Employee wellness vs wellbeing: Are we all on the same page?


Wellness is everywhere - Facebook, Twitter, news and, more recently, in workplaces.  Although we’ve been talking health and wellness for years, the ubiquity and intensity of the topic have grown significantly.

In an ever-evolving industry, deciphering the wave of information from disparate sources and service providers can be confusing and overwhelming for consumers & organisations. 

Employee wellbeing is firmly on the agenda for most HR and business leaders. Our role is to help organisations recognise what's critical to deliver effective solutions for their most significant asset, their people. 

Let's start with foundations like naming and a breakdown of wellbeing elements so you and your stakeholders can move towards a shared understanding.

+ Wellness vs Wellbeing: What's in a name?
The World Health Organization (WHO) define the term wellbeing as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

The Oxford dictionary defines wellbeing as “the state of being or doing well in life; happy, healthy, or prosperous condition; moral or physical welfare and wellness as “the state of being in good health”.

In short, wellbeing is a broader, holistic state of being. A positive state achieved by sustaining physical, emotional, spiritual, social and mental health - and overall contentment and balance in life. Wellness is generally more focused on physical health and the body rather than a broader state of being.

If we really scratched the surface, most workplace programs address wellness, few address overall wellbeing. While the two should not (we believe) be used interchangeably, their influence and outcomes are connected - when facets of wellness are addressed positively, these contribute, in part, to an enhanced wellbeing. 

Verdict for organisations:
Now more than ever, organisations need to ensure that employee programs holistically service the overall wellbeing of their people

Both wellness and wellbeing play a role in your employees’ health however in today’s hyper-connected world, the only way to help employees achieve optimal wellbeing is through a holistic framework. This requires programs to support all areas of wellbeing - emotional, social, mental and physical. The distinction between wellness and wellbeing is particularly important in two scenarios: 1) when selecting partners - ensuring they provide an integrated wellbeing solution - and, 2) when steering boardroom conversations as executives have become more savvy on the topic.

+ Mental Wellbeing
Positive mental wellbeing is when individuals can cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and are able to integrate + contribute to their communities.  

Mental health vs mental illness is where confusion can occur and, as a result, you often hear it described as a continuum:

  • Mental health at one end of the spectrum – the way we think, feel and develop relationships.

  • Mental illness at the other – represented by conditions like depression, anxiety and other symptoms that affect thoughts or behaviour.

Verdict for organisations:
Untreated mental illness costs Australian businesses $11 billion every year due to absenteeism, lost productivity and compensation claims.

Building a mentally safe environment is the ultimate goal for any organisation. Proactive solutions include role modelling, embracing diversity and removing stigmas so employees feel comfortable talking openly about how they’re doing. Also, enabling managers and co-workers to recognise where coaching or counselling interventions may be needed.

+ Emotional Wellbeing
Positive emotional health enables individuals to function in society, meet the demands of everyday life and recover effectively from illness, change or adversity.

Decreased emotional wellbeing may present through conditions like stress, anxiety, depression, lack of self-confidence and unhelpful patterns of thoughts.

Verdict for organisations:
In a workplace, preventative approaches are far more effective than intervention after a problem presents. Shine a light on how you can help your people build emotional resilience or a term we prefer, resourcefulness.

"While the terms mental and emotional wellbeing are sometimes used interchangeably, they are distinctly different. That said, you really can’t have one without the other. Mental health refers to your ability to process information. Emotional health refers to your ability to express feelings which are based upon the information you have processed"

+ Physical Wellbeing
Will be influenced by the lifestyle behaviour choices an individual makes to optimise health, avoid preventable diseases and conditions, and live in a balanced state of body, mind and spirit.

Physical wellbeing balances the rate of adoption of positive health habits like a balanced diet, consistent exercise and regular check-ups against negative habits, like smoking, drugs and poor nutrition.

Verdict for organisations:
When thinking about optimising the physical wellbeing of your workforce, health checks help to heighten awareness around lifestyle patterns or risks. A company's education and activation of healthy movement, nutrition, hydration and sleep behaviours are paramount. As is education and treatment for chronic conditions, substance dependencies and injury prevention.

+ Is an integrated wellbeing solution important?
Simple answer - yes. Ultimately, what's good for people is good for the organisation.

In our experience, organisations have traditionally over-indexed on physical wellbeing (think bootcamps and seated massages) which has returned low engagement and often a miss on program goals. While important, improved mental and emotional health have a higher impact on overall wellbeing than physical so these should be weighted accordingly within your wellbeing strategy.

When organisations truly help employees achieve greater wellbeing, the return is significant - to the tune of 2.3x ROI for every program dollar spent. Employees who are holistically well, are more productive, have higher job satisfaction, tenure and loyalty.

They also rate higher for creativity, innovation and performing great work, which delivers a measurable difference to teams, customers and profitability.

+ To help you identify what's needed in your workplace, here's a quick breakdown: 

This 'Moving from Wellness to Wellbeing' infographic holds a clear explanation of the difference, particularly the breakdown of wellbeing components in Maslow's hierarchy of needs framework.

Wellness solutions are very accessible and generally consist of finite or niche services that will focus on physical outcomes and contribute to components of overall wellbeing. 

Wellbeing solutions are designed with the knowledge that employees’ physical, mental and emotional states are interconnected and an improved overall wellbeing will directly translate to greater collaboration, productivity and engagement.

WellWork provides enterprise wellbeing solutions tailored to the unique requirements of your employees. Our complimentary wellbeing assessment and scorecard form the insights to design and implement holistic employee experiences.