What’s Wrong with the word “Wellness?”
Since starting in this industry, I’ve spent time with numerous smart, experienced professionals that discussed whether or not there is a difference between the words wellness and well-being. The word “wellness” has, in many cases, been high jacked to mean only the most rudimentary of explanations: diet and exercise. It’s been watered down, used as green lettering on less than healthy food items, and included in far too many contexts to list them all here (i.e., apps, online platforms, programs, lunch and learns, etc.). It’s more than confusing. It’s become a word that even people in the industry have trouble defining.
Clearly being healthy requires eating food that is nutritious and gives us energy. There are thousands of studies that show the benefits of physical activity and good nutrition. They’ve been around for decades. And yet here we are: More stressed. Less healthy. And health care costs continue to climb and eat up more of GDP in the United States.
I want to be clear: there are plenty of people, organizations, policy makers and companies out there fighting the good fight to addressing the healthcare crisis that is impacting both business and communities. A big thank you to everyone working for positive change. But we need to do more.
With the announcement of a potential new way to address healthcare by Berkshire Hathaway, JP Morgan and Amazon, perhaps we will see a change in a positive direction. Other options, like Samaritan Health and Curo are giving people of a faith community a more humane way to support each other and have reliable healthcare.
A few of the issues that need to be addressed:
- U.S. citizens shouldn’t be paying more for medications than people in Canada or the UK
- Smaller employers need a more affordable way to help their employees have coverage
- Doctors and nurses should be given time to properly treat patients, not forced into making medical decisions in 10 minute blocks
- We need more systems thinking about keeping people healthy vs. an overwhelming focus on fixing those already sick
These are just a few of the issues we need to address. And, yes, it’s complicated. But it’s clear the current healthcare system isn’t leading to better care or better long-term results. We need to move from wellness to a focus on a culture where people can thrive.
What can an employer do? Start with some questions:
- First, take a serious look at where you are spending your dollars to support your employees, not just from a wellness program prospective (HR, Benefits, Training, etc). Is what you are spending to support your workforce positively impacting your bottom line over time?
- Are health and wellbeing benefits part of your overall strategy or are they sitting in a silo?
- Is livable wage an issue for your employees?
- Do you have gender specific initiatives?
- Do you have a way to measure bad stress and science-based solutions to address it?
- Can your employees get true recovery time during weekends and while on vacation?
- Do you have a solid communications strategy so that employees know when and how to access resources or are they given information in emails, once a year at open enrollment and an occasional lunch and learn or poster campaign?
Given how divided our government is and the fractured, less than adequate health care provided for many people, we need disruptive, positive change. In the meantime, businesses can keep a competitive edge by looking beyond just “wellness” and focusing on making sure they have a culture where employees and the company’s bottom line can thrive. The companies that have done this are seeing less turn over and more employee engagement. They also have less trouble attracting talent. Why? Because good quality employees want a work environment where they can contribute, feel valued, and know they can be at their best. Employees need more than a wellness program that they often don’t understand or use. They want to not just stay healthy, but thrive. Let’s not spend more time trying to define “wellness” and focus on what does work.
About the Author
Mim Senft is the founder of Motivity Partnerships a workplace wellness consultancy that offers an integrated solution with vetted wellness partners that work for your culture and your team. She has over 20 years of corporate experience in project management, benefits design and wellness program strategy and implementation. She is a certified as a Worksite Wellness Specialist through the National Wellness Institute; has her GBA group benefits designation through the International Foundation of Benefit Professionals (IFEBP); her property and casualty insurance certification, Accredited Advisor in Insurance (AAI), through the Insurance Institute of America; and became a certified yoga instructor in 2006. Mim is a regular speaker at conferences and roundtable discussions on topics related to employee benefits, corporate wellness/wellbeing programs, and keeping a competitive edge in today’s workplace.