Many employers are now recognizing that there are a variety of factors that influence health and productivity in today's workplace—not just the physical component. Today's smart employers are taking a broader view of health—one that includes social, emotional, financial and environmental dimensions.
Health is more than simply the absence of disease. The World Health Organization defines health as, “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
When we only focus on the physical aspects of health, my perspective is that we’re missing opportunities. While we know some people are receptive to engaging in efforts to move more or eat better, we also know that we’re missing individuals who are not ready to address those areas or have other critical needs that overshadow physical health. For example, 64 percent of respondents in the American Psychological Association's 2014 Stress in America survey identified money as their No. 1 source of stress. When this stress becomes overwhelming, it's almost impossible to focus energy on making other health behavior changes.
Employers who support and enhance the broader view of employee health are employers who create opportunities—to build morale, increase engagement in program offerings, and, just as important, increase engagement at work. In fact, when you look at self-reported health status, healthy employees are more likely to be highly engaged (defined as having an emotional connection to the employer, belief in company goals and objectives, and willingness to go above and beyond), according to Towers Watson research.
Well-doing—the action approach to well-being
How do we make it happen? We focus on making healthy actions—across all dimensions of well-being—possible. This means designing programs to help employees meet social, physical, environmental, financial and emotional goals—and providing a supportive corporate community that encourages sustainable healthy actions.
The 5 dimensions of employee health are:
Physical health, of course, is what most people think of when they consider wellness. It's vital: Without it, we often fail to get through our daily activities.
It involves adopting healthy habits—such as routine check-ups, exercise, a balanced diet and plenty of rest—while avoiding destructive habits such as tobacco, drugs and alcohol. Engaging in physical activity helps reduce the likelihood of events like heart attack and stroke.
Lack of social connectedness has been shown to reduce IQ and is a predictor for early death and dementia, according to the American Psychological Association. Social bonds have also been shown to improve motivation to pursue and reach health goals.
Employers can support social well-doing by providing opportunities for employees to become socially connected with others in the workplace through company-sponsored activities and events, work spaces that encourage casual interaction, electronic tools that connect remote workers, and by extending health management benefits to spouses and children.
Living life with a clear sense of purpose or meaning is associated with lower risks of Alzheimer's disease, mild cognitive impairment, disability and death.
In addition to having a sense of purpose, this dimension includes resiliency—one's ability to bounce back from the inevitable ups and downs of life—and re-charging or rejuvenating behaviors.
Employers can address these areas by providing opportunities for employees to identify their values, connect with purpose, learn or improve healthy communication skills, and build emotional awareness. This can happen through traditional training programs and/or health coaching. Employers also can create an environment where re-charging activities are supported. Examples are as simple as including “energy breaks” during long meetings and encouraging employees to take PTO and vacation time.
A Harris Interactive poll found that 83 percent of Americans are stressed by at least one thing at work. The two top reasons respondents cited were low pay and an unreasonable work load. Another survey by Aflac found that 58 percent of workers don't have a financial plan in place to handle the unexpected.
To help employees address financial issues, employers are responding to an increased need for financial wellness benefits, financial education and financial wellness programs, including on-site money management and financial planning seminars.
Setting employees up for success through a health-aware and health-enhancing environment makes it easy and convenient to make the healthy choice.
Company leaders who support or model healthy behaviors (such as using the fitness center, leading “walk and talk” meetings, or making healthy food choices themselves) send a powerful message to employees that a culture of health is valued. A healthy culture translates into a competitive advantage with employees who are engaged and energized. Employers can help carry this even further and support individuals in creating healthy home environments through education and inclusion of spouses and family members in programming.
A veteran of health education and health management product development, Tanja Madsen is director of product management for HealthFitness.