While it may be easy to conclude that it is too expensive to embrace a holistic approach to employee healthcare; not implementing such a program can result in a net decrease in income. Just as a business cannot have a successful outcome without a strategic plan, a product cannot be successful without considering all the right parts that make up the whole.
A company cannot be wholly successful without considering the aggregate life condition of its workforce. To help us understand what this means, let us begin by examining the difference between 'wellness' and 'wellbeing'. Wellness is "The condition of good physical and mental health, especially when actively maintained by proper diet, exercise, and [the] avoidance of risky behavior."
Whereas wellbeing is defined as, "A good or satisfactory condition of existence, a state characterized by health, happiness, prosperity and welfare, encompassing the physical, mental and emotional aspects of the person. Well-being refers to a holistic experience.
Employee Concerns on a Typical Day
The average full-time employee, in many cases, carries the workload of two or three workers - often feeling an inordinate amount of pressure and stress to meet satisfactory performance demands in the workplace. Adding to the strain are external concerns that are just as important as their jobs - if not more so.
These are things like childcare expenses, cost-of-living increases, aging parents, housing issues and rebellious teens. Moreover, although corporate layoffs have diminished, there are those close to retirement age who fear losing their jobs and not having saved enough.
Most employees want to feel empowered and in control of their own lives. I would go even further - most want to live healthy, vibrant lives keeping their bodies strong and their minds sharp while contributing to society. I do not anyone who would make the conscious choice to grow feeble and sickly, ceding of their life to become a burden to family or society.
So, to begin a serious discussion on the wellbeing of workers for your company's success, I believe we must look at the top five categories or dimensions of wellbeing remembering the welfare of all employees is the ultimate goal. I will begin with the most taboo aspect; but the one I believe to be the most vital.
An Essential Dimension in Predicting Our Physical Outcomes - Emotional Wellbeing
Being able to understand and cope with life's challenges and transitions without breaking down is emotional wellness. But, emotional wellbeing takes it a step further. Emotional wellbeing is the ability to communicate and share feelings in a productive manner.
It is not just handling or managing stress, but involves connecting to thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Thoughts lead to feelings. Feelings lead to decisions and actions. These decisions and actions, inevitably, give us either positive or negative results.
Unfortunately, in today's crazy and chaotic world, many thoughts produce feelings of anxiety, unsubstantiated fears and unworthiness. These are these are the source of your employees' unhealthy outcomes, negative behaviors, addictions, and diseases.
The Outcome of Negative and Addictive Behavior
Drama, food, recreational and prescription drug addictions are to name only a few of the common addictions prevalent in today's society. Employee assistance programs (EAPs) have a direct impact on a corporation's bottom line. When an EAP is not in place, there is still a financial impact.
Employees become anxious and mentally distraught to figure out a course of action for themselves or family members. Worse, they take no action at all. This can, and usually does, have an adverse effect on their performance in the form of presenteeism, and worksite accidents. High-blood pressure, anxiety, obesity, and heart attacks - and in severe cases even death - are only a few of the negative physical outcomes of addictive behaviors.
The Outcome of Dis-ease
Dis-ease, caused by relentless amounts of stress, affects the brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, the heart, stomach, pancreas, intestinal tract, and reproductive system. Bruce McEwen, a neuroscientist at Rockefeller University in New York and the author of The End of Stress as We Know It, states, "The human body reacts to stress by first pumping adrenaline and then cortisol into the bloodstream to focus the mind and body for immediate action - a response that has ensured our survival over the millennia. The adrenaline rush from the initial stress response can occasionally pose health risks but the more significant hazard is the subsequent release of cortisol. Generally considered a bad stress hormone, cortisol does serve many important functions - one of which is turning off inflammation. But when chronic stress exposes the body to a relentless stream of cortisol, as happens when stress is constant, cells become desensitized to the hormone, causing inflammation to go wild. Long-term chronic inflammation damages blood vessels and brain cells, leads to insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes) and promotes painful joint diseases."
Researchers repeatedly shown that our thoughts, perceptions, feelings and beliefs have a direct impact on our physical and mental health. Thereby, your employees' emotional state of health affects your company's bottom line.
Social Wellbeing or Lack Thereof
According to the United States Institute of Peace, social wellbeing is an end state of which basic human needs are met, and people are able to coexist peacefully in communities with opportunities for advancement. This end state is characterized by equal access and delivery of basic needs services (water, food, shelter, and health services) the provision of primary and secondary education, the return or resettlement of those displaced by violent conflict, and the restoration of social fabric and community life.
