Wellness Industry Spotlight: Our Chief Wellness Officer Looks Backwards and Forwards
I’ve spent my entire career—more than thirty years—talking about the importance of health promotion. After all that hard work, it’s inspiring to see the progress the employee wellness movement has made. In some sectors of corporate America, wellness programs are almost a given: more than ninety percent of large employers offer some sort of wellbeing programming, according to one recent survey.
It hasn’t always been this way.
When Fiona Gathright and I founded Wellness Corporate Solutions fifteen years ago, wellness programs were a tough sell. Many human resources professionals had never even heard of the idea—and while some large corporations were ahead of the curve, they usually managed their health promotion efforts internally.
Today, wellness programs are an integral part of employee retention and engagement, and they’re rapidly expanding beyond just physical health alone. Financial wellness, stress management, and emotional health—including mindfulness and meditation—are all common components. As a country, we’re finally starting to embrace the 360-degree view of health that I’ve long promoted.
When I was a young registered dietitian, I used to conduct workplace health seminars for large corporations. In the pre-internet era, most people had only television and magazines for guidance—and very little of what they saw or read promoted better health. People were eager for health information they could trust. After every seminar, employees would literally surround me to ask follow-up questions.
When I met Fiona, I remember telling her about some of the employees who attended my seminars—how stressed and unwell they seemed. We both thought, “What if we could bring health and wellness into the workplace? Could we start a company to do that?” And so we did.
Health fairs, seminars, and fitness classes dominated our early years as a wellness provider, but clients soon asked for more. Younger people are the largest group of employees in the workplace today, and they’re pushing companies to expand their wellbeing initiatives. Today, we use sophisticated technology to integrate physical health with emotional wellbeing, financial security, stress management, and many other spheres of an employee’s life.
So where does wellness go from here?
Employees increasingly want to feel personally invested in a company’s mission and understand its value to the community. They want to feel supported and connected to each other. Employee wellness efforts can be a foundational part of this effort—encouraging employees to help themselves, and each other. I believe the next frontier for our industry will be to find creative ways to link personal health, company mission, and community service. That will truly be a 360-degree approach to wellbeing.