The concept of health has changed as we learn more about all the factors that contribute to it. We now know that “healthy” goes beyond the obvious diet-and-exercise model. A state of total well-being is the optimal goal and is only possible when one feels well physically, mentally, financially, and socially. Why should employers care? Because healthy, happy employees equal a stronger, potentially more profitable business.
According to one study, “Findings support the interrelated nature of employee health, wellness, benefits, and external policies that create the environment of human performance. They also demonstrate that employers may realize substantial health care savings, productivity gains, and turnover reduction by improving the well-being of their employees.” (1)
Employers are Stepping Up
Employers are wise to familiarize themselves with the various elements that comprise total well-being and ensure they are addressing them in their workplace. Many progressive companies are taking a new look at how they can help their employees after seeing data that supports a total well-being approach.
Kristin Roby Dimlow, Corporate VP of Total rewards and Performance at Microsoft, says, “Well-being really is a holistic thing. If your finances are in trouble, chances are you’re feeling physical symptoms from that and mental symptoms, such as anxiety. If you are experiencing a physical condition, it may translate into mental health issues. So, we try to encourage employees to think about the whole package, try to ensure that they’re finding balance in all aspects.” (2)
The Four Pillars of Total Well-Being
Each of the four areas below contain various factors that contribute to total well-being. Learn about them and how you can integrate education, support, and services into your workplace.
Mental Health. In surveys, 84% of respondents indicated that their workplace conditions had contributed to at least one mental health challenge. (2) It means that employers need to take notice. Stress hormones can disrupt sleep, increase muscle tension, and impair metabolic function as well as increase the risk of infection, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions. What can employers do?
- Open up. A study showed that 62% of employees would feel more comfortable speaking about mental health if someone in a leadership role openly talked about it.
- Destigmatize. Opening up about mental health is good, but providing managers with training on understanding and providing mental well-being for employees is better.
- Provide tools. If your company does not contract with an employee assistance program (EAP), consider it. EAPs provide individual and group counseling as well as leader training.
- Communicate. Ensure your employees are informed about the resources available to them, how to access those resources, and who to go to with questions.
Physical Health. Like all aspects, physical health is linked to the other areas of well-being. Stress can result in behaviors that affect us physically like smoking, poor diet, disruptions in relationships, and increased alcohol or substance use. One report found that employees with an unhealthy diet were 66% more likely to report a loss in productivity, and 50% of employees who exercised only occasionally were more likely to report lower productivity levels. (2) Employers can:
- Check your workplace. How are the ergonomics of work stations? Do you provide healthy snack options and/or lunches for employees? Do you offer wellness challenges to get employees motivated and united?
- Promote balance. Train managers on how to promote work-life balance and set healthy work boundaries for their teams. This could mean changing company policies around hours and after-work communication.
- Encourage PCP visits. When employees stay up to date on routine health screenings and exams, potential problems can be caught early. Primary Care Providers (PCPs) know patients the best.
Social Health. According to Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States, “Loneliness … is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death. The mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity. And the harmful consequences of a society that lacks social connection can be felt in our schools, workplaces, and civic organizations, where performance, productivity, and engagement are diminished.” (3)
Here are a few things leaders can do in the workplace:
- Redefine work. Decide how to foster collaboration and teamwork for remote and hybrid workers, find ways to overcome proximity bias, and create strategies for a culture of inclusion.
- Be intentional. Find ways to help people connect, such as occasional in-person retreats if your team is fully remote.
- Rethink the office. If most of your workers are hybrid or remote, can you use the office to help teams connect, have in-person meetings, brainstorm sessions, and meet clients?
- Say, “thank you.” Make employee recognition part of your company’s SOP.
Financial Health. Forbes reports that, in the United States, 56% of more than 3,000 full-time employees indicated that they experience stress related to their finances. The consequences of financial stress run from absenteeism to health issues such as burnout, anxiety, ulcers, and even heart problems. The result is a significant loss in productivity. Here are a few things employers can do:
- Assess needs. Ask your employees what they need most. Do they want a company pension plan, compensation for the rising cost of living, or something else leaders may not have thought about?
- Understand policy. Before making promises or embarking on a strategy, make sure you understand what your company can offer employees and what it cannot.
- Consider a program. A financial wellness program can take the form of workshops, a partnership with a financial planning company, or financial wellness tools such as coaching or e-learning.
As employers become more educated, they are making the changes necessary to provide an environment that encompasses all the pillars of a healthy life, both inside and outside of the cubicle or shop. They have prioritized finding comprehensive health care that incorporates all aspects of well-being, including alternatives to the complexity of employer-sponsored health care. It’s all part of a total well-being plan and is within reach for more employers as providers step up with solutions.
“Overall Well-Being as a Predictor of Health Care, Productivity, and Retention Outcomes in a Large Employer,” Lindsay E. Sears, PhD, Yuyan Shi, PhD, Carter R. Coberley, PhD, and James E. Pope, MD