Employee Wellness vs. Wellbeing: What’s the Difference?

August 16, 2017

What’s in a name? Does it really matter whether you refer to your program as an employee wellness or an employee wellbeing initiative? These two concepts certainly have some overlap, but it’s become increasingly common to differentiate between the two. In fact, BenefitsPRO reported a 90% increase in clients asking for “wellbeing” programs rather than programs focused solely on physical health. And in a very Project Runway-esque moment, the ADP blog went so far as to say that “wellness programs are out, wellbeing initiatives are in.”

So let’s look at each term in a bit more detail.

What is employee wellness?

The term “wellness” generally applies to the physical body, and wellness programs tend to focus on disease prevention and management, health assessments, and other efforts that target high-risk individuals within an organization.

Wellness programs tend to be siloed or one-off initiatives—the Benefits team might organize flu shots on one specific date, for example, or set up biometric screenings for a week or so around open enrollment.

The lack of an integrated approach means that employees often don’t know about the resources that are available to them and there is low engagement with these programs.

And, since many employer-sponsored “wellness” programs focus on high-risk populations with the company, they tend to have a paternalistic approach that tells employees exactly which actions they need to take and doesn’t leave a lot of room for individual choice. This means that the majority of programs are ineffective—or simply ignored. In the best-case scenario, wellness programs may prompt some enrollment and one-off actions, but they rarely lead to lasting behavior change.

What is employee wellbeing?

Wellbeing expands the view of wellness to cover more than the physical body, encompassing an employee’s mental and emotional state as well as their productivity and ability to perform at the peak of their capabilities. Some companies even consider employees’ financial health and the strength of their social networks to be part of their overall wellbeing.

Because the concept of wellbeing is more inclusive than “wellness,” wellbeing programs tend to be broader in scope than wellness programs, and can cover everything from healthy eating and fitness to managing stress, boosting mental resilience, and more.

In describing the current trends in employee experience, Josh Bersin writes, “Starting as potential hires and recruits, employees look at everything that happens at work as an integrated experience that impacts daily life in and outside the workplace, including overall physical, emotional, professional, and financial wellbeing.” Employers, too, are aware of this shift, and rather than opting for one-off solutions, “many leading organizations aim to improve the employee experience as a whole.”

Similarly, wellbeing programs are designed with the knowledge that employees’ physical, mental, and emotional states are all interconnected and will often have an impact on their work performance as well. In other words, the physical and mental wellbeing of employees are the key factors in determining productivity, worker retention, healthcare costs, and company profits.

Because wellbeing programs tend to be more integrated, open to everyone, and touch upon different aspects of the employee experience, they have greater chances of success, both from an enrollment and an engagement perspective.

Here at LifeDojo, we’re strong proponents of employee wellbeing. We believe that the most successful programs engage with people over a sustained period and help them to effect lasting change. When companies allow employees to focus on the areas of wellbeing that are most personally meaningful to them, they increase the likelihood of tapping into employees’ intrinsic motivation and guiding them toward real behavior change.

Want to learn more about employee wellbeing? Download a copy of our eBook, “Your Definitive Guide to the Employee Wellbeing Landscape” for a comprehensive overview of wellbeing content and programming as well as tips to help you evaluate what will work best for your company.

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash.
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