Holistic Health in the Workplace Is a Growing Trend — But Is it Actually Effective?

By Jemima McEvoy Saturday, October 10, 2020

There are all sorts of workplace trends out there as we try to boost worker productivity and happiness. However, it goes without saying that not every idea is successful. In recent years, many companies have begun to embrace holistic health in the workplace. Here’s everything you need to know about holistic health and whether it’s something all businesses should consider.

Businesswoman meditating while people hand her forms.

What Is Holistic Health?

Health is so much more than just not having a disease. The definition of health and wellness continues to evolve, as science gains increased sophistication. Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not just the absence of infirmity. This wide-ranging definition of health forms the basis of what’s known as holistic health.

The theory behind the holistic approach, holism, dates back 2,500 years to the time of Hippocrates (but the principles can be traced back even further to Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine). Holism, as a theory, emphasizes the connection of the mind, body, and spirit and recognizes that the others will suffer when one is unhealthy. As a result, those who believe in holistic health approaches will not end with the physical.

There are five interrelated parts of health:

  • The physical
  • The mental
  • The emotional
  • The spiritual
  • The social

Holistic Health in the Workplace

So what are holistic health strategies, and how can they be integrated into the workplace? Well, the key to a successful holistic health strategy is making sure it does what it’s supposed to do: cover all five bases. Finding the right balance is the tricky part; knowing what to invest more time and resources into. Here are some suggestions for each health need.

Physical Health

Outside of making sure employees can afford healthcare through corporate insurance coverage, encouraging activity and physical health is important. This can be done by promoting opportunities for physical activities that better individual wellbeing like having a company baseball team or starting a running club with some coworkers. Another way physical wellness can be promoted is through healthy eating. Tech startups like Google and Facebook take this very seriously, providing employees with healthy snacks and meals throughout their workdays. Companies willing to get a little more outside the box could venture into the territory of holistic practices like acupuncture, aromatherapy, and massages.

Mental Health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has several suggestions for how employers can better support their workers’ mental health. One is offering mental health and stress management education programs. Another is arranging activities through which employees can learn new skills to help them manage and improve their mental health. Such an activity could be yoga — this is a good de-stressor for employees that could also be low-cost for companies to offer on a semi-regular basis. Additionally, a growing number of companies offer a select number of mental health days per year to their employees, which helps with avoiding stress and burnout.

Emotional Health

It’s first important to note the differences between mental health and emotional health. Mental health influences your thoughts and actions, covering three main types of well-being: psychological, social, and emotional. While emotional health is having an awareness of your emotions and ability to manage/express your feelings. Workplace practices that could enhance emotional health include meditation, hypnotherapy, Reiki (a form of energy healing), and, again, yoga.

Spiritual Health

Spiritual health and wellbeing don’t just refer to religious faith, though it can be a central feature for many people. Spirituality is an ability to experience and integrate meaning and purpose into life by connecting with the self, art, other people, literature, nature, a greater power, or anything else. A number of the suggestions mentioned above also promote spiritual health: yoga, Reiki, and meditation. Companies can also promote spirituality by accommodating the different beliefs and subsequent needs of employees, organizing spiritual training or retreats, and generally making time for employees to do what they have to do for their spiritual well-being.

Social Health

Most people gain positive energy from interacting with coworkers. Ensuring employees have the opportunity to unwind outside of the workplace is important, which can be done by ensuring everyone has a strong work-life balance. Additionally, scheduling events for people to bond with their co-workers, like happy hours or other fun outings, can contribute to social health.

Does Holistic Health Work?

The key question here is: is it worth your time to promote holistic health in the workplace? Several factors indicate the affirmative — that holistic health makes your employees happier and more productive. One of which is the market’s sheer size. The complementary & alternative medicine market (which encapsulates many holistic health practices) is expected to grow to $296.3 billion by 2027.

However, to truly understand the benefits of holistic health, you need to look beyond immediate results — to the long-term. As explained by the WHO, “The lost productivity resulting from depression and anxiety, two of the most common mental disorders, is estimated to cost the global economy $1 trillion each year.” Growing recognition of mental health has helped combat that.

The benefits of promoting this broad sphere of wellness pay off over time in general employee happiness and productivity. A study by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans found that among employers offering and measuring wellness efforts, more than half saw a decrease in absenteeism. At the same time, 66% reported increased productivity, and 67% said their employees were more satisfied.

For this reason, many of the US’s top-performing companies go out of their way to promote employee health and balance. For example, Accenture’s innovative wellness program offers discounts for gyms and fitness centers, as well as an online fitness program, offering employees rewards when they meet health goals. Asana pays its employees to sleep in “nap rooms” when they need a break from work. Google offers a laundry list of employee benefits promoting holistic health, including chiropractors, physical therapy, massage services, community bikes, cooking classes, and more.

About the Author

Headshot of Jemima McEvoy

Jemima is a journalist who enjoys reporting on business, particularly small business and entrepreneurship.

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