A cynic might say that wellness is just another element of the woke agenda. Something influencers and holistic practitioners sell to naive individuals and companies under the guise of self-care and welfare. Certainly, wellness is ripe for commercial exploitation but is there more to it?
Why is wellness important, and what can this mean for employees and employers in the modern work environment?
What is wellness?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), wellness is “complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.
So, wellness isn’t a single thing.
It’s not just feeling happy on Tuesdays and Fridays, and it’s not only about being free of chronic health conditions. Wellness is a state of being. And it’s essential because it impacts every aspect of our lives. It determines how we form and maintain familial and social relationships; whether or not we feel fulfilled in our jobs and day-to-day lives, wellness is how we react to challenges and emotionally demanding situations, and that’s why more people are paying more attention to it.
What are the components of wellness?
There is some disagreement about how many components of wellness there are. Some argue five, and others say ten. We’ve opted to highlight eight of the most common elements.
- Physical — managing illnesses, sleeping well and eating a nutritionally balanced diet.
- Emotional — coping well with challenges and stress and keeping a positive mental attitude.
- Financial — feeling secure with your financial status at that moment
- Spiritual — this is religion for some people, but it can also mean finding a purpose or meaning in life and how we live it.
- Environmental — feeling safe and supported in your working and personal environments and surrounded by stimulating and enjoyable spaces.
- Intellectual — learning new things and staying mentally stimulated throughout life
- Occupational — feeling satisfied, valued and appreciated in what you do for work.
Social — having a support network you can rely on and sharing meaningful relationships with those closest to you.
What’s interesting about this list is how many components are universal to the human experience. Whether you’re working in an office cubicle in Manhatten, organising high-altitude treks in Nepal, or tending a coffee plantation in Costa Rica, there’s a commonality in the things that make us feel better or worse about our lives. Most of us understand the importance of good sleep, earning enough money to survive or thrive, and spending time with friends and family.
What’s also interesting about the list is how easily one component can bleed into another, boosting or reducing another component on the list and altering the balance of what it means and feels like to be well.
For example, suppose someone is struggling to pay their bills. This impacts their financial well-being, of course, but it’s just as likely to affect their physical, emotional, and social well-being. Another example might be someone who hates their job. This affects their occupational wellness and is also likely to impact their intellectual, environmental and spiritual wellbeing.
That’s why it’s essential to look at wellbeing as a complete package: using each component to understand the bigger picture better.
Why is wellness popular now?
Some people see the wellness movement as a sign of declining mental fortitude. Society, they’d argue, is now too delicate even to manage its own feelings. Wellness is certainly more popular now than ever, and one of the biggest reasons for this is because consumers care about it.
One McKinsey study of 7,500 consumers in six countries found that 79% of people believed wellness was essential. Companies and businesses have jumped the trend because the global market is worth around $1.5 trillion. Wellness isn’t all about a genuine drive to improve people’s state of being; it’s also a significant commercial opportunity. The more it’s worth, the more you’ll see its marketing and, possibly, the more you’ll start to care about it too.
Another reason behind its growth is that we now have a better idea of what people need to thrive in society. People want to look and feel better. They want to live longer and stay healthier for longer too. Trend Monitor reports that this reflects an ageing population. We understand so much more now about stress, nutrition, mental health, and their impact on lifestyle and lifespan that it makes sense to use wellbeing as a tool. In an article on Medium, CJ Gotcher writes that “chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease and diabetes are on the rise. Mental illness among adolescents and obesity across all categories has increased….”, so there’s never been a more critical time (or a time with more opportunity) to improve our wellness and wellbeing.
Let’s also not discount changes in society over the last fifty years. It’s now pretty mainstream to be interested in health and wellness. Concern about mental health, sleep patterns, flexible working, and nutrition would have been alien to the average person a few generations before.
Can wellness be bad for us?
The industry built around wellness can undoubtedly be problematic. Harper’s Bazaar wrote an article about how individual aspects of wellbeing are often overlooked in favour of broader statements designed to make products or advice easier to sell or digest for a mass audience. We’ve probably all seen the productivity and lifehacks so popular on social media. Physical health is one area where wellness can be problematic when presented in these broad strokes.
In the article, Harper’s Bazaar wrote how diet and nutritional advice don’t work the same for everyone. Sometimes the advice given is unsupported by the evidence, is incorrect or even dangerous. Wellness can be weaponised, and responsibility is put squarely on the individual's shoulders rather than on the social, cultural, financial, and environmental barriers and restraints they face. Refinery 29 agrees, arguing that too often, wellness and wellbeing are centred on the individual without consideration for the constraints on that person. This could be a financial restraint or an inability to manage physical or mental health. Occupational wellbeing is especially interesting because unless you work for a particularly forward-thinking company or you’re freelance and can pick and choose your projects, many of us have limited control over our wellbeing in the workplace.
Wellness can also be a cover for half-arsed measures in the working environment. For example, you could work for a company that hasn’t hired enough employees or managers to clear the workload. Maybe some of your colleagues are experiencing burnout, and your workload has increased with no sign of decreasing.
Understandably, there’s a dip in workplace wellness when these things happen, either temporarily or more long-term. But rather than addressing the problem by employing more staff, reassigning workloads or reducing client work, imagine that your company announced its commitment to wellbeing by offering one free yoga class each week on a Thursday lunchtime. Yoga is good for stress, right? What if they also put a beanbag in the kitchen so employees can relax during breaks. Sitting near the floor is relaxing, right? Whilst there’s nothing wrong with yoga or beanbags, if they don’t address the deeper issue affecting employment or environmental wellbeing, then they’re pointless. They’ll look good on an internal bulletin and a company’s LinkedIn post (hashtag workplace wellbeing), but this isn't supporting wellness in a helpful way, and employees have every right to be suspicious of and challenge them.
How to increase wellness
As wellness is more than just one thing, it’s difficult to prescribe actionable advice for everyone. What’s helpful is that the above components are also rooted in common sense. Many of us already know what makes us feel well or what could make us happier, healthier or more well-rounded. What’s important is that we understand that wellness is more than just a single component and that we may need to work on several areas simultaneously to achieve a noticeable benefit.
The Wellbeing Project gives several examples of ways to increase wellbeing, including ensuring that you get enough sleep. Sleep is often overlooked but impacts several components, including emotional, physical, and occupational wellbeing. Poor sleep is also linked to chronic and life-threatening illnesses like cancer, cardiovascular disease and dementia. So, what can you do today, this week, this month or year to improve your sleep quality?
Social wellbeing is something else that’s often overlooked. If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, it was how important social support networks and human contact are. Social relationships make us happier, whether laughing with friends, problem-solving at work or catching up with family. We can even benefit from 5-minutes of small talk in the queue at a bus stop. Research has shown that lonely people are more likely to become physically ill than those who aren’t. It can also affect our environmental wellbeing, too.
What’s great about these examples is that they don’t cost anything. We can all try to sleep better, and most of us can pursue friendships and social interactions. And if we can’t do it ourselves, groups and organisations are willing to help, working to combat loneliness, especially amongst vulnerable groups. Wellness may be a trillion-dollar industry, but there is much we can do individually to improve our own wellness.
Energym designs and develops electricity-generating indoor cycling bikes for domestic and commercial use. In 2022, we’re putting our bikes into workplaces to improve employees’ physical and mental well-being. We’re helping companies reduce their carbon footprint and start conversations around sustainability, too.