The Future of Well-Being in a Tech-Saturated World
A plurality of experts say digital life will continue to expand people’s boundaries and opportunities in the coming decade and that the world to come will produce more help than harm in people’s lives. Still, nearly a third think that digital life will be mostly harmful to people’s health, mental fitness and happiness. Most say there are solutions. Read more on pewresearch.org
2019 PwC Financial Wellness Report
This year's survey results show more employees than ever admitting to being stressed about their finances. Cash flow and debt challenges continue to plague employees, inhibiting their ability to save sufficiently. Despite continued low unemployment and nominal wage growth, fewer employees feel their compensation is keeping up with the cost of living. We believe that employers will need to take a hard look at their programs to determine whether they effectively address the variety of financial challenges their employees are facing, while motivating employees to improve overall financial well-being and retirement readiness. Read more on pwc.com
The National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC), a nonprofit affiliate of the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), announces the American Medical Association's (AMA) approval of new Category III Current Procedural Terminology (CPT®) Codes for health and well-being coaching effective January 1, 2020. Read more on 24-7pressrelease.com
7 Ways To Connect With Your Community And Embrace The New Season!
As the weather changes, the instinct for many of us is to go inside. We start to spend more time in our home, curling up with a good book or movie. And while that can provide some much-needed rest and relaxation, it’s important to resist the urge to isolate yourself, which can lead to loneliness and even anxiety and depression. Here are 7 ways to connect with your community and embrace the new season! Read more on givhero.com
Space Management and the Nitty Gritty of Inclusive Placemaking
Great public spaces are not simply made once. Even beyond the more tangible arts of public space design and programming, public spaces are made and remade again and again in the everyday management decisions made around maintenance, public safety, social services, programming, furnishings, and so much more. Read more on pps.org
Gallup Creates Global Happiness Center
Gallup measures happiness in multiple ways on a global scale, partnering with the United Nations for the World Happiness Report and sharing insights on people's day-to-day emotional experiences through the Gallup Global Emotions report every year. Read more on news.gallup.com
This is the fifth post in a six-part series focusing on the Six Dimensions of Wellness: emotional, occupational, physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual. Each post features a different dimension of wellness. This post will discuss intellectual wellness and the importance of pursuing activities that stretch your mind, expand your skills, and reinforce your memory.
Ever have moments when you feel like Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz—the lovable straw man who longs for a brain? You meet someone at a conference and 10 minutes later can’t recall their name. The CEO asks you to clarify a detail from last month’s meeting, and you can’t think of a response. You’re not alone. Remember the time your team was in “problem-solving” mode for a work project and no one could come up with a creative idea? Brain freeze.
Memory lapses don’t mean someone is in the early stages of dementia. Everyone has moments when they struggle with complex mental processing or can’t recall an important fact. The goal, though, is to minimize cognitive issues by promoting intellectual wellness. Intellectual wellness enables a person to think quickly on their feet, solve problems creatively, and remember key facts from yesterday’s meeting—or from a class they took 20 years ago. And it’s essential for a thriving, innovative workforce. Intellectual wellness powers sound decision-making, expands technological borders, enhances creativity, protects memory, stimulates curiosity, and assists in learning new skills. The result? Each individual within a workforce can contribute in meaningful ways, enrich the lives of others, and feel good about themselves and their co-workers.
The good news is that significant cognitive decline isn’t inevitable. To understand how to delay decay, it helps to understand a little about the brain. The first thing to remember is that brains are always changing. It’s called “brain plasticity.” Brains are just like the rest of the body. Exercise a brain and it gets stronger. Practice a skill and it gets better. Yes, just about the time brains reach maturity and top performance, they start to decline. It’s also true that brains take longer to mature than some might think. In fact, a person might be “adulting” for only two years before the mental slide begins. Brain development continues well into the mid-20s. That’s one reason why psychologists say adolescence extends to age 25.
The speed at which brains are able to solve puzzles, reasoning skills, and other cognitions factors start to slow at age 27, according to a seven-year study. The body gradually makes less of the chemicals brain cells (called neurons) need to work at peak performance, and they start to shrink. Over the next two decades, the gradual decline in reason, comprehension, and recall starts to be noticeable. By the mid-40s, individuals might have a few “brain fog” moments, but still be able to multitask. In the 50s and 60s, it will take a little more effort to learn new processes and multitasking might be a challenge—but both are still achievable. And if you work with a company that has an aging workforce, you can feel good knowing that they have strong creativity, wisdom, experience, and ability to understand how things work. In the absence of genetic predispositions, brain health can remain strong through the 70s and beyond when employees practice strategies for intellectual wellness. Want to keep your workforce healthy? Here are four ways to stimulate their mental wellbeing.
1. Walking breaks are good for brains
Brains require exercise and attention to stay in peak condition as long as possible. Regular physical activity improves circulation and helps prevent some of the conditions that contribute to brain deterioration, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, inflammation, obesity, and diabetes. Both meta-analysis and systematic review studies show that regular exercise helps keep brains functioning strong.
One study found that standing, walking, and cycling all improved cognitive performance when compared to sitting. Encourage employees to sit less throughout the work day to keep their brains fresh.
Stock footbags (aka Hacky Sacks) in break rooms to encourage physical movement
Remind employees to step away from their desks for a minute of stretching every hour or so
Organize team play for exergames like Pokemon GO, Beat Saber, and Zombies, Run!
Plan active employee socials, such as a kickball tournament during your company picnic and dancing at holiday parties
Remind employees that any time is a good time to stand up and move—even when they aren’t at work
Offer quarterly prizes for individuals who meet the minimum physical activity recommendations
Now is the time for employees to adopt active lifestyles for current and future brain health. The Nurses’ Health Study found that the more women walked in their 50s and 60s, the better their memory in their 70s. Another study involving more than 2,257 elderly men found that those walking less than a ¼-mile each day were nearly twice as likely to develop dementia as men who walked at least 2 miles a week. Walking just 90 minutes each week can make a difference; more is better.
2. MIND the food choices
Eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats is good for overall health and happiness. It’s also essential for mind-power. The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND diet) protects neurons and significantly slows cognitive decline. The MIND diet emphasizes plenty of whole foods, rather than processed. Just telling employees the health benefits of eating more cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower), green leafy veggies, beans, and nuts might not be very effective. Here are some ways to encourage a MINDful diet:
Schedule weekly fruit, veggie, and bean potlucks
Set out nuts, berries, and cruciferous veggies for employees to snack on
Use posters and emails to explain the brain benefits of a healthy diet
Require office party meals to be healthy, for example, baked salmon or grilled chicken with lots of green leafy veggies
Start an office garden (e.g., tomatoes, peppers, lettuce)
Create a shared cookbook filled with healthy recipes
Gift clients and employees with healthy food baskets or fruit bouquets for special occasions or to show appreciation
Apparently neurons get tired too. According to a study by UCLA – Los Angeles Health Sciences, sleep deprivation causes brain cells to respond slowly and cause mental lapses on par with excessive drinking. Sleeping 7-9 hours each night is more than a luxury. It’s essential for intellectual wellness and mental health. Poor sleep quality and difficulty falling asleep seems to age brains more quickly. Stress, multitasking, and information overload can also negatively impact reasoning and problem-solving.
