Wellness Champion

What does wellness mean?

Written by Allie

Can you imagine what it would feel like to wake up in the morning totally rested, content, and ready to take on the day? 

That’s what a lifestyle of wellness can do. 

The concept isn’t new. Our “modern” definition has been in use since the 1950s! But the ways that we approach and practice this lifestyle have changed for the better, especially as wellness in the workplace has become increasingly important. 

Read on to learn more about this topic! Click on the sections below to jump right to your specific question.

Defining wellness

The World Health Organization was the first to define wellness as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and “not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” 

We’ve been using this criteria since the 1950s, and it’s helped to shape the cultural understanding of what’s possible beyond being merely “not sick.”

At IncentFit, we define wellness as an active practice of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead someone to a state of complete wellbeing.

There are two important distinctions here. 

First, wellness is not a passive state or a one-time action, but a lifelong practice that takes work, intentional actions, and choices. Second, wellness is something that each person does on their own (personal wellness).

what does wellness mean

The Global Wellness Institute, another leading organization dedicated to public health and wellbeing, takes their definition a step further, explains: “Wellness is an individual pursuit—we have self-responsibility for our own choices, behaviors and lifestyles—but it is also significantly influenced by the physical, social and cultural environments in which we live.”

What those choices are will be deeply personal, but the goal is the same: achieving a balanced lifestyle that results in happier, healthier, less stressful lives.

Wellness is also a multidimensional state. It’s easy to think about our physical health and whether we’re sick or healthy, physically active or not. But true wellness goes beyond physical. 

Most experts view wellness in several distinct dimensions—most use at least six, but some models depict up to 8-10 areas.

What are the dimensions of wellness? 

Experts have organized personal health into a model with several interconnected “dimensions.” A problem in one area can have effects in many others. Likewise, improving one of those areas can have positive ripples effects as we strive towards balance in this whole system!

We find it most useful to use these dimensions:

  • Physical: Caring for your body and physical health so it can perform the way you’d like it to. You do this by recognizing your body’s needs for exercise and activity, restful sleep, and good nutrition. This also includes managing health conditions or illness, and seeking medical care when required. People often use some sort of wearable technology to track their physical wellness. Some companies also implement biometric screening programs to help employees gauge their physical health in a more accurate manner.
  • Emotional: How well you’re able to cope with life’s stresses and demands and setbacks. Someone who is emotionally well is focusing on meeting their emotional needs, building resilience and coping skills to handle changes and setbacks, and nurturing successful relationships and support networks. These practices can help to brighten your outlook and reduce stress.
  • Intellectual: Learning new information and skills can build confidence and self-worth. Managing your intellectual wellness means recognizing your own strengths, while finding new ways to learn and stimulate your mind. It can also include being open to new ideas, thinking critically, expanding your knowledge about different topics, and exposing yourself to new ideas, people, and beliefs.
  • Social: Developing a supportive network of friends, family and colleagues. The strength of your social networks can help make life more fulfilling, but also help during times of difficulty. Balancing work and family obligations with a rich and varied social life can have a positive impact and improve overall happiness.
  • Spiritual: This can refer to the meaning that some people find in religion or spirituality,  but more accurately we can pursue spiritual wellness when we feel like we’ve developed a purpose and find minding in our lives. Spirituality in different forms can provide comfort, and is deeply personal.
  • Environment: Creating or finding spaces where you live, work, study, and play that help you feel safe, happy, and motivated. Our environment has a big impact on how we feel!
  • Financial: Having control over your regular expenses, working to meet financial goals, and increasing the capacity to absorb a financial shock. Finances can be a major source of stress, so establishing some form of financial wellness allows us to enjoy life with more freedom.
  • Occupational: The ability to find satisfaction and value in our work, to feel appreciated by our employer and colleagues, and to find purpose and meaning in what we do. We spend most of our waking hours working, so it should be something that enhances our lives.
Happy healthy Black women dancing together during a fitness class. The caption reads "A healthy and supportive social life can change our overall well-being and happiness for the better."
A healthy and supportive social life can change our overall well-being and happiness for the better. Try mixing social activities with exercise!

What’s the difference between wellness vs. health vs. well-being?

These terms are often used interchangeably, but there are distinct differences! The easiest way that we think about this is to remember that wellness is about the journey and a state of total well-being is the destination.

  • Health: achieving complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or illness.
  • Well-being: a state of being where someone is healthy, happy, and comfortable
  • Wellness: the practice of elevating one’s personal health and well-being, through a series of regular choice and activities

What is corporate wellness?

Corporate wellness programs are any kind of program designed to encourage healthier lifestyle choices for your workplace and avoid those problems impacting your business. These types of wellness programs are usually implemented by wellness committees in larger organizations (on that note, check out these 19 easy activities your wellness committee can implement), and by HR administrators at smaller companies.

