Is organisational wellness the same as employee wellness? What is the definition of wellness? We constantly hear the word wellness used in conversations, at work or read it in newspapers and magazines. Surprisingly, there seems to be no universally acceptable definition of wellness.
The term wellness was introduced into business vocabulary about 30 years ago as a result of two developments in the United States: The upward spiral of healthcare costs and the increased societal emphasis on fitness and healthy lifestyles. Initially, the mission of wellness in the workplace was to coach employees through various channels in self-responsibility and lifestyle behaviours that influence one’s health, quality of life, work performance and health care use throughout a lifetime, as defined by Rothman Howard in 1990.
Wellness is more than simply the absence of illness and/or disease. Wellness is a proactive and preventative approach that is designed to provide optimum levels of health, emotional and social functioning. Core to our understanding of wellness are three complementary concepts, which are:
- Health promotion,
- The determinants of health (or factors that influence our health).
Health promotion is about encouraging individuals to make healthy lifestyle choices.
The World Health Organisation defines health promotion as ‘the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve their health’.
Prevention is about preventing disease and injury, which can be described as ‘activities aimed at reducing factors leading to health problems and injury.’
A growing body of evidence tells us that there are a number of interrelated factors that influence our health. These factors, called the determinants of health, include: income and social status, support networks, education, employment, working conditions, personal health factors and coping skills. The determinants of health form the foundation of a healthy organisation.
Today, wellness has developed into a huge industry widely known as workplace health promotion, a multidisciplinary field integrating proactive disease management, lifestyle improvement, self-help care, and condition management strategies. It relies on awareness, education and targeted interventions to help change unhealthy behaviours that increase risk. Through wellness programmes, employers have found that they can boost productivity, reduce absenteeism, trim healthcare costs and increase morale in a supportive environment. Organisations use different approaches to impact on the wellness of their employees; some use organisational wellness programmes, others use employee wellness programmes. The approaches to both programmes are different as are the resultant benefits, and are defined below.
- Organisational Wellness Programmes:
Organisational wellness programmes boost productivity, increase employee health and wellness, reduce on-the-job stress, and cut healthcare costs. Organisational wellness programmes are a good investment, with a proven, strong return on investment. Additionally, organisational wellness programmes improve morale, increase job satisfaction, and lower employee turnover, while reducing disability and absenteeism.
- Employee Wellness Programmes:
Employee wellness programmes aim to help employees take an active role in being responsible for their own health and well-being. Employee wellness programmes provide education and counselling on a wide range of issues, from cancer prevention, to depression and anxiety, to eating smart, to managing everyday stress. Employee wellness programmes include a wide range of topics from smoking cessation, to weight management, exercise and an active lifestyle.
Added Emphasis: Linking Productivity to Lifestyle
A newly emerging strategy, health and productivity management focuses on demonstrating the value of improved employee health and wellness by measuring the impact of targeted interventions on productivity. Many wellness programme designers recommend the integration of health promotion and productivity management, viewing the combination as essential to a results-oriented employee programme and the most logical way to justify health benefits. Companies that promote wellness and conduct disease management within a supportive culture gain better performance from better employee health.
A healthy, productive workforce is essential to a competitive, profitable business enterprise. Workplace productivity programmes help employees strike a good balance between work and personal life, while still doing a great job. The topics of modern workplace productivity programmes range from getting organized, to dealing with stress, promoting teamwork, and coping with change.
Numerous organisational programmes contribute to wellness, but to date there have been few co-ordinated, broad, high-level strategic wellness programmes that ensure maximum impact. To design and implement an effective workplace wellness programme, the organisational wellness strategy needs to be based on the unique wellness needs of each company’s employee profile. Each organisation’s wellness programme goals will differ depending on the demographics of the employee population. These unique characteristics evolve in tandem with employee turnover; thus, the health promotion initiatives will need to be constantly adjusted as the needs of the workplace wellness programme change.
In conclusion, to answer the question as to whether organisational wellness and employee wellness is the same thing, the simple answer is no.
Which one of the two approaches is more effective? It depends on a number of organisational elements, all of which should be considered in the quest towards having an effective wellness strategy.