Mental health driving force behind wellness push

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In a fast-paced work environment, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can sometimes take a backseat to workplace duties. To help keep healthy living a priority, many employers are implementing wellness programs — and more than 8 out of 10 employees want to put mental health first.

In a recent study by Aon Consulting, 83% of employees require mental wellness to be the top priority when enrolling in a wellness program.

Consumers who work in strong cultures of health are more likely than those in weak or mediocre health cultures to see each component of a balanced wellness plan — mental, physical, social and financial — as important, the study finds. Similarly, those in cultures with more effective communication also are more likely to see each as important.

Shelly Wolff, senior health care consultant at Willis Towers Watson, echoed Aon’s statement that each branch of a wellness program has an impact on consumer health. “You really can’t separate each of these [branches] individually, and the reason you can’t is because they are intrinsically linked,” Wolff says. “If you’re having significant financial issues and you can’t pay your bills every month, over a period of time that is creating a tremendous amount of personal stress that affects your emotional state and can cause a negative impact on your [physical] health like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and so on.”

Although Wolff says each of the branches are linked, the root of wellness problems occur mostly at the emotional or mental level, says Craig Schmidt, senior wellness consultant at EPIC. For example, employees who maintain a positive state of mind can have better chance of making better financial decisions and maintaining a physically healthier lifestyle, he says.

“Financial wellness is an important part of wellness, but it’s not the top,” Schmidt says. “Somebody who is good with their money or has financial stability can still be depressed or still have anxiety.”

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Overall, the experts agree complete wellness in the workplace needs to be encouraged by the employers; otherwise the chances of total enrollment into a wellness program are not as strong.

For example, employers need to create a positive environment for employees to feel comfortable in enrolling in mental wellness programs without the fear of being stigmatized, Schmidt says. “If [employers] are sending a positive outlook throughout the company such as social recognition and social awards, that starts playing a larger role to the individual consumer,” he says.

Because it is difficult to quantify the benefits of health culture in the workplace, there may not necessarily be financial gain for employers in starting a wellness program, but ensuring emotional and mental stability within the workplace has statistically shown greater output in the future, says Willis Towers Watson’s Wolff.

“When people are overall unhealthy, whether it’s physical, emotional or having a lot of financial worry, they are not as productive at work, they do not treat customers very well and they are absent much more,” Wolff says. “There is a lot of direct collateral damage if employees are not healthy that directly hits employers’ bottom line.”

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