Wellness and Wellbeing are not the same thing
At WellWise we often see and hear the terms ‘wellness’ and ‘wellbeing’ being used interchangeably in casual conversation, in news articles and even in some professional literature. However, there is a subtle distinction that we think is important to understand for those working in this space. While ‘wellness’ generally refers to an individual’s physical health (including diet and exercise), ‘wellbeing’ has a much broader and deeper meaning incorporating things like life satisfaction in addition to physical and mental health.
Building on this more holistic way of thinking about wellbeing, the expression workplace wellbeing refers to the intersection between individual wellbeing and the organisation. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines workplace wellbeing as:
“related to all aspects of working life, from the quality and safety of the physical environment, to how workers feel about their work, their working environment, the climate at work and work organization.”
This important understanding that workplace wellbeing encompasses much more than physical health is also found reflected in the definition of wellbeing used by organisations leading in this area, such as Unilever:
“a sustainable state of feeling good and functioning well, as a ‘whole human’. That means the individual realises their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community. Well-being unleashes the energy in our people to drive sustainable performance.”
Why it matters
So being clear on the difference between wellbeing and wellness is important because this influences how wellbeing in the workplace is approached, as well as choices organisations might make about how to address issues and which strategic partners to choose. While there are many different types of activity carried out under the banner of ‘workplace wellbeing’, the reality is that most of these tend to focus on physical wellness rather than deeper and broader wellbeing. Although wellness is important for employees, the only way to genuinely improve outcomes for both employees and organisations is to adopt an integrated approach that addresses all the dimensions of wellbeing and considers employees in the context of their organisation.
Of course, we don’t want to put anyone off engaging with this important topic simply for fear of using the wrong words! Both the language and the practice in this area are evolving all the time so it’s an ongoing and exciting challenge to find coherent ways to express new concepts, and to clarify the language as standards emerge. As a leading voice in the future of workplace wellbeing, WellWise has a role to play in helping these standards to emerge and embed. That’s why the distinction is important to us and so we’re always careful to use the word wellbeing for the broadest meaning, and only generally refer to wellness when we are specifically focussing on physical health alone.