Why should employers care if their employees are practicing wellness? Employees’ health and wellness concerns don’t stay at home…they follow people to work! Employers shoulder the cost of distracted, disengaged, and stressed out workers, which can lead to poor morale and higher turnoversHealthier employees benefit your workplace in more than one way, it’s all about improving their employee experience, in order to improve your employee engagement!

Because of this, HR managers most often say they’re motivated by three main factors when it comes to implementing a new program or benefit: recruitment and retention, boosting employee engagement, and reducing health costs

An easy way to get started with corporate wellness may be to start off with an employee wellness survey to gauge your overall employee health and well-being. This can give you a good basis, and understanding, so that you can implement a successful wellness program that works for all of your employees! Some companies even kick off their wellness program with a wellness fair. The next challenge would be to effectively promote wellness at work.

The great news: research has shown that employers can see some kind of return on investment in all three of those areas. (Read our whitepaper, “Measuring What Matters: The ROI of Workplace Wellness” to learn about calculating your break-even point for wellness benefits.)

How can employers help their employees be healthier? 

Corporate wellness programs are proven to promote healthy personal habits among employee populations while building a culture of health within the company. This helps improve population health for employers. Wellness benefits can improve health outcomes, increase productivity and focus at work, strengthen employee engagement and improve recruitment retention efforts. On that note, you might be curious to see the 28 types of employee benefits your company should offer.

Investing in a wellness program of any type shows employees that they are valued, appreciated, and cared for. In a 2017 survey, 70% of employees enrolled in wellness programs have reported higher job satisfaction than those not enrolled in the companies’ program. 

corporate wellness programs

Employers can offer programs, perks, or benefits that support any dimension of wellness, but most often you will see worksite wellness programs that support physical activity, nutrition, mental health and stress management, and aspects of social and emotional wellness.

A recent study showed that more than 9 in 10 workers saying they feel motivated to do their best if their leaders support well-being efforts! So top-down support for your health and wellness initiatives is key to getting everyone on board.

What are the most popular types of corporate wellness programs?

The corporate wellbeing industry is a multi-billion dollar global market, and researchers are consistently studying the effects on public health. Which means good things for the consumer: an abundance of choice, and proven methods that have been used by employers across the world!

Today’s corporate wellness programs fall on a spectrum. Companies of all sizes can and do implement some sort of program or benefit to support employee health and wellbeing. How complete those programs are depends on a company’s budget and needs. However, we can point to a few trends. 

The most common type of program is called a lifestyle wellness program. Broadly, those are behavior-changing programs designed to encourage the most number of people to regularly make healthier choices.

(On the flip side, the other umbrella category is a disease management program, which are targeted medical intervention programs designed specifically for employees managing chronic illness, health conditions, or disease.)

In 2020-2021, the five most common lifestyle wellness offerings are:

  1. Wellness Incentives or Rewards
  2. Telemedicine and Teletherapy
  3. Stress Management Programs
  4. Web-based Resources for Healthy Living (Apps, Health Content, Web platforms, etc.)
  5. Free COVID-19 virus or antibody testing

[Source: 2020-2021 Aflac WorkForces Report]

How can I get started?

The first step in implementing corporate wellness solutions is doing your research, including talking to experts like benefit brokers, vendors, and other HR professionals. Before you can launch a program, think through these key points:

  • What are your motivations? Is your program going to focus on recruitment and retention? Employee morale? Engagement? Reducing absenteeism or presenteeism? Making an impact on your company’s rising healthcare costs? Different goals require different approaches. 
  • What are your needs? This applies to needs as a company and the needs of your employees. An employee survey can help here! Understand what factors, topics, or concerns matter to your team. Also think about what outcome your business is hoping to see from this investment (for example, improved productivity or reduced sick days).
  • What is your budget? A big factor in any decision! We recommend budgeting $100-150 per employee per year, and up to $500 per employee per year if you’ll include incentives, rewards, or reimbursements in your benefits. 

More Reading

Check out this article to see how you can implement a Wellness Challenge at your workplace

Interested in what wellness benefits look like? Check out the “Definitive Corporate Wellness Landscape” for a high-level view of all of the options on the market right now! (Pro tip: look for the comparison table to which products are most common with companies your size.)

Want to learn more about corporate wellness? Take our three-part Wellness Foundations Webinar Series for HR managers. It’s a kickstart for anyone who wants (or needs) to dive head first into the industry. 

Interested in speaking with a benefits expert for more one-on-one support? Schedule an introductory call with IncentFit. We’ll learn a bit more about your company’s unique needs and point you in the right direction. 

Corporate Wellness Benefit Managers having a discussion while looking at an electronic tablet.

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