As the line between work and life blurs, employees want their benefits to include mental, financial, and spiritual health programs. Integrating wellness and well-being into the design of work can benefit individual workers, their teams, and the entire organization.
Differentiating between wellness and well-being helps explain why they both contribute to personal and organizational success.
Wellness can be described as a healthy lifestyle, apart from a severe illness. It mainly refers to a person’s physical health -- their ability to do what they want without suffering. Although wellness has different connotations at different stages of life, it stems primarily from healthy eating, frequent physical activity, and adequate sleep.
Employers have long realized the importance that wellness plays within the working environment. Wellness has played a central role in helping employees curtail unhealthy behaviors leading to costly chronic conditions. A recent survey by RAND Corporation found that 85% to 91% of U.S. companies with 1000 or more employees are likely to offer a workplace wellness program.
Mental health is equally important, so many employers now offer mental health service coverage within their insurance programs and benefits packages.
Physical and mental wellness are essential, but they are only one part of the bigger picture. A recent Gallup article points to the need for something more than wellness: “Although physical and mental wellness may seem to be the easiest to measure, it is clearly not the only driver of employee productivity and workplace satisfaction.”
Well-being encompasses a broader dimension than wellness. Gallup has identified social, career, financial, physical, and community well-being are components of a well-lived life.
For example, consider an individual who eats healthy foods and stays physically active but lacks social connections and dislikes their job. Their social isolation can impact this person’s physical and mental health, potentially leading to chronic illnesses. Such a spiral would affect the employee’s performance, negatively impact their colleagues and their employer, and contribute to a decline in productivity and profitability.
Gallup compared individuals who enjoy all five elements of well-being with those who have good physical health but not the other four components. The latter group:
miss 68% more work each year due to poor health;
are about three times more likely to file workers’ compensation claims;
are five times more likely to seek out a new employer in the next year; and
are more than twice as likely to change employers.
Future of well-being in the workplace
Simply offering workplace wellness programs, no matter how well-intentioned, does not guarantee workers’ well-being. Gallup’s research indicates that although 85% of large employers provide a wellness program, only 60% of the employees know about it. Of those aware employees, only 40% say they participate in the program. Organizations can help employees by promoting such programs more effectively and persuasively.
A McKinsey Quarterly article on “The overlooked essentials of employee well-being” notes the impact of workplace stress on workers’ physical and psychological health. Stress diminishes productivity, increases voluntary turnover, and costs U.S. employers nearly $200 billion every year in healthcare costs. The article focuses on two effective ways to create a healthier workplace:
Job control: Allowing employees to determine what they do and how they do it has been shown to enhance their physical health. Research also points to the ill effects of limited job control on mental as well as physical health. Organizations can counter this by limiting micromanagement and building flexibility and autonomy into job roles.
Social support: Helping employees build meaningful connections and participate in a team enhances their well-being. It has long been known that being able to rely on family and friends supports better health as significantly as quitting smoking and getting adequate exercise. But an increasing number of Americans feel isolated and say they lack close friends. Workplaces can be unfriendly when they engender too much competition, which heightens competition and diminishes collaboration.
Here are some ways employers can enhance social support:
Demonstrating commitment to employees: Organizations that sustain long-term relationships with their customers and employees score high on lists of best places to work. Employees thrive when they understand that management cares for their well-being.
Improving workplace language: Employees are more likely to like and help others with whom they share constructive relationships. The language that emphasizes divisions within the workplace can lead to employee alienation.
Supporting shared connections: Anything that brings employees together in a meaningful context helps build a sense of shared identity and strengthens social bonds. Holiday celebrations and events that celebrate employee tenure or shared successes are good examples of this.
While wellness programs are essential to organizations and their employees, introducing and implementing well-being initiatives for workers will support their productivity and reduce the risk of mental and physical illnesses. Also, job control and social support offer straightforward ways to benefit both employees and employers.