Lessons learned from 15 Years in Worksite Wellness

My perspective on redesigning worksite wellness has evolved over the past 15 years to encompass a multi-dimensional approach to health promotion and on multiple levels. This broadens the current focus from mainly individual physical health risks with penalties and rewards, to a more positive and inclusive paradigm.

Health is a complex biological AND psychosocial state – an often overlooked, but important fact. As such, complete wellness and health promoting behaviors depend on many factors such as individual behaviors, genetics, our attitude and beliefs, the communities we live in, our relationships, and the places we work.

Wellness is therefore more about whole-hearted living and whole person being, which embraces the interconnectedness of body, spirit, and mind. Plus the fact that who we are and how well we are can’t be separated from our environment – context matters.

This shift requires not only individual initiatives, but also an ecological approach that includes interpersonal connections, as well as community and organizational factors. As such, worksite wellness moves beyond healthcare cost containment to an approach that supports individual needs and business strategies, actually creating a great place to work, which itself fosters well-being, improves retention, increases both engagement and productivity, and decreases health costs and risk factors. It’s a win-win for all!

Since early 2000 there has been a consortium pushing the edges of what wellness should be and could be. The consortium is now growing and redesigning worksite wellness. This redesign is not new, but really a return to the roots of wellness.

In the 1970’s the dimensions of wellness were defined as physical, emotional, spiritual, social, occupational, and intellectual. Over the years these dimensions have been depicted as 5 and up to 8 elements, but all with similar meanings. Yet despite this broad origination and dimensions of wellness, the recent focus has remained almost exclusively in the physical realm – that is until now. A transformation is occurring that is benefitting both individuals as well organizations.

Just imagine the possibilities — an energetic, vibrant, thriving and prosperous workforce within an energetic, vibrant, thriving and prosperous organization. All should and can be the outcomes of a well-designed wellness program.

From this perspective, complete wellness – or the term we use, complete well-being – is more than the absence of disease or having a ‘good’ cholesterol level, or for that matter, running a marathon! Instead, well-being is a focus on, and connection between, all the dimensions with physical health being just one element. Plus, even the focus on physical health moves beyond risk factors to one of thriving, energetic, prosperous and joyful employees.

To get there, a successful and sustainable wellness program focuses on all the dimensions of well-being on both the individual as well as the organizational level, such as,

  • Physical Well-Being: a positive approach to increase energy and vitality, to re-energize and rejuvenate, plus to feel great at the end of the workday. It may also mean initiatives aimed to foster resiliency, well-being and reduce risk factors, which often happens organically within the new paradigm. In addition, companies should consider the physical aspects of safety and health within their work settings and their communities. The physical aspect also includes benefits, salary compensation and career growth.

Emotional Well-Being: developing emotional intelligence to control negative thoughts and emotions through self-awareness techniques and skill development. The results are a calmer, more peaceful outlook and a more joyful and optimistic view which impacts resiliency and well-being. In addition, companies should assess the levels of incivility and positivity within the work environment, developing initiatives to reduce incivility and increase positivity such as skills to promote positive relationships & leadership development.

Social Well-Being: focusing on positive, healthy relationships both personal and within the workplace. Sure company parties, picnics, and celebrations may be nice and often appreciated, but it’s the daily social climate that matters the most. Collaborative working relationships should be fostered and encouraged. Employees need to perceive that they are valued and respected and that their voices are heard. All leaders need opportunities to develop the skills necessary to foster such a positive working environment.

Spiritual Well-Being: meaning, autonomy and mastery are essential for well-being and being a great place to work. To enhance well-being, employees need to perceive that their contributions are meaningful and that what they do contributes to a greater good or cause. They also want a sense of connection and belonging to something greater than being alone. Plus, employees want to know that that their values are aligned with the values of the business.

The key is that wellness is not a destination, but a journey for both the individual and organization. And it’s the journey itself that creates well-being AND being a great place to work. Both are essential for success and sustainability. Individual well-being cannot thrive by a focus on health risks alone, or in a toxic workplace; nor can organizational well-being thrive with negative and toxic employees, regardless of other benefits and initiatives offered. It’s essential that attention be given towards all the dimensions and levels of health, which can result in creating a great place to work — individual well-being and organizational well-being are inextricably connected.

A model is available in a white paper at: The Next Generation of Worksite Wellness

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