Urge employees to take unplugged vacations – no checking work email!
Reinforce your company policy about work breaks and lunch breaks
Check with employees often to be sure they are not burdened with unnecessary tasks; for example, lines of communication and areas of responsibility should be clearly delineated
Volunteer together for a cause employees care about
4. Challenge individuals to keep their minds active
Work is often stimulating and informative. And that’s good for brain health—as long as it doesn’t result in an imbalanced life. The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) recommends engaging in brain-stimulating activities for a well-rounded mental exercise. Math equation speed drills will improve mental processing speeds, but won’t necessarily improve episodic memory (e.g., that detail from last month’s meeting that the CEO wants to know about). It takes a variety of mental challenges.
Provide reimbursements for college course tuition
Hold juggling classes or other activities that increase attention and spatial skills
Challenge each other to memorize lists
Post a new vocabulary word on a white board each week
Put Sudoku and crossword puzzles on a white board in the lunch room so everyone can work on them
Encourage employees to keep trying new things – like the Train Your Brain Health Challenge®
A basic quiz for employees to see how much they know about habits for a healthy brain
Tips on how to boost brain health
Tricks to help them improve memory
A calendar to track brain workouts each day
This is the fifth post in a six-part series focusing on the Six Dimensions of Wellness: emotional, occupational, physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual. Below are links to the other published in this series.
Wellsource, Inc. has been a premier provider of evidence-based Health Risk Assessments and Self-Management Tools for four decades, making us one of the longest-serving wellness companies in the industry. With a strong reputation for scientific research and validity, we offer an innovative family of products that empower wellness companies, health plans, ACOs, and healthcare providers to inspire healthy lifestyles, prevent disease, and reduce unnecessary healthcare costs. Our assessments connect lifestyle choices with healthy outcomes, measure readiness to change for maximum results, and drive informed decisions with actionable data.
Ahlskog, J. Eric, et al. “Physical exercise as a preventive or disease-modifying treatment of dementia and brain aging.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 86(9): 876-884, Sep. 2011, doi.org/10.4065/mcp.2011.0252.
Loprinzi, Paul D., et al. “The effects of exercise on memory function among young to middle-aged adults: systematic review and recommendations for future research.” American Journal of Health Promotion, 32(3): 691-704, 1 Mar. 2018, doi.org/10.1177/0890117117737409.
Mullane, Sarah L., et al. “Acute effects on cognitive performance following bouts of standing and light-intensity physical activity in a simulated workplace environment.” Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, vol. 20, no. 5, pp. 489–493., doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2016.09.015.
Lieberman, Debra A., et al. “The Power of Play: Innovations in Getting Active Summit 2011.” Circulation, vol. 123, no. 21, 2011, pp. 2507–2516., doi:10.1161/cir.0b013e318219661d.
Weuve, Jennifer, et al. “Physical activity, including walking, and cognitive function in older women.” JAMA, vol. 292, no. 12, pp. 1454–1461., doi:10.1001/jama.292.12.1454.
Abbott, Robert D., et al. “Walking and dementia in physically capable elderly men.” JAMA, vol. 292, no. 12, pp. 1447–1453., doi:10.1001/jama.292.12.1447.
Global Council on Brain Health. “The Brain and Social Connectedness: GCBH Recommendations on Social Engagement and Brain Health.” A collaborative from AARP Policy, Research and International Affairs; AARP Integrated Communications and Marketing; and Age UK, 2017, doi:10.26419/pia.00015.001.
Wellsource 2018 Data Review. “Happiness, Habits, and Health: Measuring mental health with health risk assessment data,” Wellsource, 2019, go.wellsource.com/2018-data-review.
Posted By Samantha Diedrich,
Friday, June 21, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, June 18, 2019
Don't miss Samantha Diedrich's one-minute video on the importance of "practicing what we preach"!
Samantha Diedrich, MS, CWP, is a Certified Wellness Practitioner and Health Coach with Aspirus Business Health - Wellness. She is passionate about engaging business partners and clients to improve their lives through health and happiness. She is a member of the National Wellness Institute's Emerging Wellness Professional task force.
Posted By Linda Howard,
Friday, April 5, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, May 7, 2019
Does Your Worksite Wellness Program Measure Up?
If your worksite wellness program were to be measured against multicultural competency standards, would it meet, exceed, or fall short of those standards? As you will see, ensuring that your program considers the attributes and demographics that make up culture is mandated by a number of federal laws, renders a greater return on your investment, and serves the public good.
When I speak of multicultural competency as it relates to worksite wellness, I am looking at the competency of those who design and implement the program as well as the program’s overall effectiveness in serving people of different cultures.
Multicultural competency requires the individuals designing or implementing the program to:
Be aware of their own cultural worldviews
Possess knowledge of different cultural practices and worldviews
Examine their own attitudes toward cultural differences
Explore the attitudes of those they serve toward cultural differences
Have the interpersonal skills necessary to communicate and effectively interact with people across cultures
Many people confuse "diversity" with "multicultural competency." They mistakenly use the terms interchangeably. While diversity is a good starting point, diversity does not equal multicultural competency. Nor do you achieve diversity by varying your team considering race alone. Cultural competency encompasses more than race. Culture includes such things as religion, gender, socioeconomic status, geographic location, language, sexual orientation, and education. Having a diverse group of people at the table is an excellent way to learn about other cultures; it is a way to begin to meet the second requirement on the list above (to possess knowledge of different cultural practices and worldviews).
Multicultural competency is a skill that must be learned. The answer as to whether your team has multicultural competency skills will largely turn on the answer to the following question: has your team had multicultural competency training? If the answer is no, then your team is probably lacking some element of multicultural competency.
To determine if your program measures up, I say the proof is in the pudding. It’s not just about your intentions; it’s also about results. Evaluate your program to see its effectiveness across cultural lines and whether it is in compliance with laws designed to eliminate discrimination and promote inclusion in wellness programs.
Why Should Worksite Wellness Programs Focus on Multicultural Competency?
Why should you care if your program measures up by Multicultural Competency standards? Simply put, because the law says you must and because you should!
Why Should Your Worksite Wellness Programs Focus on Multicultural Competency? Because They Should
You should be concerned about the effectiveness of your wellness program across cultures for the good of it – the social good, as a good business practice, and because programs that lack multicultural competency simply "ain’t good."
Social Good The CDC predicts that worksite wellness programs will become part of a national public health strategy to address an increase in chronic diseases that could cost the U.S. healthcare system an estimated $4.2 trillion annually by 2023. Chronic diseases linked to health disparities are connected to, among other things, variances in cultural health norms, healthcare literacy, and provider delivery systems, as well as the provider’s culture and multicultural competency. Worksite wellness programs can only achieve a notable impact on national public health by reducing chronic diseases if those programs effectively reach groups that are most impacted by chronic disease. Multicultural competency is a core ingredient in reaching those suffering with chronic diseases.
