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What Is Wellness?
For years, the concept of wellness followed the medical model of its time, “the absence of illness.” As companies who took a genuine interest in their employees “discovered” wellness, the concept moved into the workplace. Early projects looked at disease state management, such as blood pressure monitoring, labwork, smoking cessation, exercise and weight control. Noble efforts all, but generally focused on physical well-being, and were likely to be one-size-fits-all.

Early adopters found that they were providing a benefit that employees liked and appreciated, and could have a positive influence on employee morale and engagement. Equally important, companies with a healthier workforce found that their productivity and health costs were positively impacted.

The next generation of workplace wellness was in part driven by medical cost management. Program redesign rewarded employee participation in wellness initiatives (or, if you look at it from the back side of the mirror, penalized non-participation). In the realm of shared health-care premium costs, employees were rewarded for smoking cessation, weight loss/body mass index reduction, regular exercise and so on. Again, all of these steps can be very positive in the life of the individual, and can certainly have the positive corporate impacts previously noted. However, these initiatives still focused on physical attributes and primarily serve as the “carrot and stick.”

What does a state-of-the-art wellness program look like?

Years ago (trust me, quite a few) in nursing school, we were introduced to the concept of optimal well-being. This took the medical (physical) model (a continuum with “sick” at one end, and “not sick”, or “healthy” at the extreme other), and overlaid one’s psychosocial, emotional, intellectual and spiritual status to the mix.

This broad look at total well-being, with some 21st century updates, provides the framework for a wellness program that optimizes outcomes and value to both the employee and the employer. The key to success begins with establishing clear goals and developing a plan that both engages the company and its employees, and is sustainable.