet of workplace wellness. According to Soerel, these types of builds have proven successful, especially when it comes to employee performance.

“You feel better. You can work more. You’re happier. You’re more excited to go to work,” she said. “Productivity goes up. Employee retention is up. Employee attraction is up as well… More and more people are looking for organizations that care and want to be associated with organizations that care about their lives.”

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