Smart Business Decision
According to the March 2011 Thomson Reuters Workforce Wellness Index, unhealthy behaviors of employees in the U.S. cost employers an average of $670 per employee annually. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) states that there is evidence indicating that healthier lifestyles among employees are a plus for employers, because "[e]mployees who pursue healthful behaviors have fewer illnesses and injuries than other workers, and they recover from illnesses and injuries faster.”1 Wellness programs that encourage healthy behavior can therefore reduce sick days and workplace injuries.
Racial and ethnic health disparities add another layer to the correlation of employee health and business productivity. Many employers are generally unaware of racial and ethnic health disparities as a business issue.2 It is important to recognize that many chronic diseases related to health disparities, such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and obesity, greatly effect productivity and absenteeism. It follows that reducing or better managing of chronic diseases improves productivity and absenteeism. Since ethnic minorities and the poor have higher incidences of chronic diseases, reaching these populations (which is achieved with culturally competent programs and coaches) is critical to improving productivity numbers and reducing absentee numbers.
Lastly, studies have shown that effective wellness programs reduce the cost of insurance. Therefore, not only is there social good in positively impacting people’s wellbeing and reducing the stress on the U.S. healthcare system, there is a good business case for effective wellness programs that speak to a cross section of the population. A multiculturally competent wellness program will only serve to increase productivity while further reducing insurance cost and other expenses related to absenteeism. The business case is simply that it will improve the bottom line.
Standardized Programs Don’t Work
Racial and ethnic minorities comprise approximately 1/3 of the U.S. population and are projected to equal 54% by 2050.3 Plus, as described above the workforce today is diverse in ways that go beyond race and ethnicity (religion, age, sexual orientation, creed, geographic, etc.). Differences affect health norms, access to care, environmental health factors, desired providers, and wellness journey preference. A program that fails to factor in culture will fail to meet the preferences and needs of large segments of the workforce, likely resulting in less program participation or less than optimum results.
Why Should Your Worksite Wellness Programs Focus on Multicultural Competency? Because They Must
Worksite wellness programs must comply with numerous federal laws requiring that employers recognize disparities as well as genetics and physical and mental limitations when designing programs to avoid discriminatory behavior and impact.
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act promotes and funds prevention and wellness in the interest of public health. The Affordable Care Act explicitly sets out to reduce health disparities and improve the health of racially and ethnically diverse populations.
The Act was passed by Congress and then signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010. It is comprised of the Affordable Health Care for America Act, the Patient Protection Act, and the healthcare-related sections of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act and the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act. It also amends several other federal laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974, and the Health and Public Services Act. Additionally, it reauthorizes The Indian Health Care Improvement Act (ICHIA).
The Act prohibits discrimination in wellness programs that are group health plans. It is very prescriptive as to standards and requirements that must be met to avoid discrimination in these wellness programs.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects people who are 40 or older from discrimination because of their ages with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training.
An example of a practice that could cause issues with ADEA is if the wellness program has a mandatory program that requires employees to meet a certain health standard which does not consider the age of the employee.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 Title I of the ADA is a federal civil rights law that prohibits an employer from discriminating against an individual with a disability in connection with, among other things, employee compensation and benefits. Title I of the ADA also generally restricts employers from obtaining medical information from applicants and employees. Additionally, Title I of the ADA prohibits employers from denying employees access to wellness programs on the basis of disability and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations (adjustments or modifications) that allow employees with disabilities to participate in wellness programs and also to keep any medical information gathered as part of the wellness program confidential.
Note: The ADA does not, however, prohibit employers from inquiring about employees' health or doing medical examinations as part of a voluntary employee health program as defined by the ADA. For guidance on designing a wellness program that is ADA compliant, read “Are You Up-to-Date on ADA and Wellness Programs Compliance? - EEOC's Final Rule on Employer Wellness Programs and the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 makes it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability in federal agencies, in programs that receive federal financial assistance, or in any federal employment, including the employment practices of federal contractors. It also requires that employers covered by the Act make reasonable accommodations for the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer's business.
An example of how a program could violate the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act is when an employer has a program that rewards employees for taking so many steps a day or walking a certain number of miles a week. An employee with a disability that limits his or her ability to walk could not participate and therefore cannot earn an award in the program (the additional compensation). To remain in good standing, the program would need to provide alternative methods for the disabled employees to earn the additional compensation.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) Title VII makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. It generally applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including federal, state, and local governments. It considers disparate impacts. Disparate impact is when your practices or program adversely affect one group of people with a protected characteristic more than another although rules are neutral. Certain races are at risk of drastically higher rates of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Tethering premium savings to what the program has defined as a "healthy level" of these measurements could be seen as discriminatory under Title VII.
The Act also requires that employers reasonably accommodate applicants' and employees' sincerely held religious practices, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer's business. A violation on religious grounds could arise if an employer requires employees to submit to a health screening to qualify for savings on their premiums and an employee refuses to submit to the screening based on religious beliefs.
The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) GINA is a federal law that forbids discrimination on the basis of genetic information in health insurance and any aspect of employment. It has two parts, Title I and Title II. Title I prohibits discrimination based on genetic information by health insurers and group health plans. Title II prohibits discrimination based on genetic information in employment. Genetic information includes information about an individual's genetic tests and the genetic tests of an individual's family members, as well as information about any disease, disorder, or condition of an individual's family members (i.e. an individual's family medical history). For guidance on designing a wellness program that is GINA compliant, read “Are You Up-to-Date on GINA and Wellness Programs Compliance? - EEOC's Final Rule on Employer Wellness Programs and GINA.”
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was first enacted to address the problem of the uninsured. HIPAA includes provisions that limit exclusions for preexisting conditions under group health plans. It prohibits group health plans and health insurance issuers from discriminating against enrollees and beneficiaries with respect to eligibility, benefits, and premiums based on a health factor, with some limited exceptions.
A wellness program that is a part of an employer-based health plan could face problems under HIPAA if the wellness program is not "reasonably designed" to promote health or prevent disease, or if the full reward is not available to all similarly situated individuals.
State Laws Be sure to look at your state laws as well the federal laws mentioned about. For example, some state laws prohibit an employer from penalizing an employee from engaging in lawful conduct outside of work4 including smoking5, drinking, and eating fast food. Restrictions related to smoking may not comply with those state regulations.
4 Examples of states that protect employees from being fired for legal off-duty activity include California, Colorado, New York, North Carolina, and North Dakota.
