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Why Traditional Health Still Matters, But We Have to Get It Right!

BY: Sara Martin, MS // Interim Chief Executive Officer • WELCOA

HEALTH: Beyond the absence of mental and physical illness, health is a feeling of strength and energy from your body and mind.

Why is HEALTH critical to making the workplace whole again?

This is the final post in our eight-part series exploring the necessity of fostering all areas of human wellness to make the workplace whole again. To be honest, it has been the hardest to write. As I started putting my thoughts together about why physical and mental health are so critical for making the workplace whole again, I couldn’t help thinking about the history of wellness programs over the years. I have often felt like our industry contributed to a system of harm when dealing with issues around well-being. A few years ago, WELCOA joined several organizations and thought leaders to draft what is known as the Employee Health and Wellness Program Code of Conduct. The code resolved that wellness programs should do no harm to employee health, corporate integrity or employee/employer finances. We laid out our intent to support employee well-being for our Members, their employees, and all program constituents. We recognized many programs and wellness guidelines were so focused on cost-reduction that they were leading to over-screening, weight cycling, body shaming, and many other practices not rooted in science—and worse—not rooted in true human flourishing. The fact that we felt the need to codify this was evidence that as workplace wellness professionals, we may be losing our way.

The AH-HA Moment

As I began writing this blog, I realized I had a bad taste in my mouth thinking of the word “health” because of this history. The topic felt uninspiring and increasingly punitive to write in detail. Often the balm to resolve my struggle with these thoughts, I began talking to other colleagues in the wellness space. I messaged with Maggie Gough, the president and brilliant mind behind Realize Wellbeing, who reminded me that health, in the traditional sense, is still paramount. What was wrong, she asserted, is that our industry has been selling wellness to organizations as a means to save money or get employees to be more productive, rather than as a basic human right all organizations and entities should strive to maintain. I connected with Rob Putnam, president and CEO of Wellness Coaches USA, who reminded me that true measurable health variables have a meaningful impact on our ability as a country and world if we are to thrive in the face of a pandemic. Then, I realized the most golden delicious truth yet—our industry was made for this moment. No one knows more about human needs, and motivation, or the conditions needed to be well than professionals who studied and built population health for decades. The “why” of healthcare dollar savings took us a bit sideways, but we have the skills and the chops to make a big difference when employees need us the most. And coming out of WELCOA’s Idea Collective on the Future of Work and Social Connection, the nearly 500 participants agreed there are opportunities to make a huge difference in employee wellness.

How does fostering HEALTH affect the working human?

Whole-person well-being propels individual and organizational success by enabling humans to thrive and flourish. As Maggie reminded me, we have to shift from thinking of wellness as a means of productivity to viewing health as fuel for a better life—at work and beyond. Without feeling truly well in body and mind, a working human will not have the energy needed to enjoy work, experience success, or power creativity. Furthermore, wellness is paramount to overcoming and surviving a global pandemic. Rob from Wellness Coaches, whose national team of registered dietitians have been helping employees improve their health and combat chronic conditions for over a decade, has been watching the shift as COVID-19 has exposed our nation’s health disparities and vulnerabilities. He cited CDC data demonstrating that people with chronic disease are more likely to experience severe symptoms, serious complications, and death from COVID-19 than those without chronic disease. Traditional health markers still matter—now more than ever.

What are the first steps to improving HEALTH in the workplace?

First, employees want to live and feel healthy. To paraphrase Alexandra Drane, everyone wants to experience more wellness in their lives, but the reality is our lives are busy and messy with many barriers fundamentally blocking us from thriving. As cited in the definition of wellness post about achievement, 80% of employees attempt a healthy lifestyle change every year. The last thing needed is organizations setting unrealistic targets to accomplish without providing necessary resources. So, do you know what is standing in the way of employees meeting mental and physical health goals? If not, taking time to find out is the first step. I recommend checking out WELCOA’s Employee Needs and Interest Survey, a useful tool created to help you collect information and take action.

How is WELCOA implementing strategies for HEALTH in our organization?

We are not perfect, but we have an unrelenting focus on employee health. In many ways, all of the strategies I have written about in previous posts, including Connection, Purpose, Achievement, Growth, Safety, and Resilience, were created to improve or maintain the mental and physical flourishing of our team. WELCOA’s strategies for improving health require constant attention and continue to evolve. The organization has always incorporated tactical steps like hosting virtual group workouts that anyone can join (you can join the next workout here!) and setting up weekly accountability structures for maintaining healthy habits. Maintaining health requires looking into people’s faces and listening to their words. WELCOA maintains employee health by answering any or all of the following questions including: is your team getting enough sleep? Do they seem burnt out? Do they have bags under their eyes? Do you hear them joke about trading in their physical activity routine for ice cream and Netflix in the midst of a quarantine? As a leader, what is your role in getting answers for your organization? WELCOA gets answers to all of these questions and makes them our problem as well. Personally, I believe as a leader, the health of your people should be what keeps you up at night just as frequently as an organization’s financials.

To dig deeper into the topic of culture and well-being, connect with and take advantage of the numerous resources available.

What are WELCOA resources that support HEALTH?



Sara Martin
Sara Martin, MS // Interim Chief Executive Officer • WELCOA

Sara has launched award-winning wellness programs and engineered work environments to create cultures of health across multiple industries. At WELCOA, her role is to ensure you continue to have access to the best products and information so you can achieve your professional and personal wellness goals.