Business of Well-being

The Meaning of Being Well

Companies typically set up wellness programs because of concern about employees' health issues in order to reduce healthcare costs, especially those associated with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, smoking and stress.  It's easy to become distracted by the operations of running a wellness program.  You need to schedule health screenings, plan the next learning session or ask the CEO to write an email encouraging employees to attend an upcoming event.  In this operational reality, individual employee health goals can become a secondary consideration.

However, in order for a wellness program to be successful, an organization has to build a strategy around helping employees identify and meet their individual wellness goals. By focusing on accomplishing individual goals first and then on organizational goals, a wellness culture evolves in which employees feel valued, attended to and free to choose the programs that best meet their needs. This helps sustain motivation and participation that leads to meaningful, sustained behavioral change.

Such flexibility contrasts significantly with the design of many programs that approach wellness by telling people what they need, developing policing criteria and enforcing compliance. But how do we begin to build such an individualized strategy? We start by asking a seemingly simple question, "What does being well' mean to you?" Those individual answers help shape the content and strategy of the overall program and provide encouragement for setting personal goals.

Then it's up to you to set-up a wellness program that provides multiple paths to those goals. I recently asked a group of people to tell me what "being well" meant to them. Their responses varied widely and may surprise you. For a few, being well literally meant the absence of any health problems or not having to take any medication. For others, being well was more broadly defined. Here are some definitions of "being well" in the employees' own words.

  • "My understanding of being well is having the mind, body, and spirit functioning in unison to produce a harmonious feeling of well-being."
  • "I think being well means knowing who you are as an individual and that your faults are not your failures, but opportunities for change."
  • "Being well means having a healthy lifestyle that includes proper diet and exercise to maintain a certain weight."
  • "Being well means being at my peak of energy."
  • "(Being well means) doing everything within my power to stay physically and mentally able so I can do all the things I dream of doing in the future."

When an employee determines his or her meaning of "well" before setting individual wellness goals, that employee is far more likely to adopt new ways of thinking and new ways of behaving. That's when various techniques for self-efficacy, illness prevention and chronic disease management are more likely to be adopted. This, in turn, has a cumulative impact that supports the group's goal of helping control overall healthcare costs. And by the way, what is your definition of "being well?"

About the Author

Judi Hennebry Wise has over twenty years of experience as an expert in organizational change and performance improvement. Judi is responsible for the employee wellness program at PriMed, the company that manages Hill Physicians Medical Group.

The program has received a Platinum Fit Friendly Company Award from the American Heart Association and a Silver California Fit Business Award from the California Task Force on Youth and Workplace Wellness. Hill Physicians recently began consulting with companies that want to establish their own wellness programs.  More information is available at

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