5 There are a host of states that specifically protect tobacco use, including Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Linda Howard, JD, CHC (7-2013) is the CEO of Alturnative, a healthcare compliance consultancy that helps build people-forward organizations and establish compliance, ethics, and quality standards for the health, fitness, and wellness industries. She is a multi-faceted compliance and ethics consultant with over 30 years of combined experience in law, compliance, and healthcare operations and a passion for wellness, and a believer in social responsibility. Her prior professional titles include Chief Compliance Intellect Officer; Associate Vice President, Business Ethics; Privacy Officer; Associate (Attorney); and Senior In-House Counsel.
Posted By Ruth Kelly,
Thursday, March 14, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, May 7, 2019
Scarlett O’Hara, the leading protagonist of Margaret Mitchells’s epic Gone with the Wind, was arguably one of the most iconic characters of American cinema. She was charming, manipulative, vain, spoiled and captivating. However, swept up in the backdrop of the American Civil War this Southern belle discovered attributes and qualities she never knew she possessed. She exhibited fortitude, ingenuity, determination, courage, tenacity, and above all resilience – the ability to bounce back and keep going in the face of adversity. Her steely spirit was epitomised in her “As God is my witness …” monologue where fist clenched she vows that life will not break her and that she will survive at any cost. The theme of resilience is central to the development of this feisty heroine and it is a concept that has gathered significant momentum in recent years as a means of learning and recovering from life’s challenges and setbacks – our mental and emotional elasticity.
What is Resilience?
The Harvard Business review defines resilience as “the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity” - including trauma or significant stress. Resilience is not only the ability to weather a difficulty, but also to emerge from it stronger and better prepared to face new challenges in the future. In the corporate world, resilience has gained significant impetus because business leaders increasingly recognize that resilient employees are more likely to recover quicker from an adverse situation and that resilient teams build competitive advantage and growth opportunities. At its core, resilience means "bouncing back" from difficult experiences and finding the intrinsic drive, motivation, and wherewithal to achieve your goals in turbulent times. In other words, “resilience is the capacity to adapt successfully in the presence of risk and adversity” (Jensen and Fraser, 2005).
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2015) defines individual resilience as the ability to withstand, adapt to, and recover from adversity and stress. In essence, resilience implies maintaining or returning to one’s original state of mental health or well-being or achieving a more mature and developed state of well-being through the employment of effective strategies and techniques. Perhaps resilience is really the capacity to weather difficulties and embrace the changes that adversity demands – a deeper wisdom forged through complex and uncertain times. As K. Neycha Herford founder and CEO of The ReMixed Life™ states “resilience is an unwavering rebelliousness to bet on the best while navigating the worst”.
What constitutes resilience?
The positive psychology movement founded by Professor Martin Seligman is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The Penn Resilience Program offered by the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania includes a set of 21 empirically validated skills that build cognitive and emotional fitness and strength of character. Fundamentally, the Program identifies a number of elements that are integral to building resilience:
Self-Awareness – the ability to pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, behaviours and physiological reactions.
Self-Regulation – the ability to change one’s thoughts, emotions, behaviours and physiology in the service of a desired outcome.
Mental Agility – the ability to look at situations from multiple perspectives and to think creatively and flexibly.
Strengths of Character – the ability to use one’s top strengths to engage authentically, overcome challenges and create a life aligned with one’s values.
Connection – the ability to build and maintain strong, trusting relationships.
Optimism – the ability to notice and expect the positive, to focus on what you can control and to take purposeful action.
Derek Mowbray of the Wellbeing and Performance Group UK proposes a ‘Resilient and Adaptive Person Development Framework’ with 3 spheres of personal control:
Over oneself – self-awareness, self-confidence, vision and determination.
Someone who is self-aware is more likely to empathize with others and understand what motivates them.
Over responses to events – problem solving skills, organization.
This control is rooted in the ability to negotiate effectively with others and to persuade others to consider alternate viewpoints and approaches.
Over responses to people – relationships and personal interactions.
This control is rooted in organizing oneself in chaotic situations. Someone who has the ability to organize themselves in chaotic situations also has the ability to be flexible and adaptable.
Mowbray identifies the following characteristics of resilient people:
Enthusiasm for life and work.
Capacity to see the future and “go for it”.
Capacity to cope with threatening events and distress.
Attitude towards life and work that is positive, full of energy and determination.
Capacity to see the options, and to adapt effectively to meet and overcome challenges.
George A. Bonanno (professor of clinical psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, U.S.A) in an interview in The New Yorker believes that one of the central elements of resilience is perception. In other words, it depends on whether we view an event as traumatic or as an opportunity to learn and grow. This is subjective and relative i.e. what one person might experience as overwhelming for another might be an opportunity to extend their personal boundaries and develop as an individual.
It is agreed throughout the literature on resilience that it is a multi-dimensional concept. However, current research identifies a number of factors that are consistent with resilient people (Brown, 2010):
They are resourceful and have good problem solving skills.
They are more likely to seek help.
They believe that they can do something that will help them to manage their feelings and to cope.
They have social support available to them.
They are connected with others, such as family and friends.
They are flexible, adapt to new and different situations and learn from experience, including mistakes and triumphs.
Women and Resilience
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” - Maya Angelou
Are women more resilient than men? In Gone with The Wind, Margaret Mitchell created a leading female character whose sheer tenacity and strength triumphed over unimaginable adversity. She epitomized a resilient spirit which resonated with Rhett Butler’s words to her that “hardships make or break people”. Scarlett had more than just strength of character and survival instinct though. She was strategic and not afraid to employ creativity and tactics to achieve her goals. Even though GWTW is fiction, research suggests that when the going gets tough women are in fact more resilient than men. In an article published in Nature (January 2019) researchers at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense studied seven populations that endured famine, epidemics or enslavement. The researchers found that during crises, girls and women lived longer than their male counterparts. Research by Andy Scharlach, a UC Berkeley professor of aging and director of its Center for the Advanced Study of Aging Services has shown that women generally retain far more resilience as they age than men. One of the reasons, Scharlach suggests, is that women develop richer social networks than men that are not as work bound, and not as sports bound, or activity bound.
Between 2009 and 2010 Accenture conducted a global online and telephone survey of 524 senior executives from medium to large companies in 20 countries. Women Leaders and Resilience: Perspectives from the C-Suite sought to identify the value executives give to resilience as a senior primary quality of leadership. These leaders view women as slightly more resilient than men ‒ 53% reported women are very to extremely resilient ‒ 51% reported men are very to extremely resilient.
Another study conducted in the UK Tough at the Top: new rules of resilience for women’s leadership success (2014) found that although both women and men define resilience in similar terms, they talk about the experience of resilience at work in different ways. Women, more often than men, talk about vulnerability when they describe what it means to be resilient. Also, more women than men equate resilience with the need to suppress their emotions at work. This suggests that women look at their likely career path and assume they will have to increasingly ‘toughen up’ to get to the top. Simply acknowledging that this is happening and encouraging senior women and men to speak out about their own experiences of vulnerability in climbing the corporate ladder could go a long way to countering this view.
