Taking the 5D Approach to Health

By Carrie Williams

Traditionally, employee health and well-being programs encourage employees to be physically active and eat healthier. But true health and well-being goes far beyond the scope of exercise and healthy eating.

Ancient Ayurveda teachings dating back to 3000 BC considered these two traditional foundations of health and well-being — diet and activity — as part of the human’s broader social and hygiene needs. The goal was to create a harmonic balance between mind, body and spirit to prevent illness and live a more fulfilled life.

At its heart, these ancient teachings assert that health and well-being requires a balance of many factors that contribute to a fulfilled life with optimized health. Modern health and well-being programs would benefit from this approach and could greatly improve employee performance and overall well-being by addressing all five dimensions of health: physical, emotional, financial, social and community health, the combination of which leads towards an optimized state of being.

Fortunately, many businesses are shifting towards this direction. According to the 2016 Whispers from the Water Cooler survey by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) and Welltok, large employers have expanded the scope and focus of their offerings to include social connectedness, emotional health and financial health programs. This study also found that the consumer appetite for this broader approach to health and well-being is strong. Seventy-eight percent of women and 70 percent of men felt employers should offer emotional health programs and 53 percent of all employees felt employers should play a role in financial health.

Of those who engage in these types of programs, 75 to 81 percent of participants found them helpful depending on program type. Many people are in tune with the physical aspects of health, and are now embracing the following three dimensions for a more holistic health program:

Financial Well-being

The adverse health effects of financial stress are well documented. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), high levels of financial stress and debt concerns are associated with increased risk for ulcers, migraines, heart attacks and sleep problems. The negative effects of financial stress can be further magnified by the adoption of unhealthy coping mechanisms such as excessive eating or drinking, social withdrawal or depression.

While financial health programs do not address the physical manifestations of the associated stress, they can help participants feel more in control of their economic situation and provide a support network. Therefore, it’s not surprising that a majority of employees agree that the employer has a role to play in offering financial health programs.

The survey also found that employees under 35 had the strongest feelings about accessing these programs to help them pay down student debt, get counseling on good financial practices and set up college funds. On the flip side, the relevance of or desire for financial programs decreased by 20 percent for employees between the ages of 50-65.

Emotional Health

Research has long documented the relationship between physical health and emotions. Poor emotional health can weaken the immune system, increasing risk of colds or illness. Stress and anxiety can have direct physical impacts, causing ulcers, back pain, fatigue, high blood pressure, insomnia, etc.

Stress and anxiety can also cause individuals to make negative behavior choices which can further impact physical health. Alternatively, positive emotions like joy, confidence and gratitude can inspire healthier choices, stronger support networks, increased resiliency and improved health outcomes.

Both employers and employees are starting to recognize this relationship. The NGBH survey noted that 73 percent of employees are seeking emotional and personal support resources from their employers. Resources like stress management, employee assistance programs, and counseling are returning a high value.

In fact, 75 percent of participants in employer sponsored emotional health programs found them useful. Participation in these programs are still low, with most employees citing relevance as a key prohibitive factor. Employers who are offering these programs should consider alternative promotions among their broader employee groups, such as sourcing stories from participants who are willing to share their personal success stories.

Social Support

With new research often comparing the health risks of loneliness to that of smoking or obesity, employers are starting to put more efforts into increasing social connectivity not just within their workforce but the wider community. Social connectedness improves emotional health, aids in greater program and health behavior change engagement.

Eighty-nine percent of employers surveyed by NGBH are offering volunteering, community connectedness, and affinity group opportunities. Employers are seeing value with 42 percent of employees participating and 81 percent of participants citing value.

Family involvement also drives greater program participation. The survey found that employees are more influenced by colleagues and direct managers over senior leadership. With social connectivity programs offering emotional health benefits as well as greater overall program engagement, these programs offer a win-win for employees and employers.

Today’s employee health and well-being programs will no longer pass with step challenges and onsite biometric screenings. The new health and well-being program will optimize health by addressing the multi-dimensional social, emotional and financial aspects of health — in addition to physical health exercise and nutrition programs — to create the foundation where positive health outcomes are encouraged, built and sustained because they are part of the norm.

Original article appeared in BenefitsPro on March 20, 2017.