Is your wellness program addressing more than just physical health?

The need for a more well-rounded approach to employee wellness really hit home for me recently, as I had the opportunity to coach a few employees on making healthier life choices.  My coaching sessions were focused on reviewing results of their Health Assessment and biometric screening.  This was the first time these employees had been coached and not all of them understood what they signed up for.  Several came in with a sense of shame, thinking they would get a lecture.  I even had one person come in completely by-passing the standard greeting of hello and jumping to “yes, I know I’m fat”.  As I started talking to her, I heard that she had a lot of things going on in her life, most critically, a recent death of a close friend.  How do you address a physical factor, such as weight, when she had other aspects of her life to deal with?  I knew a meal plan for weight loss would be “yet another thing to do” when what she really needed was to work through her loss and regain social support.

A couple other people had financial difficulties occupying a lot of their energy and focus even though they “knew” they needed to take care of their health.  Another person didn’t have a social support system and was lonely.  How is someone going to be successful making healthier choices when they are worried about paying for their current standard of living or they have no one to talk to when they are having a tough time?

It’s honestly been awhile since I’ve connected with employees on such an individual and personal level.  It was an eye opening experience to see and hear the barriers they are facing.  I often hear from employers and those of us in the health promotion field that people make excuses and are being lazy by not exercising and eating right.  More often than not, it is not a disregard for health, but struggles in other aspects of life that often take over their ability to focus elsewhere.  If our wellness programs solely address the physical factor of employees, we are not addressing the “whole person”, people with real lives and problems outside of work.

So, how can you stretch your wellness program beyond a purely physical approach? 

There are many models about the different dimensions or elements of wellness.  The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index really resonates with me because of the simplicity and the inclusion of these five elements:

  1. physical
  2. financial
  3. social
  4. purpose
  5. community

Typical wellness programs include the physical element but not the other four, although I’ve seen financial management programs start to make their way into some wellness programs.  We need to shift our thinking when building and expanding wellness programs to include some of these other elements.  If you’re not ready to overhaul your wellness program with all five elements in the Well-Being Index, here are some tips for getting started:

  • Offer financial management resources
    First, find out what type of financial topics your employees want to hear. We find that more employees want to learn about paying off debt rather than saving.  You can start with a simple lunch and learn or by promoting financial resources on legitimate website or apps.
  • Include ways for people to connect with others who have similar goals.
    Don’t forget ways to encourage healthy behaviors with spouses, children, pets  and other family members.  You can do this through social media and wearable device platforms but don’t forget about ways to get people together in person.
  • Link community efforts into your wellness programs.
    I recently went to an employer who was going to donate money to a charity of choice (voted by the employees) if the company reached a wellness participation goal.  Employees were eager to participate because these employees had a strong desire to benefit their community.  I’ve also seen employers combine community events, such as Habitat for Humanity, into their wellness programs.
  • Purpose is an essential, but more complex element to include into a wellness program.
    I won’t go too far in depth here, because this could truly be another article topic. I do want to give a shout out to a program called the Corporate Athlete.  It is an amazing program that focuses on defining your “mission” (aka your purpose) as your driving force in life.  We have launched it internally with our employees and companies, like Glaxo SmithKline, have made the class part of their culture.

I encourage you to find out what’s really going on in your employees’ lives so that you can find ways for them to intrinsically connect to what matters most to them.  Interestingly enough, with that approach, you may find different people getting involved in your program or you may help them clear space in their lives to focus on their health.