What's the Future of Workplace Wellness?

It was a rainy morning overlooking the Hudson River in New York City as wellness thought leaders from around the country gathered at Everyday Health in Soho to participate in a roundtable discussion entitled “Re-Defining Workplace Wellness.”

Susie Ellis, Global Wellness Institute Chairman & CEO, and Renee Moorefield, PhD, CEO of Wisdom Works Group hosted the discussion as doctors, scientists, architects, e-learning technologists, human resource executives, medical directors and branding experts revealed valuable insights on why workplace wellness is essential the global economy.

From how workplaces will evolve in the future to how technology impacts wellness in the workplace, there is no question that the speed of change is revolutionizing how we facilitate health and wellbeing around the world.

This is how the esteemed panel of roundtable participants views the future of workplace wellness:

1. How will work and workplaces evolve in the future?

  • Lines blurred between work and home. Largely driven by the Millennial population, employees will continue to work remotely so they can prosper personally. Mindfulness will be required for balanced work-life integration.
  • New focus on home workplace wellness. From ergonomics to taking breaks, training and education is needed on how to create wellness in the home workplace.
  • Continued adoption of holistic wellness. Employers who utilize holistic wellness practices that consider all dimensions of the individual – physical, emotional, spiritual, occupational, social and intellectual – have better opportunities to recruit and retain talent.
  • Increased hyper connectivity. With a growing concern about the chronic use of screens, employers will need more employees who are mindful while using technology.
  • Significance of extended lifecycles. Those in “Emerging Adulthood” (ages 18 – 29) and the “Wisdom Group” (65+) live and work longer, which in turn impacts economics.
  • Redefined power structures. The paternalistic “top down” model is going through a transformation. We will continue to see more diversity, an increased sensitivity to the feminine and new organizational structures emerge, and these changes will create a ripple effect.
  • Transparency and security issues. We will go through a variety of challenging iterations with security, what’s private vs. what’s not and protecting personal information that will all impact how workplaces get re-defined.
  • Emphasis on innovation. As organizations strive to differentiate and excel, there will be a continued spotlight on innovation. The growing power of the “small business innovator” impacts mergers and acquisitions, which will in turn impact economics.
  • Wellness as part of the leadership DNA. Successful organizations of the future will have a leadership team who already has wellness as an integral part of their lives.
  • VOI vs. ROI. As wellness is tracked and measured over time, emphasis will be more on the value on investment (VOI) because this measurement of intangible assets contributes heavily to the health and success of an organization.

2. What’s happening with workplace wellness around the world?

  • More work and higher expectations. In the post-recession economy, there is a “do more with less” mentality that causes larger workloads and a drive for efficiency and productivity. This is showing up in stress and obesity data.
  • Individual challenges are varied and widespread. Major issues reported around the world include stress, unhealthy eating, inactivity, sexual health and tobacco use.
  • Obesity is everywhere. Obesity is a growing problem that is a root cause of many diseases including diabetes and heart disease. This is particularly concerning in populations around the world as they become more developed, including China, India and the Middle East.
  • Environmental issues are critical. Women’s safety and gender equality in the workplace is a concern. Air pollution in China and Russia is a growing challenge with the increase in reports of lung cancer and upper respiratory illness, and smoking is a problem in high-density areas.
  • Types of wellness programs vary by country. In India, there is a focus on financial wellness for women. In England, there is a banker’s group formed around mindfulness. Emotional wellbeing is important in Asian cultures and they call it “resilience” or “thriving.”
  • Wellness is creating retention. This is particularly true in emerging markets where management uses wellness to promote their business.
  • Adoption of a holistic framework. For workplace wellness to prosper, a framework needs to be considered that includes three important parts: program, policy and environmental efforts. This can then be adapted to the local level from national or multi-national corporations.
  • Successful workplace wellness initiatives serve the entire culture. We must focus on important issues not only affecting the organization, but the community and the country at large. Mindful marketing messaging helps to effectively integrate initiatives.
  • Use of indigenous healing modalities. In each country, we must ask: What does the culture already know that we can use? The value lies not only in the practice itself, such as Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine, but in its affordability and accessibility.
  • Technology is revolutionizing the way wellness is integrated. It makes wellness more accessible, scalable and adjustable to the culture.

3. How will technology continue to impact wellness in the workplace?

  • Digital and mobile health is the future. From wireless connectivity to nanotechnology, digital health is going to create a huge change in design, delivery and evaluation of wellness programs.
  • It helps employers identify opportunities. Employers can track employees through technology to measure levels of activity then create specific strategies based upon reports and feedback.
  • Get information in a timely way. A subscription-based primary care model, for example, allows employees to text their doctor directly. This asynchronistic style of information flow helps integrate wellness in the form of preventative care as well as additional support.
  • Digital provides personalization and ease. People will continue to use technology to share their preferences in order to inform their decisions more easily.
  • Technology is a tool to find others in their “tribe.” Technology is a facilitator for face-to-face meetings. This leads to Organic Affinity Groups, which will continue to grow in popularity because they offer support around shared values.
  • Technology can be a trigger for good. On average, people check their smart phones 150 times per day. Using mindfulness, negative cycles can be reversed and harnessed for good.

When asked the question, “What can we do together that we can’t do on our own?” roundtable participants voiced the desire for continued collaboration in order to enhance the wellbeing of millions of people around the world.

To conclude the discussion, participants shared one word to describe their feelings about the future of workplace wellness. Recurring sentiments included “inspired,” “energized” and “hopeful.”

As leaders, we must make the most of our own level of health and wellbeing so we can positively impact our organizations and the world we live in. Wellness begins from within.

And as Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”