Social wellness refers to the relationships and the positive interactions that we have with others and within our environment. These can be evidenced through the level of personal support a worker has individually and as a team in the worksite and through actions including volunteerism, involvement in the community including both faith-based and non-faith-based activities.
Social wellness is identified as the ability to positively connect ourselves to our family, our community, or our co-workers for one common good – is also important to consider.
From an individual’s earliest years, he or she is (hopefully) nurtured within a healthy family environment: loving parents, siblings, friends, teachers, coaches, and other group-related activities. But as people mature, interactions with others change dramatically. Individuals can begin to feel like their life is in silos. Separating work from family, outside activities from work and family, folks can begin to see patterns of disconnection from others. From a young age, individuals are taught to “think for ourselves,” or “stand on our own two feet.” Asking for help is a sign of weakness. Messages like this promote an ideology of individualism. People begin to disconnect from relationships as they look inward for answers.
What happens to people when they are disconnected from these relationships? A 2012 National Academy of Science Social Isolation study showed that individuals without social interaction are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, infectious illness, and higher mortality rates, to name just a few of health-related outcomes (http://www.pnas.org/content/110/15/5797.full). Other research shows that social connections and relationships have a significant impact on physical health. Studies have linked strong social interactions with health benefits as varied and dramatic as motor skill retention, cancer survival, general immune function, memory function preservation, and overall longevity.
But what does all of this have to do with benefits and employees? Furthermore, why should an employer be concerned with this information, and what can an employer do with this knowledge?
For starters, the research proves social health is directly linked to physical health. This can impact an employer’s bottom line through rising medical claims, absenteeism, “presenteeism,” workplace accidents, etc.
Unfortunately, social wellness is, at times, an overlooked aspect of an employer’s wellness program. But it shouldn’t be. It intuitively makes sense that if an employee “feels” connected to the workplace, they will be a productive member of the team. Employers may not take that connection further. They may operate with the sense that an employee’s social wellness balance is an aspect of life relative to influences associated outside of the workplace and therefore they overlook this component of holistic wellness.