When I think of wellness, I get images of Richard Simmons and Japanese workers in matching sweats during corporate exercise programs. Too bad. Unfortunately, wellness wound up marginalized as a silly fad in its first big corporate movement during the 70’s and hasn’t really recovered.
Sure, there are lots of companies touting the value of perks in today’s world (my favorite is BetterWorks). But most people still shy away from the term wellness. Well I think it’s the best word to define this successful human condition, so as Bono says, “I’m stealing it back.”
Physical health is only part of the equation
One of the big problems with wellness is that it’s so closely associated with physical health. But true wellness is a multidimensional issue involving your whole self, not just your body. This is of course, not MY idea, but I’m focusing on it here because it’s such a misapplied aspect of being human by so many of us, and it’s so critical to sustainable high performance.
Abraham Maslow was on the right track with his Hierarchy of Needs, showing us that some needs are more fundamental than others, and that humans are motivated to get beyond the basics and become creators of good things in the world. And it’s likely that people have explored the holy trinity of mind, body, and spirit from the beginning of time, but even that extension beyond “body” is incomplete.
Somehow in modern America we commonly reduce wellness to physical health, and make that a personal responsibility to take care of in isolation of work and family. You go to a doctor when you are “sick” and he/she tells you what you should do to fix your body to regain health. I don’t think many doctors prescribe social remedies, but the now famous Framingham Heart Study, effectively shows that health is highly dependent on social interactions.
A complete model of wellness
Based on discussions with thousands of people via research at IDEO and the YMCA, I’ve developed a simple way to evaluate wellness in a holistic way. The model was developed from patterns that emerged when people were asked, “What makes you feel well?” Their responses were captured, and then categorized into these dimensions of wellness. For another complete view of well being check out the Gallup model.
- Wellness is individually defined (there is no prescribed “best state” for everyone).
- Wellness has rhythm (sometimes you feel more well than others).
- Wellness is about balancing choices (not applying a routine or formula).
- Wellness is about control (for some it’s “in” and others it’s “out”).
A first principle of human centered organizations
From a business standpoint, employees with low levels of well being are far more expensive than those with high levels of well being. But this “loss of work” cost based approach doesn’t even consider the “opportunity costs” of not being on top of your game on a regular basis.
Gary Hamel is leading the world to reconsider their fundamental models for organizing and leading people with his Business 2.0 Challenge. He suggests that this process starts with rethinking principles, and I fully agree. Furthermore, I’m suggesting that a fundamental principle of business success is individual well being, and it is a primary element of successful leadership to be well and to lead others to wellness.
So my call to action here is that businesses need to rethink their fundamental relationships with the people who work there. If a holistic model of wellness is critical to high performance, then issues that are often considered “private” or “personal” in our traditional models of management become essential in employment relationships. Much of this will be discounted as “coddling” employees with yet more benefits and perks, but in today’s world of business where creative thinking and critical problem solving are often the source of competitive advantage, I’ll bet on wellness as a strategy.