However, the assumption that toughness alone will propel a woman’s professional rise is erroneous. True resilience means being strategic as well as strong. It means showing ingenuity and imagination in overcoming challenges as well as demonstrating enough self-belief to look at setbacks not as failures but as opportunities to learn from the mistakes and grow. Perhaps, as many sociologists believe, women have had to fight harder for respect and equality so therefore had no alternative but to develop resilience. Also, it has been more acceptable for women to exhibit emotional vulnerability while men traditionally have had to portray a ‘stiff upper lip’. Perhaps straddling vulnerability and strength simultaneously builds empathy and compassion in women – essential building blocks of resilience. As the poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou writes in her essay ‘In All Ways a Woman’ women must be ‘tough’ as well as ‘tender’ and “the woman warrior who is armed with wit and courage will be among the first to celebrate victory”.
The good news is that the capacity for resilience is not a static trait in either men or women but rather it is a skill that can be developed and mastered. The following are suggestions for putting resilience to work for you.
Thoughts are Things - sometimes our deep held beliefs and thinking patterns can be counter-productive. Listen to your thoughts and identify the language you use with yourself when faced with a challenge. Is your self-talk supportive or critical? Is it limiting or empowering? By beginning to understand the power of your thoughts you begin to understand how they create not just your present experiences but also your future ones.
View Setbacks as Opportunities for Growth – this might sound a little Pollyanna-esque. However, by seeing the positive in our failures and setbacks, by looking at what we did incorrectly and what we might do differently in the future and by being willing to learn, grow and develop we avoid the futility of self-flagellation and instead empower ourselves to move towards the future with fresh knowledge, perspective and confidence. Patience and tolerance, especially of ourselves, is key.
Social Scaffolding – surround yourself with people who support and care for you. By building strong social networks you are cocooning yourself in a web of sustenance and encouragement which will ultimately assist you in weathering life’s storms.
It’s OK not to be OK – sometimes when the going gets tough we need to be frank with ourselves about how we’re feeling, to honestly assess and appraise the situation and to work out the best strategy for moving forward. Owning and addressing our vulnerabilities is a sign of strength, not weakness. This applies to both men and women.
Accountability and Responsibility – taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions is key to resilience. Blaming others for our failures or handing over our power by ‘allowing’ others to make us feel bad about ourselves in disempowering and emotionally draining. Good self-esteem and self-belief help build a certain imperviousness to the opinions, good and bad, of others.
Change is inevitable - Charles Darwin said that the species most likely to survive is not the most intelligent or the strongest but ‘the one that is most adaptable to change’. By learning to be flexible and to embrace the complexities and uncertainties of life we are more inclined to ‘flow’ with the process of life.
Rest and Recharge – resilience does not equate with endurance. It might be a cliché but there is truth in the old adage ‘work, rest and play’. Get the balance right.
Resilience in the Workplace
Mindfulness – is gaining increasing impetus and recognition as a means of addressing a number of stress and cognitive related issues in the work place. Mindfulness has been found to boost judgement accuracy and insight related problem solving (Kiken, 2011) and enhances cognitive flexibility (Malinowski and Moore, 2009). MRI scans show that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the brain’s “fight or flight” centre, the amygdala – which initiates the stress response, appears to shrink.
Response flexibility – Budgets are tight, projects get negative feedback and clients are challenging – all these things are enough to test anyone. It is important to cultivate enough self-awareness to be able to respond to rather than react to situations or people. The ability to pause, reflect, deliberate, consider possibilities and choose wisely is critical to building workplace resilience.
Innovate and set new goals – personal innovation means investing in and developing your own knowledge and talents. Continuing Personal Development courses are a productive way of expanding your knowledge base. Night classes are a creative way to develop your hobbies and personal interests and to build a social network. Always set new personal goals or milestones.
Work-Life Balance – it is critical to balance work demands with your personal life. Seeing family and friends, socialising, travelling, exercising etc. - doing the things that enrich you is essential to a happy and fulfilling life.
Good work networks – what supports are available in your workplace? Are you in a position to make positive changes in your team or organistion? Here are some ideas of what you can do:
Encourage management to make a commitment to mental health and wellness initiatives to create a healthy psychological environment.
Simple ergonomics such as creating a healthy workspace i.e. lighting, suitable workstations and chairs etc. as well as taking breaks to stretch your body and fingers can all make a huge difference to wellbeing.
Building good social networks at work i.e. team building days, nights out etc. Positive relationships at work boost employee engagement and productivity.
Healthy eating options at work. Lunch time yoga classes or even donning the trainers and going for a walk are all positive actions to boost workplace resilience.
In summary, resilience is a multi-modal dynamic concept which embraces physiological and psychological elements. Resilience means more than just ‘bouncing back’ – it means strategically adapting to and responding to change, adversity and uncertainty and emerging from the process with new perspective, strength and insight. One of the certainties of life is uncertainty and there will inevitably be obstacles and setbacks to challenge even the most resolute of us. However, by deliberately developing resilience we can equip ourselves with essential skills, approaches, and mindsets to navigate even the most turbulent times. The important thing is to keep going to remember that ‘after all, tomorrow is another day’.
R – reflect on your values. E – everybody has setbacks. S – stay connected. I – invest in yourself personally and professionally. L – learn healthy and supportive habits and behaviours. I – identify your strengths, talents and skills. E – engage with tolerance and compassion. N – nurture mind, body and spirit. C – cultivate a positive expectant mindset. E – express gratitude.
Brown, B. (2010) The Gifts of Imperfection, Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life, Hazelden, Center City, Minnesota.
Jensen, J.M. and Fraser, M.W. (2005) A Risk and Resilience Framework for Child, Youth, and Family Policy, in Social Policy for Children and Families: A Risk and Resilience Perspective, Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks, CA.
Kiken, L.G (2011) Mindfulness Increases Positive Judgments and Reduces Negativity Bias, Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2(4), 425-431.
Moore, A., & Malinowski, P. (2009). Meditation, Mindfulness and Cognitive Flexibility, Consciousness and Cognition, 18, 176-186.
Strengthening Personal Resilience – a programme to improve performance Derek Mowbray July 2012 Management Advisory Service www.mas.org.uk
Ruth Kelly is a researcher and nutrition and wellness adviser. She holds a Ph.D in science from the University of Limerick, Ireland, as well as advanced diplomas in Nutrition and Weight Management and Emotional Freedom Techniques. She is a qualified Stress Management Coach and is currently self-employed at Essence Wellness which offers a range of services to private clients as well as the corporate sector including Corporate Wellness Programmes which cover nutrition, stress management and resilience building. She is a regular blogger to wellness websites in Ireland and is also a fully qualified Bio-energy therapist and Reiki Master.
Posted By Samantha Diedrich,
Friday, March 8, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, May 7, 2019
The way to make yourself more marketable is probably not what you think. Check out this short video from Emerging Wellness Professional Samantha Diedrich to find out, and sign up for our newsletter to receive EWP updates to your inbox!
