In a previous article we discussed what workplace health and wellbeing is and how to start with it. In this blog we share the different elements of a whole person’s wellbeing that collectively creates a holistic approach to wellbeing.
The point we want to make here is that investing in employee wellbeing must go beyond absence management, illness prevention and physical fitness. Most of the health and wellbeing programs still solemnly focus on this one aspect of wellbeing. Wellness program managers need to include a whole person approach covering next to physical wellbeing also topics that foster emotional and mental wellbeing as well as social, organizational, career and even financial wellbeing of their employees.

Physical wellbeing

“You do not have to be ill to get better”

If you want to support your employees’ physical wellbeing, consider what is needed to keep all your staff physically healthy and energized. Occupational health professionals are moving from the historic absence of disease approach driven by local law and legislation towards overall health promotion and energy management including policies around healthy nutrition, physical activity, smoking, alcohol and drug abuse.
In doing so, the biggest challenge is to get those that are not naturally active nor enthusiastic about healthy eating to move more and eat veggies. And that is one of the hardest things to do. It is easy to offer a gym membership for all, however data shows that you often impact those that are already active. In nudging all employees into healthy behaviors start making the healthy choice the easy choice. Things to think of if you are serious about this are:

  • How to strategically offer and change your canteen offering
  • Reorganizing your buildings to foster frequent movement
  • Allow recovery breaks during the workday, make it a company habit
  • Set up and implement healthy meeting guidelines
  • Launch policies on alcohol and drug abuse
  • Support smoker health programs
  • Organize step challenges
  • Facilitate sport, movement, and relaxation during work hours
Beautiful women working out in gym

Mental wellbeing

According to the World Health Organization, Mental health is:

“a state of wellbeing in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community”.

Now that is a mouthful, and when looking at the numbers, depression has become the leading cause of disability in the world [1]. And still many of us struggle to open up or talk about it, anxious to be seen as weak, nuts, or crazy. Worldwide mental health problems could cost the global economy up to €14 trillion by 2030 [2].
Mental health is the result of a complex interaction of social, psychological, and biological factors. E.g. next to individual biological sensitivities and the experience of adverse life events, excessive work demands, and pressures are enemies of our mental health and wellbeing. When these work-related stressors become chronic, it can lead to mental ill-health. Symptoms might start with decision fatigue, emotional instability, social withdrawal, information overload, sleep problems, and decreased capacity to focus. The big interventions to support your employees are:

  • The availability of 24/7 employee assistance programs for those that struggle
  • Destigmatizing mental ill-health big time so it becomes a topic to talk and open up about.
  • Skill your leaders so they are equipped to have open conversations around mental health, if needed.
  • Especially the global COVID 19 pandemic asks for leaders that can listen and help employees that struggle.
  • Enabling your employees to control and manage workload and focus time.

Emotional wellbeing

Emotional wellbeing is closely interlinked with mental and social wellbeing. When talking about emotional wellbeing what we mean is that your employees experience positive emotions at work the majority of the time.

Some of the biggest positivity derailers for employees are non-effective and hierarchical work processes, non-effective social work relations and lack of recognition and trust.
Here are key areas you should look at as a company if you want to boost positivity:

  • Simplify the bureaucratic struggle. Shape your organization toward effective work processes.
  • Provide autonomy and equip so they can do their job. Assign them with an outcome (what) instead of the steps and procedures (how).
  • Foster supportive and non-judgmental social relations at work .
  • Make work enjoyable! Provide opportunities to have fun and release the tension, be it a game rooms, social activities… Laughter creates positive emotions; it is also a way to bond while also releasing tension.
  • Welcome emotions at the workplace, both the positive and the more survival-based emotions. Give permission to feel. As humans, have a long history of disregarding our feelings. But hey, we are only human after all!

Social wellbeing

Who are you surrounded by and what is the impact of them on your wellbeing? Humans need to be part of a pack, and in the old days being excluded from your pack meant a big risk to die. We therefore have a deep human need to belong – to feel part of a group of people who accept us for who we are and even better, share our values and sometimes dreams. When we find ourselves in a team or organization that does not want us, or does not accept us for who we are, we live in a constant state of psychological arousal: fears take over, we are anxious, and we can even become depressed [3].

‘I want to be myself at work without being afraid that people will shut me out or shut me down.’

As an organization, here is how you can set the ground for social wellbeing:

  • Take loneliness serious and destigmatize conversations around it. Lots of people experience loneliness and the global pandemic has made loneliness a hot topic in health and wellbeing. Provide opportunities to gather and socialize in informal but meaningful ways. This is tricky with the pandemic, so it will require thinking out of the box.
  • Leadership development is a key element in social wellbeing, select your leaders carefully, and develop and equip them so they can truly let their teams thrive. Include KPIs that monitor team energy and wellbeing next to business impact and results.
  • Define general rules of engagement that include respect, care, and valuing differences and foster relationships from a genuine interest in each other. This also means that people know each other well enough not to push each other’s buttons.
Multicultural group of co-workers

Career wellbeing

Do you still feel you like your job and can develop yourself? Are your talents used and valued?

