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  • Andrew Stephenson

Embracing Holistic Wellbeing: The Powerful Prescription for a Thriving Modern Workforce

Drugs seem like an easy fix compared to the effort of lasting lifestyle change, but when you get it right, the compound benefits and emerging competitive advantages are enormous.

Workplace wellbeing programs and lifestyle interventions are far from new, but many common wellness initiatives, quite simply, don't effectively engage most work populations and are ineffective at sustaining meaningful changes. They are also fairly ineffective when they are paired with poor work environments and organizational factors. That is, you'll always diminish your returns when you try to encourage or expect people to take care of themselves while ultimately putting them in a poor environment, toxic culture, and sustained state of distress. (Check out this report from the McKinsey Health Institute showing how offering good health enablers without changing workplace factors still results in high levels of burnout).

And yet the growing divergence between costs (health costs) and performance (thriving people) in the context of modern work continues to build an enticing opportunity for organizations that can get holistic wellbeing interventions right.

On the performance side, cognitive assets define your modern competitive advantage. According to the World Economic Forum, a majority of the top 10 most important skills are cognitive, with the most growth for top skills of analytical thinking, creative thinking, resilience, flexibility and agility.

At the same time, many organizations are drowning in the cost bucket - struggling to manage rampant burnout, aging populations, eroding health, and the rising costs of drugs or chronic condition care (is GLP-1 recognized as a curse-word yet?).

Is wellness over-rated? Is shifting organizational culture too hard to think about? Simply forging ahead and trying to find better ways to cost shift, manage prescriptions and chronic care management isn't the way to go. It's utterly unsustainable.

Proper holistic wellbeing paired with a willingness to consider work culture and practices is the only way to leap ahead. To get ahead of costs AND to maintain a thriving, cognitively competitive workforce.

Unlike medications or chronic condition management that often narrowly target specific symptoms or conditions (and represent ongoing costs themselves), lifestyle and cultural change address the root causes of health. Yes, it tales a bit of effort and persistence. But the same basic interventions, whether it be adopting improved diets, engaging in more exercise, managing stress, or improving sleep; these work synergistically to both prevent and reduce cost drivers, as well as improving mental wellbeing and cognitive performance.

Let's explore the impact of lifestyle changes on some of the most costly common health concerns:

  1. Heart Health Cardiovascular diseases remain the leading cause of mortality worldwide. While medications help control blood pressure and cholesterol levels, lifestyle changes can prevent the development of, and in some cases reverse the need for medication for these issues in the first place. Did you also know that at least a third of dementia cases are cardiovascular related?

  2. Type 2 Diabetes: Lifestyle changes are a cornerstone in the management and prevention of type 2 diabetes. A well-balanced diet, regular physical activity, and weight management can improve insulin sensitivity and help regulate blood sugar levels. In some cases, lifestyle changes have even allowed individuals to reduce or eliminate the need for diabetes medications.

  3. Mental Health: The link between lifestyle and mental health is increasingly recognized. Regular exercise, a nutritious diet, and adequate sleep contribute to improved mood and reduced stress levels. While medications have their place in treating mental health conditions, lifestyle changes are essential for long-term mental well-being and resilience. Check out this Duke research showing that aerobic exercise is as effective as anti-depressants for treating major depression AND also improves cognitive abilities in the same patients.

  4. Weight Management: Obesity is a global health concern, contributing to various chronic diseases. While medications may assist in weight loss, sustained and significant results are often achieved through lifestyle changes. A combination of healthy eating habits and regular physical activity not only promotes weight loss but also ensures a healthier body composition.

  5. Longevity and Cognitive Health: Correlations between cognitive function and chronic health issues are significant. Supporting a healthy lifestyle from as early as middle-age has been linked to increased longevity and improved quality of life. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and other positive habits can delay the onset of age-related diseases, enhance cognitive function, and promote overall well-being in an aging workforce.

Medications and efficient medical treatment undoubtedly play a critical role in managing health costs and performance declines, but the transformative potential of preventing the need for the costly interventions and wearing the associated decline in performance continues to grow as these costs increase and the impact against your competitive advantage becomes more pronounced.

In real-world settings across diverse organizations we've consistently demonstrated sustainable approaches to engaging entire workforces in effective integrated health and wellbeing initiatives that have achieved:

  • significant improvements in group health risk prevalence

  • health cost reduction and avoidance

  • reductions in injuries and disability

  • reductions in measures of stress, and

  • significant improvements in employee engagement

More and more the younger generations seek work-life balance and employers who genuinely demonstrate care for their employee wellbeing. Investing in a more integrated and holistic approach to sustaining workforce health isn't just about checking the box on wellness; it's a strategic move to boost productivity, employee satisfaction, and overall sustainable competitive cognitive business performance.


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