Samantha Diedrich, MS, CWP, is a Certified Wellness Practitioner and Health Coach with Aspirus Business Health - Wellness. She is passionate about engaging business partners and clients to improve their lives through health and happiness. She is a member of the National Wellness Institute's Emerging Wellness Professional task force.
The goal of the task force is to motivate emerging wellness professionals to become active members of the organization and to support the EWP Awardee’s efforts to engage and empower the wellness leaders of tomorrow.
If you want to hear more on this topic Sam will be a breakout session presenter at the 2019 National Wellness Conference with the session titled, "Emerging Wellness Professionals: Growing your KSAs to be Marketable in a Competitive Profession" #EWP #2019NWC
Posted By Sabrina Walasek,
Wednesday, February 20, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, May 7, 2019
Some people are steady-as-they-go types. I’m prone to trying new things. And the power of making my own choices somehow made it all feel less risky—until the day it didn’t.
Twice, my husband and I left our jobs and home to spend a year traversing the globe. In 2010, we moved to Colombia and ended up spending four amazing years there. And when we returned to the States, I jumped right back into the flow, working on a creative project with awesome people. Life was good!
Then, that company suddenly closed shop.
I decided to pursue a personal passion instead. I tried several strategies to gain entry into my desired industry, but I was met with obstacles each time. My previously sure-footed faith failed me. Life didn’t flow; it wobbled. I became tentative, questioning every decision I made.
According to the Cleveland Clinic experiencing big changes or too many within a brief time period can create a perception that we are not in control of important events. This perception contributes to low self-esteem and even the development of anxiety or depression.
When a single change throws us off kilter, it often doesn’t take us long to regain “control.” But when we’re knocked off our foundation, it takes patience and self-compassion to truly right ourselves.
Balance can be restored. Here are the steps I took.
Changing Thoughts Changes Reality
First, I paid attention to my thoughts and words. Yep, I was brooding on my “failed” career pivot and being really hard on myself. There is a saying, “Where attention goes, energy flows.” I was succumbing to negativity and dismissing the greatness in my life.
I noticed one word in particular was warping my reality: “should.” The negative power of that word was subversively affecting my sense of self:
I should be making more money (I’m a loser).
I should have a larger network (I’m unimportant).
I should be more dedicated (I’m lazy).
I should be more skilled (I’m irrelevant).
I should stick to what I know (I’m foolish).
According to Psychology Today, the word “should” undermines our ability to do what we want to do and causes a host of negative feelings: blame, guilt, anxiety, stress.
Using “should” with ourselves is disempowering.
Using “should” toward others provokes anger and resentment.
Once I realized all this, I vowed to stop using the word “should” — which was harder than I thought. It’s surprising how often “should” is used in conversation.
To break this “bad” habit, I started replacing “should” with “could” or “want to.” For example, “I should network more” feels obligatory. If I don’t, I fail. (Plus, it goads me into rebellion.) Changing to, “I could network more” means it’s my choice. This small adjustment helped me realize I was in control of much of my daily experience.
Notice how often you use “should.” What reaction does it conjure? Would it feel different if you tried “could” or “want to” instead?
Another strategy was to stop taking things personally and instead get curious. Instead of jumping to conclusions, I took the time to sit with my life’s roadblocks to gain perspective. I got quiet, took deep breaths, and asked myself: “What if this struggle is critical to my journey and my personal growth?”
To be less judgmental and more curious, I contemplate these questions:
What would my compassionate self say to my critical self?
Could any positives develop from this experience?
How does the struggle make me a better person?
Struggles are essential. They provide us with new perspective. Often, that “wrong turn” steers us to new and positive possibilities. Obstacles remind us to let go of the urge to control everything.
The next time you find yourself in a tug-o-war with life, stop and consider the underlying gift. Be kind to yourself and see if you can identify the value the experience may bring, even if it’s simply how to avoid something similar in the future.
Six Dimensions of Wellness
Lastly, instead of obsessing on my profession pathos, my course reset involved taking on a well-rounded approach to assessing my life. I selected The Six Dimensions of Wellness, developed by Dr. Bill Hettler of the National Wellness Institute. The six dimensions of life examined in this tool are:
In my assessment, I acknowledged the positives I experience in each area. Turns out, I am flourishing in many dimensions of life. Who knew?
Discovering this has helped me build energy and motivation to take on the areas of my life that score lower. It helped me see how I can weave my passion into the different dimensions of wellness. I realized I could enjoy life until the universe is ready to open the right door for me, which it did about a week after I “let go.” Out of the blue, a paid opportunity came to me with more ease than I could have imagined.
When we dwell on negativity, everything in and around us is impacted. By looking for the positives, we embody more balance and strength. We are able to see how rich and multi-dimensional our lives are. Seeing these bountiful parts helps to offset the struggling parts.
Review the six dimensions and list all the positives that make up your reality. Embrace the abundance. If you feel there is an area that could use a boost to keep life more balanced, explore steps you “could” take to fill in gaps.
Find Your Flow
Through awareness, mindful speech (to ourselves and others), contemplation, and self-compassion, we can steady ourselves when the unexpected hits. The “bad” stuff will always still happen — but when we get clear, curious, and positive, we keep on flowing.
Sabrina Walasek is a long-time educator and lover of exploration and learning. She has traveled to more than 50 countries, embracing humanity and nurturing her sense of curiosity. She facilitates a monthly mindful women's circle and is a contributor to Whole Life Challenge's blog. Her website is www.mindfulspaces.org
Posted By NWI,
Friday, January 4, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, May 7, 2019
Nicole Akparewa, RN, MPH, MSN
Creative Director of “Transform Nursing”
John Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health
John Hopkins University, School of Nursing
My mission is to train nurses globally with the tools they need to confidently address health policy, patient advocacy, and patient engagement in both clinical and non-clinical settings. Transformative nursing means that every nurse in every country has the knowledge, the training, and the ability to be effective leaders who will combat health disparities through empowerment, awareness, and education. I am a nurse entrepreneur and coach who teaches online courses for nurses to delve deeply into health and social challenges, and empower the global community of nurses to take the lead on health system change.
The way I have created social impact, which is the effect I want to have on the well-being of the communities I serve, is through blogging and podcasting to build awareness of social justice. I use Facebook Live to speak to the issues that nurses are facing. I also have a course that is focused on social justice and influential leadership called the “Nurse's Influential Leadership Lab” that is all about creating nurse leaders in inclusive practices.
I lead with passion, bold enthusiasm, and most importantly by example. When it comes to approaching uncomfortable topics in nursing, I don’t ask my students do something that I don’t have the courage to do. I share my stories about nursing, even the times where I felt slighted or shamed, or just fell flat on my face. My relationship with nursing has endured many iterations from infatuation, to bittersweet, to verging on resignation because I didn’t feel comfortable speaking out about issues that made me or my patients unsafe. I finally realized that I have a distinct purpose in nursing — to create a safe space for nurses to have a deeper awareness of how their individual practice can improve the lives of their patients beyond the hospital room, and transcend into their lives and communities.
