Ian Shea
Ian Shea
Jun 1, 2017 · 4 min read

Well-being in the workplace is now more important than ever

Co-authored with Brian Donnelly at Alper Services LLC

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There was a time when wellness within companies was thought of in the context of charity 5k runs or team building competitions. Wellness as a core company value didn’t take hold as the importance was little understood and the stigmas surrounding it made cultural adoption difficult. Wellness support within companies was often something few employees knew existed or felt comfortable exploring.

Today, Well-being in the workplace has taken over what was once “Wellness” and encompasses a great deal more. The concept of Well-being has quickly gained favor as priorities shift among today’s workforce and its tangible benefits are more deeply understood; benefits such as increased profitability, desirable company culture and favorable brand recognition.

Unlike prior generations, millennials spend nearly 25% of their disposable income on supporting mental and emotional well-being. With millennials now representing the largest sector of the workforce, creating work environments that place a premium on supporting mental and emotional well-being are in demand. Today’s employees are lonely & anxious, craving deeper levels of human connection and community in much different ways than they have in the past. 2016 was the first time where the concept of consciously tending to one’s own mental and emotional well-being — “self-care” — officially crossed over into the mainstream with Americans googling the term almost twice as often as in years past. And the current number of google searches for “happiness” exceeded 600mm.

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Depression is now the number one cause of ill health worldwide, up 18% since 2005 representing a $1 trillion global economic loss per year. Depression costs the U.S. economy more than $51b a year in absenteeism from work and lost productivity and $26b in direct costs. The World Health Organization estimates that every $1.00 invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of $4.00 in the form of better health and ability to work. Price Waterhouse Coopers estimates that for every $1.00 spent on creating a mentally and emotionally healthy workplace, companies can recoup $2.30 in benefits gained by the organization.

When one thought of health, productivity & personal growth within a company, they thought mainly of physical and nutritional states of employees. Now that understanding is widening to include our mental, emotional and spiritual states as well.

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What this means for employers is that there is an opportunity to incorporate a more holistic approach to health to include mental and emotional well-being in addition to supporting physical and nutritional states. In doing so companies position themselves to benefit in areas such as profitability, retention and overall brand recognition.

Thirty five percent of large and midsize companies are bringing in some form mindfulness and meditation as there is a growing awareness that there really is no trade-off between supporting employee’s mental and emotional well-being and performance in companies. Aetna, for example, saved $2,000 per employee in healthcare costs and improved productivity by $3,000 per employee through the introduction of mindfulness programs.

Companies like Aetna have incorporated mindfulness, financial support and resilience into their programs and some have even considered changing company policies in an effort to improve well-being, underscoring its importance. Very little is off-limits including recruiting, on boarding, ongoing training, culture, IT, benefit plans, teambuilding and the environment. Employers are looking at ways their workplace impacts employees both personally and professionally. Van Meter went so far as to put in place a policy to stop email after certain hours to promote work/life balance and many are incorporating “mental health days”.

As was the case with wellness, forward thinking employers are looking to the value of investment in well-being programs. In addition to focusing on a Return on Investment or a reduction in direct costs, companies have broadened the scope of their wellness programs and are looking at the value these programs provide to their employees both personally and professionally. The result of this shift is a new opportunity for organizational efficiency, retention, productivity and yes, improved profitability.


I M Human works with companies on initiatives that support the mental & emotional well-being of their workforce. For more information please contact ian (at) i-m-human (dot) com.

Our second article article in this series A Framework for Well-Being Initiatives in Your Company discusses how employers can support mental, emotional and spiritual well-being initiatives throughout their organizations.


HIT Consultants — Millennials: The Rising Generation of Health Hackers — Fred Pennic — July 9, 2015

MarketWatch — World Health Day: Millennial women face new mental health struggles in the workplace — Kari Paul — April 7, 2017

AARP — Loneliness Among Older Adults: A National Survey of Adults 45+ — G. Oscar Anderson — September 2010

Slate — A History of Self-Care — Aisha Harris — April 5, 2017

World Health Organization — “Depression: let’s talk” says WHO, as depression tops list of causes of ill health — News Release — March 30, 2017

Price Waterhouse Cooper — Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace

Wisdom 2.0, San Francisco, 2016 — Arianna Huffington & Mark Bertolini

Marketwatch; Why Some Companies are Treating Employee Mental Health Days like Sick days, February 13, 2017

Harvard Business Review — Pioneers, Drivers, Integrators, and Guardians, Suzanne M. Johnson Vickberg, March April 2017

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