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In today’s fast-paced, increasingly digitized work environment, the fear of being replaceable is a pressing concern felt by employees across many industries. Everyone yearns to feel valued and appreciated, and it’s essential for employers to make every effort to ensure employees know they matter.
By offering a compassionate, caring environment that recognizes and supports each employee’s mental and emotional well-being, HR and People leaders can show individuals they are valued for who they are as unique human beings. One way to do this is by taking a holistic approach, which can profoundly impact someone’s sense of self-worth.
To effectively incorporate holistic health principles into your workplace, start from a place of mindfulness—both as a practice and an action.
What is holistic health?
Holistic health goes beyond physical health, encompassing mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. It's recognizing that these elements are deeply interconnected and a deficit in one can impact the others.
Approaching employees through a holistic health lens means acknowledging that many components comprise their well-being—not just their physical health.
As leaders, this allows us to let go of assumptions around whether or not a person is well, or why their productivity may have decreased, and approach things from a holistic and compassionate lens.
The components of holistic well-being in the workplace
First and foremost, holistic health in the workplace requires seeing each employee as a whole person with diverse needs. To me, holistic well-being encompasses the following.
Proper nutrition, regular exercise, and enough sleep are essential. We know that sitting is the new smoking, yet many of us still don’t get enough movement.
The benefits of sleep go beyond feeling rested—sleep gives us the mental clarity and energy to deal with stress, allows our bodies to detoxify, and decreases long-term health risks like heart disease and diabetes.
Supporting self-care means encouraging employees to take care of their mental space and capacity, set boundaries, deal with shame or guilt, let go of resentment, cultivate compassion, and practice accepting the things they can’t change.
Spirituality in the workplace is as diverse as the people who work there, and it’s important to respect people’s unique beliefs and practices.
While not frequently discussed, finances significantly affect our physical and mental health. It's crucial to provide equitable access to resources so everyone can access what they need for a healthy life.
It's essential to nurture strong relationships in and out of the workplace. Encourage team building and respecting individual preferences for social interaction, whether in-office or remote.
It's also important to balance work with personal relationships. Having a strong support system can positively influence someone’s professional success and overall well-being.
How HR leaders can champion holistic health in the workplace
HR leaders are uniquely positioned to champion the inclusion of holistic health benefits and influence the larger workplace culture. Many people—at all levels of seniority—don’t feel like they have enough time to get their work done, so it’s essential to ensure that taking care of their holistic health doesn’t feel like another to-do. This is why buy-in from leadership and employees is so necessary.
Holistically healthy and happy employees are more engaged and productive at work. When we don’t feel well, it’s hard to feel motivated and present.
From a financial standpoint, holistically healthy employees are less costly, and attrition is lower when employees are physically, mentally, and emotionally healthier. In fact, 63% of U.S. employees say the top attributes they seek in their next job are greater work-life balance and better personal well-being.
But delivering on that solution isn’t always so easy. We live in a society that emphasizes busyness, and we equate that with productivity. People feel like they have to show they’re always productive, which leads to poor self-care and apprehension to take breaks—whether that’s a mid-day walk or planning a vacation. The pressure people feel to be constantly “on” has led to increasing rates of burnout, which contributes to anxiety and depression.
This makes me think of a quote from author Jeff Foster: “The word 'depressed' can be spoken as DEEP REST. We can choose to view depression not as a mental illness but as a state of Deep Rest, a spiritual exhaustion that we enter into when we are de-pressed (pressed down) by the weight of the false self, the mask, the mind-made story of ‘me.’”
This brings us back to acknowledging the whole person at work, not just the productive (or unproductive) employee. While it would be ideal to say, ‘We’ll just provide therapy and coaching for everyone, build a gym and a garden, and bring in healthy food,’ not all workplaces have resources. However, there are creative solutions to make holistic health more accessible.
Some simple, actionable steps might include:
- Creating time and space for physical activity: Encourage exercise by providing spaces for workouts, organizing walking clubs, or encouraging walking meetings. Consider hosting yoga or meditation sessions in common areas—and if you can’t bring in a teacher, there are plenty of free videos on YouTube.
- Promoting stress management: Designate spaces in your office as relaxation areas to calm the nervous system, share simple breathing exercises, or encourage regular stretching to counteract the effects of constant high stress.
- Encouraging the use of breaks: To be productive we need rest. Otherwise, we can’t think clearly and we make more mistakes. Leaders need to model and encourage rest, even by asking, “Do you plan on taking any time off? You deserve it. I see how hard you’ve been working.”
- Taking mental health days: Some workplaces offer mental health days (separate from sick days) that can be used for proactive self care, not just because someone is feeling depressed or burnt out.
- Providing healthy options: Support healthy eating by stocking nutritious snacks in break rooms and offering healthy options during meetings.
- Creating wellness incentives: Motivate participation in wellness activities with incentives like pedometers, branded water bottles, or completion prizes.
- Offering educational opportunities: Invite specialists to discuss self care, nutrition, financial planning, or lead wellness initiatives (like art or animal therapy) that produce oxytocin.
- Combating mental health stigma: Encourage leaders to normalize self care (from taking proactive time off to getting therapy) as part of overall well-being.
- Socializing initiatives: Ensure employees know about the holistic health benefits available to them, why they’re important, and how to access them.
The importance of measuring holistic health success
When assessing the impact of your holistic health initiatives, it's important to track specific metrics or indicators. Regular anonymous surveys, conducted quarterly or yearly, can provide valuable insights using scales to gauge the frequency of stress-related feelings. To tie in the holistic side, questions can also probe into physical symptoms like headaches, fatigue, difficulty focusing, or loss of appetite.
Including open-ended questions about what employees value in their jobs, their primary stressors, and what support they need can also deepen understanding. Additionally, allowing employees to rank aspects of their well-being, like emotional or financial health, helps organizations align their initiatives with employee needs.
A holistic mental health solution proven to deliver ROI and clinical outcomes ensures fast, accessible care and continuous monitoring to ensure improvement. Prioritizing and supporting employee mental health demonstrates your sincere commitment to their well-being.
The most important thing to remember is that embracing a holistic approach to health in your workplace requires seeing each employee as more than their job title—a whole person with a multifaceted life. By fostering an environment that encourages well-being on all levels, HR leaders can ensure that every employee feels valued and supported to do their best work and live their best lives.
Explore the workplace benefits of offering a comprehensive approach to mental health that considers family dynamics, spirituality, finances, and work.