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.
For a balanced social wellness component, employers should be aware of the positive outcomes that are derived from employees having healthy relationships, both in and out of the workplace, and its impact on the organization. Below are a series of questions to consider when looking at implementing this aspect of their holistic wellness program:
- What can an employer do to add a social wellness component to their holistic wellness program? Many already have pieces of a program in place yet are unaware of the attributes it is bringing to the environment. For example, simply the celebration of milestone markers of company anniversaries and recognition of birthdays are some basic ways of bringing employees together.
- Going deeper though, how often are you holding all employee /department /staff meetings? Connecting your workforce to the mission and vision of the company and frequent communication of achievements, and challenges, lead to engagement at all levels. This lends for a culture that promotes employees working together pro-actively and creatively to solve problems.
- Can employees ask for and lend a hand to one another? Allowing employees to have an inter-dependency lays the groundwork for fostering a social community within your organization.
- Does your business promote and educate employees regarding diversity? Having a culture that promotes diversity, being aware of and accepting the differences of others is critical to advancing a social culture within any company. Whether this is from an equal opportunity standpoint or from the standpoint where all opinions are valued, whether they come from the low man on the organizational chart or chairman of the board.
- Does your organization engage in partnering with non-profit based relationships for the betterment of the community? The benefits are many: (1) employees are encouraged to involve their family, (2) the community benefits, and (3) the employer’s reputation is enhanced. With today’s millennial generation, they are reshaping the organization’s philanthropic connection to their community. This can be a powerful employee attraction and retention tool.
Before moving forward on implementing these programs, it is important to recognize that determining the return on the investment (ROI) may be most difficult to compute within the social wellness component. By comparison, documenting an employer’s expenses visible under the emotional wellness and physical wellness components are an easier exercise. With respect to a social wellness strategy, as an individual’s relationships become disconnected you may see more emotional signs, isolation and grief become transparent, and employees are typically referred into Employee Assistance Programs or need further counseling. It is only when the social disconnection starts to inhabit an employee’s health and it starts to wear down the employee when employers will see increasing medical expenses and productivity issues impacting the bottom line. This is a reactive approach versus a proactive/preventative strategy.
Yet when an employer’s culture includes proactively promoting a variety of opportunities for social engagement, not only does the employee have a work environment that is conducive to creativity and developing relationships with co-workers, engagement in the community, and additional opportunities for work-life balance, the employer’s reputation also positively grows. With this, employers should see several benefits – specifically, a reduction in turnover as they have a labor force that wants to work for the employer. In turn, an employer will see a positive impact on turnover reduction, recruiting costs and an overall improvement in productivity.
Allowing family access in the program is also a valuable strategy. It is proven that a strategy that is more actively and positively engaged with one’s family, one’s community, and one’s worksite, the more a worker is likely to have success in positive behavioral changes.