Business of Well-being

Evidence Based Wellness - the Next Great Leap?

The concept of 'wellness' is one that has gained a huge amount of traction within healthcare in America over the past few decades. These days, any individual taking a concerned and meticulous approach to personal healthcare would be advised to take note of this minor conceptual revolution.

Essentially, the idea of wellness seeks to outmode the traditional approach of simply identifying an isolated ailment and treating it appropriately, and looks toward a far more holistic, positive sense of an individual's health, one that considers as indivisible their physical and emotional states, the effect of the environments in which they operate and the pressures and strains their life takes on them.

In the eyes of devoted 'wellness' practitioners, by seeing this 'bigger picture' one can then have a genuine sense of where a person is at, health-wise, and prescribe preventative or ameliorative treatment accordingly.

Wellness in the Workplace

Many people prophesied, prior to the inception of President Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, that it would spark a revolution in American healthcare. While it may indeed have done so, it has taken place in different fields than they had perhaps envisaged.

Instead of communism and death panels, what has actually happened is an increased prevalence in Evidence Based Wellness programs within America's workplaces. Employers seem finally to be fully accepting the responsibility they have towards contributing to employee wellness - and the undoubted benefit its upkeep will have to their company.

One might think, however, that a concept as seemingly hazy as 'wellness' would be a hard thing for an employer to provide an evidence-based program in support of, but this is to misinterpret the concept. In the late eighties, Thomas J. Sweeney was one of the first to identify that the core components of the indivisible self that contribute to the overall state of 'wellness' in a person: creative, coping, social, physical and essential.

It is through these core components that employers should look to build a database-profile of an employee's wellness.

Physical Wellness

Predictably, this is the most tangibly measurable of the components, to the point that the US Department of Labor has produced biometric criteria on which evidence should be based. These are nothing too unexpected: monitoring a patient's blood pressure and cholesterol, for example, measuring their BMI and waistlines and assessing whether they are a red-flag user of harmful substances like tobacco, for example.

In some cases, employers may wish to advise preventative treatments such as hypertension medication for high blood pressure, or lipid management medication for cholesterol. With the employee's consent, an employer could also start to build a profile based on physical exertion - what type of workout do they do, and for how long each week? Is there perhaps a better kind that could be suggested to better suit and enhance their physical wellness?

Coping Wellness

This should be seen by employers seeking to create Evidence Based Wellness programs as the key component, and the fulcrum of their responsibility to the employee. It entails consideration of how the person feels they currently match up to their own ambition, how well they feel they cope with the stresses, pressures and frustrations of the modern workplace, and how they feel their self-worth is enhanced or reduced by their current position.

The appreciation of Coping Wellness may also allow for discussion with the employee as to whether, because of the strain they are under, they have sought to 'self-medicate', using harmful substances.

Many of these drugs, from alcohol to cocaine to solvents, can have a highly detrimental effect on physical wellness but through that, as a component of the indivisible self on every other aspect of the individual, including their productivity: experts estimated that in 2008 drug abuse cost the American economy $193billion, including an estimated total cost of $120billion through lost productivity in labor participation costs, treatment-participation, incarceration and premature death.

Clearly, then, a concerned and prudent employer is one who looks to create an evidence-based program to codify and thus improve employee coping wellness.

Could We Do More?

Many employers will claim that their workplace is simply not suited to an appreciation and enhancement of the remaining core components: creative, social and essential wellness. Undoubtedly, these components present a greater challenge to evidence-based action than the previous two: how, for example, would a chain of used-car dealerships test for adequate care being shown of a salesman's spirituality - an essential element, in the view of Thomas J. Sweeney, of essential wellness?

Would the creative wellness of an army signals engineer be of great importance? Perhaps not; but to consider these elements as isolated is to miss the overall thrust of the concept of 'wellness' - that whether we like it or not, the components all bleed into one another, and only by caring for all of them to we preserve and enhance the overall wellness of an individual.

The aim, going forward, must be for any American employer to grasp the nettle, and recognize the time has come to develop strategies and evidence-based programs that allow us to know, as fully as possible, where our employees are.

Learn about how you can become a Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist→