Why We’re so Sick of Wellness
When you hear the word ‘wellness’, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Yoga? Hydration? Clean eating, maybe? In many cases, the term ‘wellness’ is misunderstood, encompassing only the physical health of a person. This, however, is only one piece of the gluten-free, vegan, wellness pie. In fact, it’s made up of eight dimensions including:
- Emotional: Coping effectively with life and creating satisfying relationships
- Environment: Occupying pleasant, stimulating environments that
- Financial: Satisfaction with current and future financial situations
- Intellectual: Recognising creative abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills
- Occupational: Personal satisfaction and enrichment from one’s work
- Physical: Recognising the need for physical activity, healthy foods,
- Social: Developing a sense of connection, belonging, and a well-developed
- Spiritual: Expanding a sense of purpose and meaning in life
A detox concoction promised to improve ones life.
Up until recently, you would have been hard-pressed to find the term ‘workplace’ and ‘wellness’ used in the same sentence. A common view held by employers with a hard-line leadership lens firmly in place, was that wellness was the personal responsibility of the employee. Employers saw no value in contributing toward workplace wellbeing, which in the end, was only doing them a disservice.
As more research has emerged over the years, the link between wellness and performance has become impossible to ignore or remain sceptical about. Each year, absenteeism costs Australian employers a whopping $44 billion. In addition to this, the unassuming concept of presenteeism costs Australian businesses $34 billion per year.
For a long time, the sole cause for absenteeism and presenteeism was believed to be physical illness. However, further research has uncovered that there are many other underlying causes for the phenomenon. In addition to sickness, employee disengagement, poor management practice, financial stress, poor mental health and unproductive workplace environment have been found to contribute to rates of presenteeism and absenteeism. Do these causes sound familiar? That’s right, they all fall under the umbrella of wellness.
After learning the importance of workplace wellness, employers started to pay attention. In a mass panic to plug the drain of disappearing absentee and presentee dollars, organisations began to implement all kinds of off-the-shelf wellness initiatives. Fruit bowls and Fitbits began infiltrating workplaces across the globe, in the hope profits would climb through the roof, presenteeism would be a thing of the past and employees would be whistling their way to work, eager to start the day. But as time passed, fewer steps were recorded and lone apples were left dwindling in the bottom of fruit bowls. Yet still, no performance improvements were in sight. Where were the results of this new focus on employee wellness?
Although implemented with good intentions, these initiatives were not successful due to the lack of knowledge and understanding of the true factors behind the problem. With every second person deeming to be a wellness coach, providing their own cookie-cutter version of a wellness program, how do you know what to choose to have maximum impact?
Every organisation is made up of individuals, and with individuals come unique personalities and needs. One person’s requirements to achieve overall wellness will always differ from the next person. Meaning that the same rigid, off-the-shelf program will not be effective in every case. All too often, organisations feel they will be left behind, so they rush to jump on the wellness bandwagon. In many cases, comprehensive research is not done, and a program that sounds super flashy and fun is chosen. Beneath the surface however, it is failing to address the organisation’s wellness needs.
The inevitable forgotten fitness tracker
Although competing against your co-workers for the highest step count may be fun and get you up and moving for a while, these types of initiatives are often short-lived and purely target the physical dimension of wellness. It won’t be long before the novelty wears off, the Fitbits start to gather dust, and you’re back to square one.
These initiatives also don’t take into account people’s personal interests. An organisation may have a fantastic weekly yoga class, which is wonderfully beneficial for the ‘yogi’s’, but for those who aren’t, how is it elevating their level of wellness? Unfortunately, most wellness programs are more in line with this one-dimensional approach, proving to be unsuccessful and leaving a bad taste in people’s mouths.
This, coupled with the millions of #blessed ‘wellness gurus’, peering at us through our screens, divulging their kale secrets or promoting amethyst infused water, it’s no wonder we have such strong adversity to the notion of ‘wellness’.
Amethyst, pre-water infusion
Initiatives with impact
For a wellness program to be truly impactful, a much more holistic approach is needed, addressing all dimensions of wellness while appealing to the personal needs of employees. Employers must acknowledge that their employees are whole people, that come with emotions, responsibilities and needs that may fall outside of the organisational structure.
By understanding the individual needs within your organisation, you can develop a far more impactful program, inciting an increase in company performance. But how do we find out what they need? Well, you ask them. No one is going to know what Naomi or Luke’s wellness needs are better than Naomi and Luke. Spend some time getting to know your employees and ask them how the workplace can contribute to their overall wellbeing. I can almost guarantee, it won’t be fruit and Fitbits.