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The Importance of Focusing on Overall Employee Engagement Through the Lens of Holistic Health

In the last 3 years, I’ve had the privilege to give a workshop on Integrative Health and Longevity to over 1,000 senior executives and business owners of small to medium-sized businesses. 


The content of the workshop revolves around the control we have of our health through specific actions we can take in the areas of nutrition, movement, sleep, and mental resiliency. The conversations are often engaging and individuals are surprised at some of the scientific data and impact behind what are commonly referred to as lifestyle factors. For example, most are surprised to hear that 70% of all chronic disease is preventable (as opposed to treatable) by taking a few simple, though not easy, steps.


When you couple that with the changing aspect of how we work, such as the move to remote/hybrid vs in office the logical question to ask is will a company focused on these factors more intimately engage its team to achieve better results? I think the answer is clearly yes. 


Why companies should pay more attention to employee health

Gone are the days of grinding away every last hour in an attempt to get to the next level and grab that brass ring. During the great resignation, we realized the importance of being connected to more than just the work. A company that pays attention to the health of its people not only generates lower healthcare costs but also more loyal, engaged employees. 


This approach emphasizes the interconnectedness of physical, mental, and emotional well-being in fostering a thriving workforce and employees who feel valued, supported, and motivated to contribute their best.


Case Study: Google’s Holistic Health Approach

Google has long recognized the importance of employee well-being as a driver of engagement and productivity. The company offers a comprehensive wellness program that addresses various aspects of holistic health, making it a leading example of how investing in employee well-being can yield significant benefits.


Google's Holistic Health Initiatives

  1. Physical Well-being: Google provides state-of-the-art fitness facilities, nutritious meal options, and preventive health services. On-site gyms and wellness centers encourage regular physical activity, while cafeterias offer balanced meals. Wellness challenges and fitness classes promote a culture of health and vitality.

  2. Mental Health: Google offers mindfulness and meditation programs, mental health workshops, and access to professional counseling services. Mental health days allow employees to take time off to recharge and manage stress effectively.

  3. Emotional Well-being: Google promotes open communication, empathy, and team collaboration through various initiatives. Team-building activities, social events, and recognition programs strengthen interpersonal relationships and create a sense of community.


Example from the Manufacturing Industry: Lincoln Industries

Lincoln Industries, a mid-sized manufacturing company specializing in metal finishing and fabrication, has effectively integrated holistic health practices to enhance employee engagement.

  1. Physical Well-being: Lincoln Industries provides an on-site wellness center with fitness programs, health screenings, and health coaching. Wellness incentives reward employees for engaging in healthy behaviors.

  2. Mental Health: The company offers access to counseling services and mental health resources. Training on stress management and resilience helps employees manage mental health challenges.

  3. Emotional Well-being: Lincoln Industries fosters a culture of recognition and appreciation, regularly acknowledging employees' achievements. Open communication and opportunities for participation in decision-making processes promote emotional investment in the company.


Small companies can impact health as well

Small companies account for almost half of full-time workers and there are certainly many ways to impact holistic health such as:

  1. Physical well-being: Simple initiatives like encouraging movement throughout the day using walking meetings, frequent breaks if at a desk, and time to move during lunch can have a significant impact on overall health. A simple change in food options from highly refined carbs and processed foods to fruits and nuts (for example) are steps any company can implement. 

  2. Mental Health: Acknowledging the impact of stress and encouraging simple things like a quiet room to step into for a few minutes of breathing or meditation.

  3. Emotional well-being: Smaller teams can more easily build positive cultures and strengthen the work ‘tribe’ through in-person or virtual happy hours.


Understanding Holistic Health

Even McKinsey is interested in better understanding holistic health programs in the workplace. In a recent report, McKinsey reinforced the importance of holistic health programs in improving not just performance but innovation.


But what is holistic health? “Many of the factors that contribute to good health sit beyond the remit or control of healthcare systems. These include factors such as quality of sleep or time spent in nature,” McKinsey says.


Holistic health is an approach that considers the whole person—body, mind, and spirit—in the pursuit of optimal well-being. Unlike conventional health models that often focus on treating specific ailments, holistic health emphasizes prevention, balance, and the integration of various aspects of an individual's life.