The more employees can align their job content to their individual aspirations and their personal definition of career success, the more they will be happy, healthy, and productive [4]. Careers today are very dynamic and the contemporary careers playing field is rapidly changing, having a huge impact on many of your employees. This challenges the way companies have historically managed and viewed careers. As skills change rapidly, so do our organizational need for talent, and where we struggle to find the right people on one hand we have employees in jobs that do not match their skills anymore. Career Wellbeing talks about the best fit between the needs of the employer and the wishes of the employee from a long-term perspective. How do you start to move the needle here?

  • Acknowledge that we are in a huge mental paradigm shift in our thinking about careers. Start conversations around this to create a common language and understanding.
  • Stop managing careers, instead start facilitating them. Help your staff understand what they aspire to and how do they define career success. Once they know, get them trained on career skills so they start driving their own careers and are motivated to take ownership of their development.
  • Design jobs that allow job crafting and development. Allow employees to craft their jobs to focus on what drives most energy and where they feel successful or want to develop.
  • Allow individual work arrangements. We all differ, and the “everyone is the same and should be treated the same” belongs to the previous century. Just as health and wellbeing are personal, our career values, or job motivators and energy givers/drainers are as well. Allow for differentiation and build a good rationale for why you do so.

Financial wellbeing

Strongly linked to Career wellbeing is financial wellbeing. Financial wellbeing is about a sense of security and the feeling that you have enough money to meet your needs. It’s about being in control of your day-to-day finances and having the financial freedom to make choices that allow you to enjoy life. And those finances come from the job you have, as job without a pay equals charity.
But this security appeal can have counterproductive effects on “career wellbeing”: lots of people get stuck in jobs that do not motivate them due to the financial security they provide. A good South African saying, “You might be in a bucket of poop, and it’s smelly but at least it is warm”… not daring to move or change has a profound impact on overall wellbeing.

  • A lot of this can be debunked by insight on where money flows and how much is enough. People generally spend what comes in without really knowing where it flows. Insight into real needs opens possibilities. In a landscape of constant change, job insecurity and pension uncertainty supporting your employees with their financials can really boost wellbeing.
Financial growth concept

Purpose and business wellbeing

Last but not least, an important part of wellbeing is linked to purpose and values. There are 2 sides of a mutual coin called success: a personal and a company’s side. Wellbeing here comes down to the alignment on both sides.

For organizations, a big piece here is culture and practice what you preach.

For individuals, they need to feel engaged by the company’s wider mission –Why do we exist and what does it mean to work here?, feel that they belong and can contribute –how and why am I part of this?, and develop awareness about how their personal purpose is aligning with the overall business goals and missions.

So what should you consider here?

  • Firstly, think about how do you bring your employees along on your company’s journey and how do they embody the values and the mission of your company? What behaviors align with your company’s values and purpose and how do you model these within the organization?
  • Practice what you preach and stay aligned. Ask yourself what is rewarded and recognized within your organization and how is that aligned with your mission and your values? How aligned is what you actually do to what you communicate? If you say you care, how do your company’s behaviors model this, and what KPIs monitor it? Greenwashing is becoming less and less acceptable especially to the younger generations and is a sign of a lack of organizational wellbeing.
  • Help your employees find their own personal life mission and support them to become their best selves. Let them make connections between their personal purpose and the organization’s purpose, and where there are misalignments, help your employees process this.
Man with compass in hand

So we covered all the different aspects we consider essential when really moving the needle on workplace wellbeing. Now finally ask yourself the question; even if you have all this in place, who is ultimately responsible for wellbeing? I hope you came to the same conclusion we did; the individual. You can have everything in place and still people can feel crap. Your job is to facilitate your employees to take ownership of their own health and wellbeing and to create an environment that supports that. A big part of this ownership lies in:

  • providing your employees energy management, resilience and vitality programs to kickstart personal purpose, physical, and mental wellbeing.
  • supporting them to craft a career that matches their abilities and aspirations.

Make sure you choose evidence-based programs with studies outcomes. And make sure your leaders will role model the behaviors that support health and wellbeing. Nothing is more demotivating than coming back from a company paid employee wellbeing program wanting to make change and facing a manager that doesn’t allow nor model these behaviors. This highlights the importance of social and business wellbeing once more. So things have come full circle.



[2] This includes the direct costs of health care and medicine, of other therapies, and the indirect costs such a loss of productivity. Kelland, K (2018, October 9) Mental health crisis could cost the world $16 trillion by 2030.

[3] Harvard Business Review Press ‘ How to be happy at work’

[4] Ans de Vos, Developing Sustainable Careers Across the Lifespan

Need to broaden your wellbeing strategy?

Contact us

Related content


Design & Development Teamcreative