Using Corporate Wellness to Promote Well-Being

Your corporate wellness program may be missing one huge piece: employee well-being.

How can a program support wellness, but not well-being? While the two terms may sound like the same exact thing, they’re actually different; and it turns out that when corporate wellness programs neglect to incorporate well-being, they’re much less effective.

As company perks get more extensive (on-site laundry, anyone?), and employees expect bigger incentives, a corporate wellness program has become a standard offering – and for good reason. Studies show that healthy employees cost a workplace less overall, given that they work harder, take less sick days, and are generally more focused. Taking an active role in encouraging a healthy lifestyle (by subsidizing gym memberships, or providing healthy snacks) shows that a company cares about its employees, and wants to invest in their longevity.

What many companies are discovering is that there are two separate concepts when it comes to wellness programs: one side that focuses on physical health, and one side that emphasizes mental health. The second one is typically referred to as “well-being,” and it’s every bit as important to nurture in your employees as a healthy lifestyle.

Here’s why the concept of well-being deserves focus, and what a corporate wellness plan can do to help.

Defining Well-Being, and Why It’s Important

It’s easy to determine the hallmarks of a healthy lifestyle: physical exercise, proper nutrition, and refraining from smoking (or other drug usage). In theory, an employee who follows a healthy lifestyle should be one of the most productive members of your staff – this person will have more focus and energy, doesn’t need to be away sick, and doesn’t cost the company a bundle in health insurance.

However, it’s possible for a person to be extremely healthy on the outside, and still unhealthy on the inside. When people aren’t tending to their mental well-being, it can have an extremely detrimental effect on their work capability.

An article at the Huffington Post clearly draws the line between wellness and well-being; while the former is focused on physical health and progress, the latter is more about a “holistic state of being.” Someone with a good sense of well-being knows how to live in the moment, and be content — rather than stress over little things. Wellness looks at ongoing improvement, and developing good habits; well-being is all about taking a moment to breathe, relax, and psychologically center oneself. It’s a key part of work-life balance, because the ability to mentally “unplug” allows for a better divide between work time and personal time.

A person can be a non-smoking, healthy-eating, exercising machine – but if his or her mental state is a stressed-out whirlwind, it’s just as damaging as having physically unhealthy habits. And all the healthy break room snacks in the world won’t help an employee silently suffering from depression, or one who’s buckling under the pressure of financial debt.

In fact, the Washington Post argues that many corporate wellness programs are ineffective, given that the incentives and bonuses they offer aren’t always adopted by employees. If a person’s mental well-being keeps them from seeking help, or from accepting what your corporate wellness program has to offer, it’s a definite loss for both sides.

How Businesses Can Foster Well-Being

If your employees aren’t embracing the offerings from your wellness program, that doesn’t mean it’s time to ditch the whole plan. Instead, focus on making the program more customized to your employee’s needs; and be sure to include support for well-being, along with physical health. If your company has already implemented a program, but you’ve seen engagement and participation dip, it could be that your program isn’t focusing on your staff’s actual areas of need.

Rather than taking the cookie-cutter approach, and simply adding the common job perks, send out a survey to find out what your employees consider valuable. If you’ve already got a wellness program in place, ask which parts of the program they enjoy, and which aren’t important to them.

There are a few common reasons that employees may not be taking advantage of a wellness program’s offerings; they don’t find it relevant to them, they don’t want to risk failure, or they don’t want to admit they have deeper problems to tackle. Allowing for anonymous answers in your survey can help you collect better insight into what emotional and mental support your staff needs.

If you’re ready to incorporate well-being into your program, start by emphasizing stress management and mindfulness. “Both of these health practices can be reflective and contribute to a positive state of well-being,” the Huffington Post explains. “They’re also incredibly effective tools to improve mental health — a key factor in employee wellness.” You may implement meditation courses or counseling sessions; or offer a yearly stipend for non-essential, stress-relieving medical services such as massages, psychiatrists, or acupuncture.

Another great way to foster well-being is to focus on socialization and inclusion. Employees often end up feeling down on themselves if they aren’t included as “part of the team,” which can adversely affect their mental state. Try incorporating team-building exercises into meetings and brainstorms, or schedule an offsite retreat once or twice a year. Encourage everyone to get involved, and perhaps even assign a social committee to keep these activities going throughout the year.

Better Well-Being Means Healthier Employees

It’s important to not only have a wellness program in place, but to offer perks that are truly useful for your staff. A Forbes article quotes Dr. Roger Sahoury, author of Gladiator’s Guide to Corporate Health & Wealth, as stating: “When a team understands how much a company cares about each individual person, the people will work harder, be more dedicated and can more easily operate as one unit. If the overall wellness of an organization is evaluated and treated holistically, a company can minimize mechanical and structural problems while maximizing culture and profitability.” A cornerstone of good company culture is an emphasis on healthy well-being – and it’s up to your corporate wellness program to make emotional health just as much a priority as physical health.

Does your company’s wellness program include a well-being aspect? How does it encourage employees to be more centered, and less stressed? Tell us in the comments.

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