Business Group Blog

Seeing the Bigger Picture: Beyond Wellness to Well-being


Leading employers are changing their focus from offering benefits and programs centered on improving employees’ physical health to deploying holistic wellbeing strategies whose purpose is to enhance all the various facets of employees’ lives. This shift is taking place as evidence mounts that physical health is only one of a number of factors contributing to outcomes valued by employers. These include improved health, greater productivity and higher performance, accompanied by decreased health care costs and a lower turnover rate.

Many things can contribute to well-being; those within the control of a large employer and that have a direct line of evidence to well-being, include:

Employers can leverage the research on the aforementioned factors in order to implement or elevate benefits, programs and policies that seek improve employees' lives.

What is Well-Being?


The Value Proposition for a Well-being Strategy

While improving the physical health of employees has been a long-standing priority among employers as a way to stem rising health care costs and improve productivity, evidence now points to the importance of broadening this focus. Research shows:

  1. Employee well-being is a “stronger predictor of health and performance outcomes than the following alone: 1
    • Demographic characteristics;
    • Prior health care utilization and costs; and
    • Behavioral and physical health risks.”

    For example, a study of employees with and without diabetes demonstrated that physical health is not sufficient to explain productivity variations in the workplace. Instead, well-being, which can’t be reduced to just one’s physical health, is a more important determinant of productivity than the presence of this chronic disease. 2

  2. People with high well-being make for better employees. Compared to individuals with low well-being, they: 3-5
    • Are less likely to have a hospital admission or an emergency room visit;
    • Have lower medical and pharmacy costs;
    • Have fewer unscheduled absences;
    • Have lower levels of presenteeism;
    • Have higher intentions to stay with the company, as well as fewer voluntary and involuntary departures; and
    • Have higher performance.
  3. Well-being is modifiable and workplace improvement strategies can contribute to a number of important health and productivity results. 6, 7 For example, twelve months after a workplace wellbeing program was implemented, employees’ total well-being risks (e.g., poor emotional health, weak social support, job dissatisfaction, etc.) decreased by 8.53%, relative to baseline; absenteeism decreased by 27.36%; presenteeism decreased by 12.27%; and self-reported job performance increased by .67%.7



Research shows that employers have an important stake in broadening their wellness strategies to focus on holistic well-being. By helping employees improve their social connectedness, job satisfaction, financial security, and physical and emotional health, employers also may be able to improve the productivity and performance of their employee populations.

Interested in learning more about promoting employee well-being? The National Business Group on Health has produced many resources on this topic including, Seeing the Bigger Picture: Beyond Wellness to Well-being, the issue brief that this blog post was based on. Other resources of interest might include:



  1. Sears LE, Agrawal S, Sidney JA, et al. The well-being 5: Development and validation of a diagnostic instrument to improve population well-being. Popul Health Manag. 2014;17(6):357-365.
  2. Gandy WM, Coberley C, Pope JE, Wells A, Rula EY. Comparing the contributions of well-being and disease status to employee productivity. JOEM. 2014;56(252-257).
  3. Sears LE, Shi Y, Coberley CR, Pope JE. Overall well-being as a predictor of health care, productivity, and retention outcomes in a large employer. Popul Health Manag. 2013;16:397–405.
  4. Harrison PL, Pope JE, Coberley CR, Rula EY. Evaluation of the relationship between individual well-being and future health care utilization and cost. Popul Health Manag. 2012;15:325–330.
  5. Harter JK, Agrawal S. Causal relationships among wellbeing elements and life, work, and health outcomes. Washington, DC: Gallup, Inc.; 2012.
  6. Hamar B, Coberley C, Pope JE, Rula EY. Well-being improvement in a mid-size employer. JOEM. 2015;57(4):367-373.
  7. Shi Y, Sears LE, Coberley CR, Pope JE. Classification of individual well-being scores for the determination of adverse health and productivity outcomes in employee populations. Popul Health Manag. 2013;16(90-98).