June is National Employee Wellness Month. It is a month that encourages employers to focus on enhancing existing employee wellness programs while encouraging employees to implement strategies to improve their overall well-being. This doesn’t mean that employee wellness shouldn’t be prioritized the other eleven months of the year, however, this month seeks to shed additional light on the importance of employee health and wellness.
In a study published in the Journal of Occupational Health, research showed that 69 million workers reported missing work days due to illness. Furthermore, the CDC states that annually, productivity losses due to personal or family health problems costs U.S. employers 225.8 billion dollars. Employee wellness programs can, and have been shown to improve physical health, save on health care costs, improve productivity and create a culture of health in the workplace that fosters a sense of camaraderie and community among employees.
According to the National Wellness Institute, most well rounded employee wellness programs address the 6 key components of well-being: occupational, physical, social, intellectual, spiritual and emotional.
Here are some suggestions on how to address each of those six areas:
Occupational wellness recognizes that there is a strong connection between workplace satisfaction and one's values, interests and beliefs. It is the ability to achieve a healthy integration between work and personal life. When an employee is in a healthy state of occupational wellness, they are engaged in their work and understand how to balance it with their personal time.
To address this in the workplace, employers can offer employees opportunities that align more closely with their personal values, provide flexible work environments, communicate frequently with staff as to how they are doing and foster a workplace culture that promotes collaboration and teamwork.
Physical wellness focuses on education surrounding physical activity and nutrition as well as other behaviors that negatively impact wellness including alcohol consumption, the use of tobacco and drugs. Physical wellness also emphasizes the importance of prioritizing preventative health measures such as seeking medical care when sick or scheduling an annual exam.
To support this dimension of wellness, employers can offer resources that help increase employees' confidence surrounding healthy food choices and creating an exercise routine, and also allow employees to feel confident in utilizing their health benefits as often as necessary. Employers can also choose to make changes in workplace ergonomics and vending machine options that align more closely with proper posture and nutritional recommendations.
The social dimension of wellness focuses on connection with others and within communities. Social wellness shows the impact you have on those around you, and how fostering healthy relationships help build a better environment. Some ways to address social wellness in the workplace include employee gatherings, service opportunities for staff and work projects that allow for collaboration. As an employer, it’s important to make your employees feel seen and heard. Frequently asking for feedback from your employees and then implementing or altering policies, procedures and/or workplace designs will help build and sustain those relationships.
Intellectual wellness looks at creative and stimulating mental activities to expand one’s knowledge and skills. It focuses on having a growth mindset and being open to new ideas, experiences and finding overall creativity in life. Intellectual wellness aligns closely with the idea of being a “lifelong learner”.
In the workplace, employers can create spaces where employees feel comfortable discussing new ideas, connecting and learning others’ perspectives and providing resources for continuing education. Employers can also use incentives such as providing reimbursement for continuing education or specific hours throughout the week for brainstorming sessions among employees to encourage employees to participate in such activities.
Spiritual wellness focuses on the world view of things, meaning aligning actions and behaviors with one’s core values and beliefs. You can develop a deeper connection to your purpose and meaning in life when the things you are doing are tied to what you value most and find most important.
In the workplace, employers can highlight the importance of keeping an open mind and listening to various perspectives. Some activities might include some sort of personal/professional reflection that allows employees to assess how the work they are doing aligns with their values and beliefs. Another suggestion could be providing recognition to employees by expressing gratitude for specific projects they have completed.
Emotional wellness focuses on the awareness and acceptance of one’s feelings. This dimension of wellness can sometimes be challenging to address, because it’s one of the most vulnerable areas surrounding wellness. When looking at emotional wellness, it’s important to remember to treat your thoughts and feelings with kindness and curiosity, without judgement. Some examples of emotional wellness are feeling good about who you are, saying no without feeling guilty and communicating with someone about how you are feeling.
By including emotional wellness in a wellness program within an organization, employers can provide resources that help employees deal with stress, disappointment, conflict, and other challenges that arise. Another way, and one of the most important, is to create a workplace environment in which employees feel comfortable discussing emotional health and create policies that make it easier for employees to take personal time, invest in their wellness and feel supported in taking care of themselves both physically and emotionally.
The most important part of prioritizing employee wellness is including the employees in the process of achieving optimal health and wellness. Employers should include employees as often as possible in planning efforts and policy amendments. In making changes to promote a healthier workplace, you can frequently request employee feedback regarding what they find most important to focus on as a company in relation to their well-being to ensure you are meeting the employee where they are in their wellness journey.
You can use June, National Employee Wellness Month, to start these conversations and brainstorm ways in which you can promote and be an advocate for employee well-being.