The Next Generation of Wellness: What’s Culture Gotta Do With It?

Well, just about everything for organizational and individual well-being!

Beginning a new year and moving closer to a new decade are good reasons to reflect on what the next generation of workplace wellness could be.  Health promotion has successful roots in the workplace, which exploded in the 1980s after the 1979 Surgeon General publication, The Health of the Nation. Since then, workplace wellness evolved to focus on reducing health risks and lowering healthcare costs.

Now there is a growing movement to expand beyond this current focus on healthcare cost savings, risk factors and physical health to equally embrace all of the dimensions and determining factors impacting well-being. These dimensions have been known for decades, from Dr. Hettler’s, Six Dimensions of Wellness (1976), to Michael O’Donnell’s Model of Health Promotion (1989), and Gallop’s Five Essential Elements of Well-Being (2010).

In addition, other determining factors impacting health are well known and need to be addressed as part of a comprehensive and successful wellness program. Determining factors may include needed benefits, access to care, work processes and work schedules, community resources, and the climate and culture of the workplace – these matter.

Regardless of the model or dimensions you select for your wellness program, many experts are adamant that the time has come to redesign workplace wellness, expanding from a medical model of health risks toward an ecological model that encompasses organizational and determining factors impacting employee health and health behaviors.

Here’s the thing to remember, any benefit in reducing health risks or improving healthy behavior changes will be completely undone if organizational factors are not addressed or if aspects of the culture and work climate are toxic.

Here are a few key aspects and ideas to consider for your next generation – or evolution – of workplace wellness:

  • Continue promoting healthy lifestyles such as healthy eating (DASH), physical activity, tobacco cessation, chronic disease management, EAP referrals, and limiting alcohol. There are many successful strategic initiatives; however instead of focusing on health risks change the conversation towards joy, energy, thriving, flourishing… In addition,
  • Foster other elements of wellness not just physical health, such as for example, social, emotional, psychological, cognitive, financial, and environmental health. We know that social isolation is more than 3Xs more harmful than obesity – and many suffer social isolation when at work… And,
  • Offer initiatives that enhance relationships, connection, resilience, prosperity, and vitality. Employees want a sense of belonging and to feel valued, respected, heard, and trusted. This is energizing! In addition to enhancing wellness, these elements foster high performing teams, engagement, innovation, and collaboration. These require you to,
  • Partner with others within, as well as external to, your organization to assess and address organizational issues.
    • Review employee satisfaction and engagement surveys,
    • Scrutinize exit interview data,
    • Gather employee retention and attrition stats,
    • Gauge the social work environment
    • Assess leader qualities and skills
  • Use your strategic partnerships with HR, other managers in your organization, and with community agencies to address determining factors impacting health.
  • Collaborate with safety, HR, and other managers to cultivate a safe work environment, one that is not just physically safe, butpsychologically Where employees aren’t afraid to speak up, and to voice their opinions and concerns. AND know that their voices are heard.
  • Use your partners and collaborations to cultivate positivity, purpose, meaning, autonomy, and connection, which are essential elements desired by employees that contribute to overall individual and organizational well-being.
    • Ensure that wellness programs foster connection, autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
  • Reconsider incentives as part of your wellness program and look instead to foster intrinsic motivational strategies that are embedded within the culture. This cultivates organizational well-being. We believe – and many agree – that organizational well-being enhances individual well-being.
  • Eliminate weight loss challenges at your workplace. Actually, end focusing on weight and obesity, period. Many experts now recommend not offering or promoting weight loss programs at work.
  • Limit (or end) biometric screenings, and instead promote the US Preventive Services Task Force Guidelines.
  • Move wellness programs from a benefit positioned within the benefits department to a key business strategy aligned to achieve the business mission.
  • Broaden the benefits of health promotion away from healthcare cost savings, to organizational benefits that provide real cost savings, for example, retaining and attracting talent, developing high performing teams, increasing productivity, enhancing engagement, and cultivating collaborative teams, – both employees as well as the organization benefit and profits soar.

The bottom line is that there is an inextricable connection between organizational and employee well-being. This connection can be broadened and enhanced by evolving to the next generation of wellness.  Contact us for a reference list and/or to discuss the strategic possibilities!

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