What makes me who I am is my dedication to my purpose and the atmosphere of support that I provide the students in my courses. I am often termed the “eternal cheerleader” because I champion for nurses to take the lead on health policy and education while being involved in civic engagement. I help nurses make subtle shifts that can bring profound changes, and reflections that yield those “aha” moments as they awaken to new insights. It’s really quite special to watch. My authentic desire is to co-create, collaborate, and build strength in the nursing community through a transformative process that will help you find yet undiscovered joys and new challenges in your profession.
I am originally from Seattle, WA. I graduated from the University of Washington School of Nursing with a BSN and then the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing with a dual Masters in Nursing and Public Health. I knew nursing was my passion when I met a Native American nursing student who worked with pregnant teenagers in her tribe. Until then I never knew that nurses worked in the community.
When I’m not working I like to spend time with my little boy Gabriel, read books, and watch the Golden Girls.
To learn more about Nicole and her work contact her at:
Posted By Volney Vásquez Henríquez,
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, May 7, 2019
Volney Vásquez Henríquez - Professor of Physical Education, Universidad de Chile
The concept of "productivity improvement" is fashionable in Chile. We urgently need as an emerging economy to improve our performance and productive levels by making better use of the available resources. In order to protect that improvement, two National Productivity Commissions have been created under the auspices of our government. We have had the fortune to talk to government officials from both Commissions in order to explain and discuss our vision that the health and well-being of people play a very important role in labor productivity. We have found that the many issues both Commissions will be dealing with are the use of new technologies, innovation, technical training of human resources, and inclusion of young people, old people and women in the labor world, among others. However the issue of the health of people has not been brought forward as yet. This certainly opens the possibility of contributing our knowledge and experience for the generation of future related public policies.
Promondo, the Chilean company I am a Director of, this year celebrates 28 years in the sector of health promotion in the workplace. Over those years ourselves and Promondo have had to evolve, looking for new methods that allow us to continue growing and delivering integrated qualified wellness programs. One way we have done that is, a couple of years ago, we entered into a strategic relationship with the American company Health Improvement Solutions (HIS) located in Omaha, Nebraska. HIS is directed by Joe Leutzinger a specialist with more than 30 years experience investigating the relationship between health and productivity in companies all over the world. From this alliance we have introduced in some national companies a survey that allows us to evaluate how much the poor health of their workers costs them by measuring absenteeism and presenteeism. Some of the companies that we have worked with and implemented this instrument, have already taken action to try to reduce the costs that were identified.
Specifically, we have created a study laboratory with a Chilean company of 350 workers based in the city of Santiago. The results from the Productivity Plus Survey (PPS), informed the development of an intervention program involving implementing improvements in nutritional programs, programs of physical exercise, care of musculoskeletal pathologies, treatments for better sleep, reduction of work shifts, plans of prevention of risks and safety at work, salary improvements, dynamics of approach between workers and management (psychosocial risk), psychological support for workers and family, and treatments for addictions. This company measures the productivity of its employees, shares this information with us, allowing us to monitor our work and review the program continuously. This formula seems to be the ideal one.
After almost 2 years, productivity improvements have been evident and sharing the analysis with the top executives of the company, they have declared Promondo to be a strategic partner of theirs. It seems to me that this is the only way that can make us win the confidence of the entrepreneurs and make our value proposition truly interesting. Otherwise we run the risk of continuing to deliver outdated services that at any moment can become dispensable.
We have shared all accumulated data and experiences with the aforementioned National Productivity Commissions in order to continue to add validated metrics and data to their resources. The Commission’s specialists in economics are assisting us to acquire the most relevant and valuable information for them. We are pleased to be a contributor and our hope is that our proposals are imitated by the entire business sector. Our goal for the next 2 years is to add more companies to our study laboratory in order to be able to demonstrate that healthy workers are more productive and efficient, and that any investment in Health and Labor Welfare can bring significant returns.
If all goes well, all levels of our society will benefit greatly from this: the key will be to identify the tasks of each - the State, workers, entrepreneurs and service providers.
Perhaps this issue is not new for countries where progress has been made in studies and research on health and labor productivity for years. But for us in Chile it represents a new area of interest and we do not want to miss the opportunity to highlight it. The challenge that comes before us seems to be very challenging but exciting. I hope to tell you about our progress in the near future.
Volney Vásquez Henríquez is the President and CEO of Promondo Corporate Wellness, Professor of Physical Education, Universidad de Chile, Master in Sport Management, Universidad Metropolitana de Ciencias de la Educación, Chile, Diploma in Sports Management, Havana, Cuba, International Cycling Coach, 3 years of work in European professional cycling (1987-1989), 30 years directing programs of Wellness and Health Promotion in more than 50 Chilean companies; international certificate in Health Promotion and Wellness coaching; member of the Glimmer Initiative, U.S.A. 2015.Organizer of 7 editions of the International Forum of Corporate Health, Santiago de Chile (2008-2015), Co-author of the book "Global Perspectives in Health Promotion", IIHP, Washington D.C., 2013.
Posted By Dr Dicky Els and Terrance M. Booysen,
Tuesday, September 4, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, May 7, 2019
Dr Dicky Els and Terrance M. Booysen | Johannesburg, South Africa
In a globalised economy excesses and imbalances in one part of the world inevitably affects the economies of another, and this is typically played out between developed and developing countries. With the accelerated pace of global development, expectedly there is a knock-on implication to increased business risk through aggressive competition, and more pressure on increasing profit margins. It’s therefore not surprising then to see — at a global level — how executives are forced to re-evaluate, redesign, and sometimes shrink their trading operations in the face of tougher regulatory requirements, exacerbated by revenue declines and higher cost pressures. Organisations are operating in turbulent markets and they have to constantly adapt to increasing business uncertainty and changing circumstances, locally and abroad. Accordingly, the challenge (or the threat) to many business executives may be found in the way they react to severe economic stressors.
Two of the BRICS countries — namely Russia and Brazil — are in recession, while the South African economy performs below market expectations. Figures released by Statistics South Africa showed that the government, transport, and retail sectors had grown while agriculture, mining, and manufacturing declined in the second quarter of 2015. Compounding matters yet further, the South African mining and manufacturing sectors have announced more plans to cut thousands of jobs. As the national economy continues to struggle, many organisations are battling to survive, and the effect has a direct and negative impact on the psychological (and ultimately physical) well-being of the nation’s workforce.
With increased organisational complexities, including the demands placed upon the workforce, there are many factors which could negatively impact the well-being of employees. Increasingly employees are confronted with more unpredictable work-related challenges, whilst their dwindling personal coping mechanisms and organisational support is not nearly enough to help them deal with the stress they are experiencing. Clearly, in order to maintain a positive, healthy, and productive workforce, employers need to deal with those negative factors, all which if left unchecked, will continue to undermine workplace wellness and exacerbate personal stress.
