Co-authored by Susie Ellis, Chairman and CEO, GWI and Renee Moorefield, CEO, Wisdom Works
Feel ill? Head to the doctor. Get diagnosed. Treat the issue. (Also known as: Douse with meds. Take a few days off work. Stumble back to the office. Repeat.) Sound familiar?
For too long, discussions about wellness have centered on traditional medical treatments, and Western healthcare systems have maintained a focus on illness and disease, making our hospitals and clinics more like "fix-it shops" than agents of prevention.
It's time for a change. And it's time governments around the world not only recognize that prevention is the key to wellness but also begin to do something to fix our broken health systems.
Let's look at the facts. Over the past decade, individuals have been increasingly shifting their focus to preventive care and holistic wellbeing, embracing everything from meditation and yoga to massage therapy and natural product supplementation. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics reports that approximately 38 percent of adults and 12 percent of children in the U.S. alone use some form of complementary and alternative medicine.
And these millions of people are not doing it alone. Corporations large and small are also focusing on long-term wellness goals as they begin to reap the rewards from a more healthy and engaged workforce. Whether offering flu shots, health risk appraisals, and ergonomic workstations, or integrating flexible schedules and telecommuting, a wider range of options is available for supporting healthier, more balanced lifestyles for their employees.
Over the past three decades, we've seen workplace wellness move from an afterthought to a company asset; from a focus on physical health alone to one of holistic wellbeing; from a cost-cutting measure to a profitable strategy for human thriving -- all which contribute to peak business performance. There's been a cultural shift to create environments and communities where people succeed in body, mind, and spirit.
But why are our governments--particularly those that put health and prosperity at the top of their national agendas--not leading the charge in this significant cultural shift? Without a doubt, corporations have a meaningful role to play, but governments have a far bigger reach and influence over populations as a whole.
As long ago as 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized the link between workplace and community wellness. Its Healthy Workplace Framework report underscored the importance of community resources to the health and wellness of an employee. The report recognized that although the majority of an individual's time each day is spent in his/her work environment, he/she also is spending valuable hours at home and within the community. Clearly these areas are as conducive to wellbeing as the workplace.
Although only a handful of governments currently appreciate the value wellness holds for their citizens, recognition is beginning to ignite in regions that want to emphasize their indigenous healing traditions to help increase tourism. Governments are wise to acknowledge the benefits of wellness tourism, a sector of travel that is projected to grow 9.9 percent annually over the next five years--nearly twice the rate of global tourism overall.
But workplace wellness and wellness tourism are simply not enough. What can public servants do to step up their public policy efforts when it comes to the wellbeing of their citizenry and country overall? For starts, governments can establish a Ministry of Wellness that would work to align strategies with key leaders in other ministries: Health. Economic development. Tourism. Education. Labor. Environment. The list goes on.
Leaders in this role would be bridge-builders, creating a framework that others in their country can develop and implement, enhancing the "thrive-ability" and sustainability of their citizens. And a Minister of Wellness would be a visible sign to everyone--citizens, businesspeople, visitors, and tourists alike--that wellness is a priority and that healthy populations go hand in hand with building healthy economies.
A Ministry of Wellness would gather data, create workable rules, and exert influence on other governmental agencies. The Minister would explore the possibility of using tax incentives to bring about greater change, focus on increasing wellness tourism revenue, creating jobs, and, in time, explore ways for this new emphasis to decrease healthcare costs. Emphasizing the need to keep the planet's wellness front and center in governmental thinking could be another arena of influence. There is little to lose and much to gain for a government to support such a position to ensure those positive results are realized.
While some have suggested that a starting place might be a government wellness representative, an associate minister of wellness, or an "Undersecretary of Wellness"--and indeed having the name "wellness" appear in a ministry name would be a step in the right direction--we feel that the countries who take the visionary and courageous step of establishing a full "Ministry of Wellness" for a better life on our planet are likely to gain the most rewards.
The good news is that Ministries of Health and Wellness are beginning to pop up around the globe: Alberta, Nova Scotia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, etc. India employs a minister in charge of Ayurveda, yoga and naturopathy, unani, siddha and homeopathy. It's a mouthful. But more importantly, it's a movement!
Establishing a Minister of Wellness should not let corporations off the hook; business stakeholders need to continue doing the hard work of creating healthy and safe work environments where employees can learn, grow, and thrive. Employers are at the ground level for providing the tools and resources to promote wellness behaviors and create positive work environments--they also have great power in advancing wellness via their brands and marketing messages.
And having a Minister of Wellness doesn't let individuals off the hook either, since self-responsibility will echo even louder as governments amplify the dialog on communicating scientific evidence and technological advances that bring health and wellness to the forefront.
Indeed, we are slowly seeing an ecosystem of wellness develop... a shared responsibility for wellness on all fronts. With Ministries of Wellness leading the charge, partnerships between governments will encourage nations to work with other nations around the world, advancing the wellbeing of our global population.
It will be interesting to see which governments take the lead. Not only will they be the first to reap the rewards of putting wellness at the heart of their policies, but they will also benefit from the inevitable "halo effect" of being a first mover in this arena.