Expanding the Definition of Wellness

By Jennifer Benz

Mar. 6, 2017

When you consider that most of us spend about one-third of our adult lives at work, it makes sense that the workplace can be the epicenter of healthy habits — for body, mind and wallet.

Many companies are taking this role seriously by treating their employees more like family members than workers. Like any caring, nurturing parent, employers are concerned about keeping their employees healthy, happy and in a position to be successful in the future.

This is a welcome evolution — from a laser focus on physical wellness toward a more holistic philosophy of “well-being” that addresses employees’ physical, emotional and financial needs.

This broadening definition of wellness comes with tremendous potential benefits, but also needs a different approach than the one-size-fits-all strategy that has often been applied to physical wellness.

Here are four ways to set your expanded wellness program up for success.

  1. Move from “one size fits all” to “choose your own adventure.” With five generations currently in the workplace and millennials recently emerging as the largest demographic among working adults, traditional wellness programs need to evolve to meet the varying needs of employees at different life stages. Employers are gradually realizing that they can no longer focus solely on health care costs. They also need to foster a motivated, thriving and loyal workforce, and offer useful benefits that meet their employees wherever they are.

This means less of the one-size-fits-all programs of the past and more of the programs that allow employees to customize their own wellness package using various apps and tools, like fitness trackers, nutrition apps and financial management tools — and to get rewarded for their efforts.

  1. Talk to employees. Engaged employees — those who feel their employer sees them as individuals — are more likely to have a vested interest in the company and be fully committed to the company’s success. Employees often express that they want their employers to recognize their total well-being, and they want access to resources that show that this is a priority. Because of this, many companies find that having a competitive wellness package is key to attracting — and keeping — top talent. But too often, wellness programs are designed and implemented without employee input. Reach out to your employees through surveys, focus groups and one-on-one interviews to find out what they need and what will resonate with them.
  2. Put it in context. One challenge in introducing a new well-being program is to make sure that the program aligns with and complements the company’s full benefits ecosystem. Employers need to underscore how the program fits into their overarching corporate philosophy, so it doesn’t feel disconnected from their other HR programs, benefits or business priorities.

Emotional well-being is a growing part of this holistic health approach. Sensing the level of stress that employees experience in both their personal and professional lives, companies have introduced mindfulness programs that emphasize meditation practice and relaxation strategies. Many are also taking a new look at their extended-leave policies, which encourage a healthy work-life balance, and work-culture campaigns, which can inspire and energize employees by highlighting their common concerns, goals and successes. Meanwhile, programs aimed at promoting financial wellness have become increasingly popular. The idea is that employees can be more engaged at work if they’re not stressed out about financial concerns.

All of these programs need context for why the company is investing (the benefit for the company), why employees should care (the benefit for the employees) and how new efforts connect to other programs.

  1. Embed behavioral thinking into strategy, program design and communications. One of the most powerful opportunities for employers is to design the workplace around well-being. Instead of looking at isolated programs or asking employees to take steps on their own, ask, “How can we make it easy to do the right thing?” That question will bring to the surface administrative barriers, confusing program design issues, changes needed to the physical workplace, or simple opportunities to better connect programs and resources.

By broadening the definition of wellness and creating a new well-being model, employers can find more meaningful ways to connect their employees with their benefits. Well-being programs that employees can tailor to meet their personal needs and preferences offer tremendous opportunities for employers to improve employee engagement and increase the overall value of their benefit offerings.

Jennifer Benz leads Segal Benz, a national leader in HR and employee benefits communications. She was honored as one of Workforce’s “Game Changers” in 2013. Contact her at or follow her on Twitter at @jenbenz.

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