Invest in positive behaviour
Employee wellness programmes should deliver more than just health awareness. Stronger emphasis should be placed on positive coping and stress management behaviour that enables employees and the organisation — as a collective — to be more resilient. Well-designed programmes employ strengths-based development processes to reinforce and broaden the response repertoire for employees. Individuals that expend effort to build their talents, competence, and skills are able to gain far more as opposed to those who spend a comparable amount of effort to remediate their weaknesses. As such, organisations should focus on effective talent management which leverages employee wellness programmes to promote a positive, productive, and resilient workforce.
Employee wellness programmes that promote positive thought, feeling, and behaviour patterns are generally more effective in the long run, and deliver a bigger return on the ‘investment’ because they unleash the psychological capital of their workforce. At the core of these employee wellness programmes is the development of personal competencies that not only buffers the employee, but is also known to transform work-related stress. These programmes are founded on positive organisational virtuousness and a culture of wellness and proactive strengths-based processes that promote transformational coping strategies.
Regardless of whether or not the workplace is known to have various challenges, best practice employee wellness programmes are most often the basis for developing individual strengths that empower employees to flourish. Organisations that utilise employee wellness programmes usually see employee health risks and workforce demands as opportunities and not as threats, harm, or loss. They invest in — and develop — positive organisational behaviour characterised by high levels of self-efficacy, meaningfulness, happiness, optimism, hope, and resilience that results in a committed, open-minded, and connected workforce. For them psychological competence is strengthened through positive learning experiences, proactive goal setting, problem-focused solutions, and voluntary employee engagement. Typical employee wellness programmes that make use of strength-based interventions incorporate physical and psychological constructs to promote employee health, including positive and appreciative behaviour.
Employee wellness programmes intend to promote a positive employer-employee relationship, job satisfaction, positive experiences at work, and a thriving workforce. But to get this working, it is ultimately the responsibility of the employee. Employees have the free will to choose their coping responses. Some employees may choose to unwind from stress with positive coping behaviour, or they may enjoy a short-term — and sometimes dysfunctional — solution by abusing alcohol, medication, tobacco, and drugs. Expectedly, the positive effects that healthy eating, physical activity, realistic beliefs, and positive workplace experiences have on the reduction of stress and on health promotion are clear. The main difference between resilient employees and those that fall into substance abuse lies in the individuals’ behavioural capacities. Employees differ in how well they perceive, express, understand, and deal with stressors in the context in which it occurs. Those who cope positively tend to have more positive attitudes, better coping mechanisms, less perceived stress, and a better quality of life. It is attributed to their combined internal and external resources which they actively manage with cognitive, emotional, social, and behavioural coping strategies.
One of the most exciting features of our cognitive ability is how it can enable us to stand ‘outside’ ourselves and observe our own thinking. It is our thinking that creates powerful electromagnetic and chemical signals — for better or worse — that offset an organised set of emotional and physical reactions. It begins with a thought, which suggests that it is our thinking that puts us in a positive proactive or a negative reactive coping strategy. Employees that cope well with stress are generally reflective in their thinking process and they tend to observe, review, and re-appraise their own thoughts, emotions, and actions (and if need be they adapt accordingly). These employees understand that they have free will and internal control over what they choose to think about and dwell on. Positive cognition utilises positive attitudes — trusting instincts, wisdom, self-insight, optimism, sense of responsibility, creativity, and openness to continuously reframe and counter work-related stress.
Interestingly, positive emotions that promote positive coping behaviour are consciously accessible as long lasting feelings and are often free flowing. Such positive coping manifests not only as positive emotions, but also includes physical sensations, moods, and attitudes. When employers cultivate positive experiences at work, they enlist positive emotions and workplace resilience is strengthened for their employees. This cultivation of positive experiences builds employees’ positive coping resources in order to distinguish between good and bad emotional responses. Moreover, positive emotions also expand and strengthen the capacity of employees to effectively acknowledge and express their own emotions, as well as maturely respond to that of their co-workers.
As compared to positive emotions, positive social experiences are underpinned by friendship, compassion, forgiveness, integrity, and dignity; all of which reinforce positive social interactions in the workplace and amongst the employees. Understandably, interpersonal workplace relationships will flourish when they involve employees who enjoy a cohesive, fulfilling, and enjoyable business relationship with their peers. Co-workers who share the same wellness objectives — whether it is to get fit, stop smoking, manage stress, or reduce blood sugar levels — often share the same interpersonal values. When employees enjoy a mutual respect and trust with each other, positive social support is usually enabled, and this gives rise to a greater and more positive social coping behaviour. Accordingly, high quality workplace relationships usually incubate a climate for interpersonal acceptance and inclusion that is in turn generally associated with effective coping mechanisms, longevity, stronger immune systems, and lower blood pressure. Research by Gallup, Inc., found that social interaction and quality relationships have a compounding effect on wellness. The research found that people who have three close friendships are healthier, have higher well-being, and are more engaged in their work, while the absence of close friendships leads to boredom, loneliness, and depression. Interestingly, those employees who have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged, and less likely to get injured on the job (Well-being, The Five Essential Elements, T. Rath & J. Harter, 2010).
It may be true that organisations are becoming more aware of the benefits of employee wellness programmes, however many organisations still tend to focus only on disease management rather than on integrated health and wellness aspects. More than ever, employee wellness programmes should apply strength-based interventions that develop the positive coping capability and psychological competence of workers. Through the application of employee wellness programmes, organisations can create the ideal working conditions for employees to enhance their quality of life and allow them to achieve their fullest potential. Indeed, resilient employees are a critical asset to have, especially during financially stressful times.
Employees should be encouraged and supported to develop their cognitive, emotional, and social talents to strengthen and expand positive coping behaviour. Research and case studies prove that employees who display positive coping behaviour generally perform better at work and are more engaged in wellness programmes. These employees also tend to deal with organisational change and personal stress far better than those without positive coping capabilities.
In respect of an organisation’s human capital, in order for it to claim that it is wholly functional, we believe each organisation must evaluate its employee wellness programmes, focussing upon their progress and their group wellness indicators and business results. Expectedly, these indicators and measurable results must be made known not only to the employees themselves, but also to the organisation’s extended stakeholders. This information is usually articulated in the organisation’s annual Integrated Report and enhances the stakeholders’ understanding of the organisation’s risk profile.
Dr Dicky Els is a Lead Independent Consultant in CGF. He specialises in Workplace Wellness and focuses predominantly on strategy development, programme design, and evaluation of outcome-based health promotion programmes. Dr. Els also regularly presents Positive Coping Behaviour Training as in-house wellness interventions. For more information on the Employee Wellness Programme Evaluation or Wellness and Disease Management Audits, contact Dr. Els directly at 082 4967960, email email@example.com, or go to wellnessprogramevaluation.com
Terrance M. Booysen, the CEO of CGF has presented numerous interventions to public and private audiences in and out of South Africa and has received many accolades directly linked with corporate governance. He is a regular podium presenter and is considered knowledgeable in the practice, having produced many governance, risk and compliance reports and articles over the years. More information regarding CGF can be found at www.cgf.co.za