Employee health goes by several different names. And you do want to understand the role of employee health in the worksite, correct?
A rose by any other name is still a rose. So does it matter what we call it? Interesting question!
I understand that native Alaskans have 32 words to describe snow. Each word describes snow in a different context. Snow by any other name is still snow. So does it really matter what we call it as long as we understand the context in which the term snow is used? Is it the word that matters most? Is it the definition of the word that matters most? Or is it the context in which the word is used that is most important?
Individual health in relationship to the workplace has been called several things: employee health, occupational health, wellness and now wellbeing. So like a rose, does it matter what we call it? As I have studied and written about the words health, wellness and wellbeing, I have come to three different conclusions:
1. The definition for one word very often contains one or more of the other words
2. The definitions in use today reflect one or two different views of the world (paradigms)
3. Each word is subject to a personal meaning being attached by the individual using the word that often is based on one of the paradigms
As a worksite wellness practitioner, these three conclusions have led me to believe that the importance of what we do is based more on context than it is definition. Does it really matter what we call what we do, or is it more important to maximize the effectiveness, benefits, value and results of what we do? Personally, I think it is the latter.
Until health, wellness, or wellbeing researchers can definitively objectify these terms, they will always be subject to debate. As words, health, wellness and wellbeing are, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. As we evolve as a field and as researchers discover new things, the definitions and models that represent the definitions will continue to evolve too.
Each word brings to the conversation a little different spin on their underlying commonalities. The challenge, as I see it, is how to take these commonalities, along with the subtle differences, and apply them in the workplace in a much stronger, collaborative, not competitive approach. Rather than say we need to be doing wellbeing over wellness and wellness over health, we should be asking how can we make these three different terms and their somewhat different models into combined, much stronger collaborative approaches that benefit both employees and employers.
Together, health, wellness, well-being, and what other terms you might also want to include can serve as a strong foundation from which we can begin to better address the individual and organizational health and performance issues being faced by both today. Health, wellness and wellbeing bring, In essence, the common elements necessary to contribute to both employee and organization thriving. And aren’t thriving and its sister, flourishing, what we really desire?
Our challenge today lies not in better definitions or developing more precise models, but in implementing health, wellness and wellbeing, in combinations that make contextual sense and will make a positive difference for individual employees and their employers. Whether the goals are cost savings, cost avoidance, risk reduction, engagement or creating a best place to work, the goals and challenges are too great for any one strategy to accomplish on its own.
The complex issues of health, wellness, wellbeing and organizational performance will not be solved by a single, simple strategy. Whether you believe health, wellness and wellbeing are a personal responsibility, resulting from personal choices, or they are the result of a complex system of integrated forces outside the individual, two things are clear:
1. We can’t expect employees to get healthy in a psycho-socially toxic work environment
2. “We can’t expect to return a changed person back into the same environment and expect the change to be sustained.”( Edington 2015)
Worksite wellness programs need to devote equal amounts of time, energy and resources addressing both individual and organizational health.