Health and Wellness Plans: An essential part of total rewards

by Employers Council Staff

Benefits,  Compensation,  FMLA,  Health and Safety,  HR Expertise and Support,  Retention

HR Consultant Jen DeFranco began working at Employers Council in November 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The quality of an employers’ health and wellness plan had never been a more important piece of the total rewards pie.

“Especially since we’ve gone through  COVID, there’s more awareness of health plans and how important they are—especially with mental health, too,” Jen said. 

Before arriving at Employers Council, Jen spent almost 20 years in various human resources capacities, mostly at nonprofits. She worked for several organizations who were Employers Council members, and her experience on the other side of the fence uniquely prepared her to walk current members through questions about health and wellness benefits. 

Currently, Jen is fielding queries about Colorado’s Healthy Families and Workplaces Act (HFWA), which requires two kinds of paid sick leave for employees working in the state. These specific questions point toward a larger discussion many employers are having: 

How can we create a strong health and wellness plan that not only complies with state and federal regulations but fits our organizations’ values and furthers our goals?  

Why your organization needs a strong health and wellness plan

There are many reasons why health and wellness plans are foundational to an organization’s success. “At the very beginning, health and wellness plans are a great retention and attraction tool,” explained Jen. “There’s a competitive advantage.”

A competitive health and wellness plan not only helps recruit and keep top talent, it also can be tied to concrete benefits, like worker productivity. 

“When you have a robust health and wellness offering, most likely your staff is going to be happier, more productive and feel well cared for,” Jen said. “Any time we invest in staff, it will always pay off because then they will invest in the work we do.” 

What should your health and wellness plan include?

Jen said that employees now expect employers to provide for their full wellbeing. Emotional and mental health offerings should play a key part in any heath and wellness plan, in addition to the more traditional physical wellness considerations. 

“Mental health is really coming up to the surface, and I’m glad,” Jen said. “If our mental health is not good, we are not going to be productive employees. It’s just not going to happen.”

Jen recommends that comprehensive health and wellness plans include competitive versions of the following elements: 


  • Health Insurance: The importance of a competitive health insurance program can not be overstated. Research shows good health insurance is the number one priority for most employees and can make all the difference when trying to recruit preferred candidates. 


  • Paid Time Off: Another wellness benefit that tops employee lists is paid time off. Rest is an essential component of work, especially quality work! 


  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): These programs can help offer a variety of services that help ease work-life balance stress for employees. Sometimes offered attached to long-term disability benefits, EAPs can include everything from private therapy to help locating and paying for pet care.

    “I’ve said all my career that one of the most under-utilized benefits is an EAP,” Jen said, stressing that internal HR doesn’t receive notice when employees take advantage of an EAP’s mental health services. 


  • Mental Health Coverage: Whether covered under health insurance or an EAP, mental health assistance is part of a full-spectrum health and wellness plan. Jen said that communicating what supports are available is key and emphasized that teams should make sure their employees know how to access mental health benefits. She also said having employees in leadership positions model good mental health practices, like taking PTO and talking about mental health issues, can encourage others to do the same.

  • Family Benefits: Fifty nine percent of parents report being worried about rising child care costs.1 Employers can help lessen their employees’ financial and emotional burdens by offering child care assistance, family leave, and other programs focused on caregiving. 


  • Financial Wellness Programs: In addition to retirement benefits, employers should consider the financial factors most likely to impact their employees lives. 

“If I’m having financial struggles, that will influence my mental health,” said Jen. “I like to look at the big picture…and keep an eye out for how it affects the whole person.”

Relieving financial stress can help employees focus, engage and excel in the workplace. Employers are beginning to offer tuition aid, student loan assistance, gas gift cards, home office stipends, financial counseling and more. 

  • New, Innovative Benefits: Attention to financial wellbeing is a newer shift in health and wellness programs, Jen shared. “Employers would be wise to check in with staff to see what is important to them,” Jen said,  “and stay on top of what trends are coming out, so you’re not behind the eight ball when it comes to keeping staff and attracting new staff.”

    In addition to financial wellness benefits, Jen has been seeing an uptick in Lifestyle Spending Accounts (LSA), flexible accounts employers can use to reimburse employees for company-designated wellness expenses. Telehealth services have also been gaining in popularity as a way to connect employees to immediate, lower-cost health care. 

Where can you get help developing health and wellness plans? 

The number-one challenge HR professionals face when developing health and wellness plans is keeping up with the costs of providing competitive benefits. 

“The cost just to exist—that’s going up with inflation,” Jen said. Employers Council’s benchmarking data, particularly the Health, Welfare, & Retirement Plans survey, can help organizations understand what they need to offer to compete with their peers. 

It can be daunting to sort through the variety of benefits available and which your particular employees need and want. Members with Consulting and/or Enterprise level memberships can consult with Jen and her team members with questions about health and wellness plans. 

Organizations who want more intensive assistance can contact the Compensation Planning Services team for benefit analysis and plan development help. “They can come to your office, sit with you, even have meetings with your brokers, and strategize on what would be best for your organization,” Jen said.

Jen encourages members to pick up the phone and call if they run into challenges while designing their programs. Her team not only solves problems but collects novel health and wellness approaches. 

“My favorite part of my job is getting to know our members,” Jen said. “[I want to know] what are their challenges and what is working well, so we can share the wealth with a mental list of unique ideas.”

Want to learn more about compensation administration? SIGN UP for our next virtual training event, “Base Pay Design & Development,” where you’ll learn how to create and apply your own total rewards philosophy. 


  1. This is how much child care costs in 2022,” 15 June 2022. Accessed 16 August 2022. 
About the author
Employers Council Staff