Taking a Holistic View of Employee Well-being

Why addressing mental and financial health is equally as important as physical health

By Mitch Collier

Corporate well-being programs have long focused on improving employees’ physical health—from effectively managing chronic diseases to improving overall fitness—to minimize absenteeism, improve productivity, and reduce health care costs. But over time, research has shown that many other factors, including emotional and mental health, as well as financial concerns, are impacting employees’ day-to-day lives and hampering their ability to concentrate on the job.

This realization, combined with a genuine concern about employees’ quality of life, is causing HR and executive teams to rethink well-being programs. Over the next three to five years, more than 67 percent of companies say they plan to expand their programs to provide a more holistic approach to meeting employees’ needs, according to an annual survey from the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) and Fidelity Investments. While physical health still remains a top priority, more than 90 percent of those surveyed said emotional health, mental health, and financial security have grown in importance as their definition of well-being evolves.

Addressing outside factors


Until recently, talking about personal mental and behavioral health concerns or financial issues in the workplace was considered taboo. Growing awareness of the impact of these issues on individuals’ overall health and society as a whole has opened up new channels of communication between employees and employers. 

No longer do companies look at mental health concerns as stigmatizing for individuals; rather, they are concerned about the impact these issues have on their employees’ quality of life. And employees have become more honest in disclosing—and seeking help—when they feel hopeless, stressed, or overwhelmed. 

From a financial perspective, there’s greater awareness that money, beyond take-home salary and retirement benefits, is a big stressor in employees’ lives. They worry constantly about managing budgets, paying off loans, and reducing debt, increasing stress levels and impacting overall mental and physical health in the process. This worry is not limited to evenings or weekends, instead finding its way into the workday and results in eroding productivity.

Evidence-based science drives program offerings

While many companies offer incentives to drive lifestyle changes that improve physical health, these are not the most effective techniques for a successful holistic well-being program. Strategies to encourage all types of well-being should include behavior change techniques (BCTs), building on evidence-based methods that drive an individual’s determination to reach a specific goal. 

Programs should be designed to help employees set goals for change, then take the actions or modify behaviors to reach those goals. Strategies employing BCTs for emotional and mental health include stress management and mindfulness classes, relaxation coaching, and resiliency training, to name a few. Since debt is emerging as a key issue, financial wellness programs have incorporated expert-led seminars and lunch-and-learns, as well as access to tools and resources that support emergency savings, debt management, budgeting, mortgages, drafting wills, and income protection.

Personalization increases positive outcomes

It’s important to realize, however, that every employee has their own unique issues and ability to achieve their goals. What works for one person may not resonate with others. To address these differences, corporate well-being programs must allow for some level of personalization. And it works. According to the NBGH and Fidelity Investments survey mentioned earlier, 85 percent of employers that personalize their programs find it increases employee engagement.

Delivering a personalized offering requires more insights and flexibility. This is where data savviness and advanced analytics come in. Leveraging a variety of data sources, companies can provide customized recommendations to each employee. Using personal data from app usage or health risk assessments can provide a greater viewpoint of the health of a workforce, allowing programs to be designed specific to employee health needs. This lends itself to incorporate best approaches and real-time messages to guide employees to foster behavioral change in the moment and achieve optimal outcomes.

By avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach and addressing the wide array of physical, mental, and financial stressors employees face, holistic corporate well-being programs can amplify their power and have a more lasting impact on participants. These efforts not only allow the company to improve its productivity, but it supports an increasingly important corporate mission of helping employees lead healthier, more rewarding, and less stressful lives.

About the Author

Mitch Collier knows that health empowerment begins with great program design—and lasting change requires a fundamental shift in how employees engage with health and wellness programs. As Vice President of Product Management, Mitch is responsible for optimizing the delivery of solutions to clinical and employer clients, and best-in-class functional design of all well-being products and services StayWell offers a company’s workforce. . Mitch is a member of the HL7® FHIR® Foundation and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Pacific University. With an engineer’s mind and the spirt of an entrepreneur, Mitch leverages more than 15 years of clinical and consumer health experience to create and deliver best-in-class technologies that illuminate the path to better health. 

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