While it may be easy to come to the conclusion that it is too expensive to embrace the holistic approach to employees’ healthcare, I dare to say, it is way too expensive to not. Just as a company cannot have a successful outcome without a strategic plan, or a successful product cannot be made without considering all the right parts that make the whole; a company cannot be wholly successful without considering the whole-of-life condition of their workforce.
To understand, let’s begin by examining the difference between wellness and well-being. Wellness is defined, in the Yahoo online dictionary as, “The condition of good physical and mental health, especially when actively maintained by proper diet, exercise, and [the] avoidance of risky behavior.” While, well-being 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, has been asked to carry the workload of two if not 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, just as important as their jobs if not more so, such as: childcare expenses; cost-of-living increases; aging parents; housing issues; and rebellious teens. And, although corporate layoffs have diminished, there are those approaching retirement who daily fear losing their jobs and not having enough to leave work comfortably.
I can easily state most people want to feel empowered and in control of their own lives. And I would go even further to gamble most want to live healthy, vibrant lives keeping their bodies strong and their minds sharp while contributing to society. I don’t know of anyone who would make a conscious choice to grow feeble and sickly giving up control of their life to become a burden to family or society.
So, to begin a serious discussion on the well-being for workers for your company’s success, I believe we must look at the top five categories or dimensions remembering the welfare of all employees is the ultimate goal. I’ll begin with the more taboo dimension; but, the one I believe to be the most vital to the employee’s well-being.
An Essential Dimension in Predicting Our Physical Outcomes: Emotional Well-being
Being able to understand and cope with life’s challenges and transitions without breaking down is emotional wellness. But, emotional well-being takes it a step further. Emotional well-being is the ability to communicate and share feelings in a productive manner. It is not just handling or managing stress, but involves being connected to thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
Thoughts lead to feelings. Feelings lead to decisions and actions. These, inevitably, give us either positive or negative results. Interestingly enough, ninety percent of decisions and actions are based from a subconscious level. Unfortunately, in today’s crazy and chaotic world, many subconscious thoughts are producing feelings of anxiety, unsubstantiated fears, and unworthiness leading to your employees’ unhealthy and negative outcomes. These negative outcomes are creating undesirable behaviors to include, but are not limited to, addictive behaviors and actions as well as disease.
The Outcome of 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 designed to help eliminate and curve addictions, of course, have a direct impact on a corporation’s bottom line. However, when an EAP is not in place, there is still a financial impact. Employees are left anxious and mentally distraught to figure out a course of action for themselves or family members. Or worse, take no action at all. This can and usually does have an adverse effect upon their performance resulting in increased absenteeism and work-site accidents.
High-blood pressure, anxiety, obesity, and heart attacks, and in severe cases death, are to name only a few of the negative physical outcomes of addictive behaviors.
The Disease Outcome
Dis-ease which can be caused by relentless amounts of stress can affect: 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, according to Cohen, 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 have proven, time and again, that our thoughts; perceptions; feelings and beliefs, emotional heath, have a direct impact on our physical and mental health; thereby, directly impacting your company’s healthcare costs.
Social Well-being or Lack Thereof
According to the United States Institute of Peace, social well-being 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 to 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’d like to add; it is having the ability to interact positively with others while enjoying other’s company. It involves developing and building friendships, within or outside the workplace; caring for family or community; and being available physically as well as emotionally. Intimacy, empathy and listening is an important part of being socially well 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 has become problematic in the workplace or in the community. These stories often focus on the serial killer and mass murderer who appeared to have been a good relative, neighbor and employee.
Luckily, most socially unfit employees do not fall into the darker categories just mentioned. However, they might show signs of depression, or remain isolated from their co-workers. This could be due to family 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 well-being has a direct effect on corporations’ 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 Well-being: The Art of Creative Learning
Intellectual Wellness or mind wellness does not mean an employee is incredibly smart or free from psychosis or mental illness; but, incorporates the desire to learn new ideas, experiences and concepts. It pursues lifelong learning not just about the outside world but learning about self, digging deep, if necessary, and connecting.
Intellectual well-being challenges staff to explore, to stretch, and to be mentally alert receiving all the signs sent by their surrounding Universe challenging them to be open and stimulated by teachers, mentors, and personal guides. It is understanding and knowing the mind is 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, incorporate new ideas easily, and adjust to a changing environment more quickly and effortlessly. It can even help them respond to customers in a more effective and positive manner all of which positively impacts a company’s bottom
The Circle of Wellness: Physical Well-being
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 allowing employees to get through their daily activities without undue fatigue or physical stress. It is employees taking responsibility for their physical duress. This may be accomplished by minor exercise or by 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, concentrating on just the physical aspect of employees will not provide ultimate results.
Physical Well-being includes making lifestyle behavior choices—discussed earlier to insure good health, avoid preventable health conditions and diseases while living in a balanced state. Physical well-being is taking a holistic approach to life, which almost brings us full circle.
There is yet, one other area that has to be explored before we can say we have taken a holistic approach to employees’ health and well-being. This brings us to Spiritual Well-being.
Spiritual Well-being: A Shift in Consciousness
There appears to be a wide-spread awakening happening throughout our universe. Your workforce is more aware and becoming one with themselves, their communities and the Planet. Experts have explained this as being a monumental shift in consciousness calling it a spiritual awakening.
The pursuit of spiritual well-being looks different for each worker. And, while employers have no obligation in supporting their employees’ spirituality, they can help provide a spiritual surrounding, for all. This can easily be accomplished by allowing designated rooms or offices where groups can gather for meditation, readings, or camaraderie. As well, a respectful environment can be encouraged for individual spiritual freedom.
The support of spiritual well-being in the workplace can result in an emotionally, and mentally balanced collaborative team resulting in solutions, higher productivity and efficiency, and better customer care. Hence, an increased bottom line, satisfied customers, happy Board Members and profit-making Stakeholders.
Whether a company, 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 well-being for their employees, finds the key and opens the door to unlimited possibilities for the organizations 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.)
This article was originally written for and published in the Corporate Wellness Magazine, 2016