Five Aspects of a "Whole-Person" Wellbeing Initiative

July 10th, 2019

Companies have recognized the connection between employee’s safety, health and wellness for some time. As far back as 1879, when the Cadbury brothers (of Cadbury Chocolate) started work on the first houses for factory foreman and their families, companies have recognized the benefit of treating employees well.

But in the past decade or so the idea of wellbeing at work has become far more holistic, looking at all aspects of employee life, and has moved increasingly from a “nice-to-have” to a “must-do” for companies looking to attract and retain top talent.

So what does a “whole-person” wellbeing program look like and how do we get started? Here are five aspects of successful wellbeing programs that any organization (and their HR function) serious about wellbeing needs to think about. Each of these aspects are explored in depth in our “Wellbeing at Work” premium program, developed in partnership with Virgin Pulse, which kicks off on July 17th.

1. Make the Case

The first step in developing a whole-person wellbeing program in your organization is to make a compelling business case that clearly identifies the problems the program would address and the real benefits that the program would bring. We need to move away from vague arguments based on the idea that wellness is a “nice-to-have”, and instead start using hard data that demonstrates the business necessity of a comprehensive wellbeing program.

Once we’ve successfully made the business case, we need to start looking at the 4 aspects that make up a whole-person wellbeing initiative, starting with physical wellbeing.

2. Physical Wellbeing

Corporate physical wellbeing programs have been around longer than any other sector of wellbeing. We’ve been offering gym memberships and encouraging people to quit smoking for a long time. And the results are, at best, mixed: in many cases, programs are unused or underused, resulting in flimsy data and confusion. We need to create better, stronger, more innovative physical wellbeing programs that have real impact in our employees lives. We should start by taking a wide view, examining how we create habits as individuals and what we as organizations can do to encourage and support healthy habits, and we should try to iterate on what we already have, not pile on more offerings that can lead to employees feeling overwhelmed.

3. Mental Resilience

Mental health, psychological wellbeing, emotional resilience. Whatever you call it, the need to tend to and care for our inner lives is the second cornerstone of a whole-person wellbeing program. Everyone needs a healthy, clear, focused mind to perform well at work. But it’s not just about reducing stress or coping with mental illness; mental resilience efforts also help build employees’ feelings of focus, belonging, purpose, and happiness. We also need to think about programs and services to intervene before stress, isolation, and loneliness evolve into more chronic or detrimental diseases.

4. Financial Fitness

Recent studies have found that many employees, regardless of how much money they make, struggle with planning their financial lives. This can create stress, distraction, and dysfunction. Our whole-person wellbeing program needs to look at how thinking comprehensively about employee financial health is good for everyone’s bottom line. It needs to leverage the amazing new digital tools emerging to help people manage their finances. But we also have to think about how to build a privacy infrastructure that helps employees feel secure about the information they share through financial wellbeing programs.

5. Family and Community

Our lives outside the boundaries of work affect what happens while we’re working. A strong wellbeing program takes this seriously and offers opportunities for employees to be the people they want to be outside of work, so they can be present while they’re here. This means our whole person wellbeing program needs to consider things like extending wellbeing benefits to employees’ families, and offering help in times of stress (death, illness, birth, etc). It also means addressing work-life balance issues by offering on-site childcare and healthcare, and encouraging time off that is truly “off:” no answering emails while waiting in line at the theme park.


To learn more about these principles and others that help you develop a comprehensive wellbeing initiative, check out our Wellbeing a Work Program from The Josh Bersin Academy. Our Wellbeing at Work Program is developed in partnership with Virgin Pulse and starts on July 17th.