Wellbeing Blog

July 12, 2016

Shifting Gears from Wellness to Wellbeing


Employers are changing their benefits strategy to address total wellbeing


According to research from the National Business Group on Health, roughly 80% of U.S. employers offer some form of a wellness program. The majority of the financial investment has been on physical health activities, focusing on goals such as raising awareness of health risks, promoting healthy habits and preventing disease.


Companies have tested incentives, like gift cards and premium discounts, to drive wellness program participation or reward employees for meeting health targets.  The ACA guides companies in offering such inducements in a way that is nondiscriminatory. Overall, these popular wellness programs have value for those who participate, yet the return on investment has been somewhat limited.


Therefore, employers are switching gears: we are beginning to see a shift from traditional wellness programs to wellbeing initiatives in employers’ spending trends. The 20th anniversary SHRM survey data tells the story of declining benefits, such as on-site flu shots and screenings, but increasing other types of wellness resources. Employers see added value in expanding their approach from wellness to wellbeing to address a wider range of factors that impact employees’ health and productivity.


Some employers have already adopted a holistic approach to addressing health, and might argue that what they call their programs, wellness vs wellbeing, is just semantics. Other companies, however, have chosen to take a very concerted approach to rebranding to wellbeing. The justification for shifting the terminology from wellness to wellbeing is to help practitioners, health plans and employers more accurately describe the value of a whole person approach and develop interventions around the specific components of wellbeing that are key to improving health.


The roots of “wellbeing” actually go way back. In 1946, "Health" was defined by WHO as:“a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.


This definition remains unchanged today.  The intention was to recognize that many factors contribute to good health or poor health, and that we need to pay attention to our wellbeing prior to the onset of poor health or disease.


There are many other ways in which people define wellbeing. CBIZ Wellbeing Solutions finds the framework put forth by Gallup Healthways to be a useful tool for our practice. Gallop defines wellbeing as “a life well lived” and through extensive research have pinpointed five key areas that influence a person's wellbeing:  An employee’s wellbeing goes beyond their physical health to include financial, social, and community health, as well as one’s purpose in life. 





Most of us are doing a pretty good job in at least one of the five areas of wellbeing; however, only a minority (fewer than 10%) are mastering all five. Studies suggest that the five elements are not independent, they are interdependent.   If we are struggling in any of these elements, it damages our wellbeing and wears on our daily life.


Those thriving solely in Physical well-being:

·         missed 68% more work due to poor health,

·         are 5X more likely to seek out a new employer in the next 12 months and

·         were 3X more likely to file for claims in the last year.


In addition, they were less likely to fully bounce back after an illness, and less likely to say they always adapt well to change. Said another way, employees with high well-being are healthier, more productive and higher performers.


Thriving employees are equipped to make significant contributions to your business’ bottom line.  The higher an individual’s wellbeing, the more likely they are to function positively and thrive. Adults thriving in all five elements do better than those thriving solely in Physical Wellbeing.


When employers take steps to boost employee wellbeing, they can see quantifiable gains through organizational productivity, quality, safety, absenteeism, customer perceptions and giving.


While the goal is to address each area of wellbeing, you may be faced with constraints related to time, resources and budget. 


If your focus is mostly on physical health now, take a look at what elements of physical and mental health you are addressing.  Consider what next wellbeing domain you can add as a focus area this coming year, and what other two the next year, and so on.


To begin to identify employees wellbeing needs and effectively address those needs:


•      Look to research for insights on what’s important to thriving employees

•      If you conduct and annual engagement survey, analyze those results that have a proven correlation to wellbeing, such as quality of a person’s manager and peer relationships at work

•      Work with your benefits consultant to examine health claims experience to know what areas need additional focus

•      Observe employee behavior and usage of other benefit programs, such as enrollment in financial savings or retirement programs

•      Consider surveying employees and ask them about their satisfaction across the five areas of wellbeing


Once you have a better handle on the needs, you will be on your way to providing relevant opportunities to support employees in enhancing their wellbeing.   


There are no shortage of activities and resources available around each component of wellbeing, some which are no cost or low cost, and other interventions that require a significant investment.  Each employer will have different needs.


According to Gallup research, the number one contributor to rising health care costs and low productivity is poor employee wellbeing. To fix what’s driving costs, we need to understand wellbeing within our organizations as it will help us to make better decisions about how to shape plan design, networks, menu of benefits and organizational culture.


High wellbeing is a win-win for the employee, employer and the community.




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