I would like to add having the ability to interact positively with others while enjoying other's company. This involves developing and building friendships both in and outside the workplace, caring for family or community and being available physically and emotionally. Intimacy, empathy and listening is an important part of being well socially, and an employee not capable of these could be at high mental or physical risk.
In the media, we hear stories of the social oddity who becomes problematic in the workplace or in the community. These stories often focus on the psychopath or mass murderer who appeared to have been a good relative, friend, neighbor, and employee. Luckily, most socially unfit employees do not fall into these darker categories.
However, they may show signs of depression, or remain isolated from their co-workers. This could be due to secrets such as family and intimate-partner abuse. Business leaders agree that family and intimate-partner abuse is a problem that affects their workplaces. Here are a few statistics:
- Fifty-seven percent of senior corporate executives believe domestic violence is a major problem in society.
- One-third of them think this problem has a negative impact on their bottom lines,
- Forty percent said they were personally aware of employees and other individuals affected by domestic violence.
- Sixty-six percent believe their company's financial performance would benefit from addressing the issue of family violence among their employees.
- The annual cost of lost productivity due to domestic violence is estimated at $727.8 million, with over 7.9 million paid workdays lost each year.1
A few more facts about how the lack of social wellbeing has a direct effect on a company's healthcare costs.
- Socially isolated people are more susceptible to illness and have a death rate two to three times higher than those who are not socially isolated.
- Cholesterol levels go up when human companionship is lacking. 2
Intellectual Wellbeing - The Art of Creative Learning
Intellectual wellbeing does not mean an employee is incredibly smart or free from mental illness; instead, it incorporates the desire to learn new ideas, experiences and concepts. Intellectual wellness pursues lifelong learning, not just about the outside world, but rather learning about the self, digging deep, if necessary, and connecting.
Intellectual wellbeing challenges workers to explore, to stretch, and to be mentally alert receiving all the signs sent by their surroundings. With their universe challenging them to be open and stimulated by teachers, mentors, and personal guides. It is in understanding and knowledge of the mind where the elevated consciousness dwells.
While this area may not seem important to an employer, expansion in this area can help workers think outside the box, easily incorporate new ideas and adjust to a changing environment more quickly and effortlessly. It can even help them respond to customers in a more effective and efficient manner which positively impacts a company's bottom line.
The Circle of Wellness - Physical Wellbeing
Physical wellness is the easiest to comprehend and more easily embraced by C-Suite who continue to take some action to prevent - or at least reduce- chronic illness in their workforce. Physical wellness is the ability to maintain a healthy quality of life. It allows employees to get through their daily activities without undue fatigue or physical stress.
It is employees taking responsibility for their physical duress through minor exercise or pushing their bodies to physical extremes. It includes building muscular strength and endurance, cardiovascular strength, flexibility, endurance, eating the right foods, and maintaining a balanced diet.
However, as we have been discussing, concentrating on just the physical aspect of your employees will not provide ultimate results. The physical wellbeing of employees includes them making lifestyle behavior choices to insure good health and avoid preventable health conditions and diseases while living in a balanced state.
Physical wellbeing includes taking a holistic approach to life, which almost brings us full circle. There is still one more area to reinforce before we can say we have taken a holistic approach to employees' healthcare. This brings us to Spiritual Wellbeing.
Spiritual Wellbeing - A Shift in Consciousness
There appears to be a widespread awakening occurring throughout our universe. Your workforce is becoming more aware and becoming one with themselves, their communities and their planet. Spiritual experts have explained this as being a monumental shift in consciousness. The pursuit of spiritual wellbeing looks different for each worker.
While employers have no obligation in supporting their employees' spirituality, they can easily support them by providing a spiritually safe, tolerant, and respectful environment for all. Dedicated rooms or offices where groups can gather for meditation, readings, or camaraderie will prove helpful.
However, keep in mind that this space needs to be open and available to all creeds and beliefs. The support of spiritual wellbeing in the workplace can result in an emotionally and mentally balanced collaborative team resulting in solutions, improved productivity and better customer care; thereby creating an increased bottom line, satisfied customers, and happy board members and shareholders.
Including and exploring the spiritual aspect of wellbeing brings us full circle. Whether a company, either large or small, measures their success by using an ROI or a VOI approach - an employer who explores and invests in the five major dimensions of wellbeing for their employees possesses the key to opening unlimited possibilities for their organization's overall success.
1,2(Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States. 2003. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Atlanta, GA.)
About the Author
Pamela Chapman is a Certified Life-Transition Coach through the Coach Training Alliance, Boulder CO as well as a Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist, and a Certified Family Violence Specialist. She facilitates customized off-the-grid workshop retreats for corporate executives and specialized holistic retreats for individuals in Yucatan, MX.