The Connection Between Holistic Health and Employee Engagement


1. Physical Well-being: The Foundation of Productivity

Physical health is a cornerstone of holistic well-being and plays a crucial role in employee engagement. Healthy employees are more likely to have higher energy levels, reduced absenteeism, and increased productivity. Companies can support physical health through programs that promote regular movement, balanced nutrition, avoiding plastic water bottles in place of filtered water, and preventive care. For instance, providing access to fitness facilities, offering nutritious meal options, and organizing health screenings can significantly enhance employees' physical well-being.


2. Mental Health: Fostering Resilience and Focus

Mental health is another critical component of holistic health that directly influences employee engagement. Stress, anxiety, and burnout are common issues in the modern workplace, often leading to decreased job satisfaction and performance. Initiatives such as mindfulness training, mental health workshops, and access to counseling services can help employees develop resilience and maintain focus. Leaders modeling this behavior are a key to adoption. 


3. Emotional Well-being: Building Strong Relationships

Emotional well-being is essential for cultivating a positive workplace culture and fostering strong interpersonal relationships. Employees who feel emotionally supported are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and committed to their roles. Encouraging team-building activities, providing opportunities for social interaction, and recognizing employees' achievements can strengthen emotional bonds and enhance overall engagement.


Practical Strategies Companies Can Use to Promote Holistic Health


1. Comprehensive Wellness Programs

Implementing comprehensive wellness programs that address physical, mental, and emotional health is a powerful way to promote holistic well-being. These programs should be tailored to meet the diverse needs of employees and include a variety of initiatives such as fitness challenges, meditation sessions, and mental health awareness campaigns. Regularly assessing the effectiveness of these programs and seeking employee feedback can ensure they remain relevant and impactful.


2. Physical Work Arrangements

Our bodies are made to move, and the current office space environment often does not support that. Sitting long hours at a computer is perhaps one of the most negative contributors to health. Encouraging movement every hour; even 5 minutes of walking around or doing some body weight activities like squats, can have a huge impact. Working from home team members should also be encouraged to move regularly and not be tied to a screen for multiple hours of the day. 


3. Creating a Supportive Work Environment

A supportive work environment is crucial for fostering holistic health and employee engagement. Fostering a culture of appreciation and recognition can boost morale and motivate employees to perform at their best. Recognizing employees' contributions through rewards, accolades, and career development opportunities can reinforce their sense of value and commitment to the organization.


4. Leadership and Employee Training

Educating both leaders and employees about the importance of holistic health is vital for creating a culture of well-being. Training programs that focus on stress management, emotional intelligence, and effective communication can equip employees with the skills they need to thrive. Leaders, in particular, play a pivotal role in setting the tone for a healthy workplace culture. By modeling healthy behaviors and demonstrating empathy, leaders can inspire their teams to prioritize their well-being.


Measuring the Impact of Holistic Health on Engagement

McKinsey found that holistic health is actually a better predictor of work outcomes than factors like burnout, engagement, and happiness. To effectively measure this, organizations should employ a combination of quantitative and qualitative metrics. 


Participation Metrics

  • Track how employees are engaging with holistic health programs - through mobile apps, in-person, with health coaches, etc. Higher and more frequent participation indicates greater engagement.

  • Look for segments that are more or less engaged to tailor programs accordingly.


Employee Feedback

  • Conduct surveys and focus groups to gauge employee satisfaction and delight with holistic health offerings. Qualitative feedback is important.


Behavior Change

  • Monitor if employees are achieving their holistic health goals and sustaining positive behavior changes over time. This indicates true engagement, not just one-time participation.


Work Outcomes

  • Assess metrics like work engagement, productivity, innovation, turnover, and intent to stay. Remember, employees with better holistic health tend to perform better at work.


Financial Impact

  • Calculate the ROI of holistic health programs by measuring their impact on factors like absenteeism, healthcare costs, and overall organizational performance.


Conclusion

By embracing a holistic approach to well-being, companies can create a supportive and empowering environment where employees feel valued and motivated to excel. As I’ve spoken to thousands of executives, there is clearly an appetite for this information and a need for practical ways to implement it in the workplace. By prioritizing holistic health, organizations can unlock the full potential of their employees, driving sustained success and growth.

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