The Next Big Thing in Well-Being

This post by Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, first appeared on

If you’re not supporting the emotional well-being of your employees, handing out pedometers or apples isn’t going to amount to much.

Early in July, Arianna Huffington in a post entitled, “Big Business Finally Learns that Wellness is Good Business” offered an impressive roundup of wellness initiatives that big businesses have taken on. What’s most significant is that big business is turning its sights to the impact that emotional well-being–stress management, resilience and mindfulness–can have on the productivity, capacity and motivation of people. And they are seeing it as a must have for every employee, right up there in importance with fitness, weight management, and healthy lifestyle programming. “Making sure employees have the inner resources,” as she describes it, is key, not only to their productivity but also, it turns out, to their physical well-being.

This approach flies in the face of accepted thinking about work, stress, and wellness and it’s about time. Emotional well-being has conventionally been seen as the domain of crisis based solutions: employee assistance programs, counseling, hotlines. But today’s workforce is anything but conventional: The modern workforce has dizzying demands on their time, and they don’t all work one way, nor do they have the freedom to “only” work on one thing or another: about 75% of employees are parents; more than a third of employees are non-professional caregivers; and 47% of employees are part of dual-income households.

Along with this shifting demographic, the new reality is that there are no hard lines between work and home, personal and professional. People now tend to bring their whole selves to work, including their stressors and emotions every day.

In our work with employers who use meQuilibrium, our cloud-based solution for building the resilience of their employees, we see some very interesting correlations which support this.

It’s not the job that stresses people It’s a common assumption that work alone causes stress, but in our experience, work itself is not the primary source of stress for most people. People who complete our stress assessment regularly cite family, success and money as their key sources of stress. In other words, people consistently rank family and success as higher than their jobs when queried about what are their main sources of stress.

Three powerful correlations between inner and outer well-being:

  • Sleep, eating habits, and physical fitness consistently correlate to stress levels. Self-esteem and how well connected one feels to their work positively correlate with sleep, eating habits and physical fitness. You do the math.
  • People who score low on getting regular exercise tend to have 20% lower resilience scores and correspondingly 47% higher stress index scores.
  • And people who scored high on ‘feeling overwhelmed’ and ‘being able to balance the competing demands in their lives’ had 29% lower resilience scores and 71% higher stress index scores.

When employees suffer poor emotional well-being, they are more likely to be chronically stressed. In that state, they are much less able to make (and hold onto) the practical, healthy changes that would make a positive difference. The constant juggling act, trying to manage the competing demands of work and life is what erodes productivity and contributes to distraction, disconnection, depression, and ultimately, burnout.

Bottom line, work isn’t the primary stressor—and yet the effect of addressing emotional wellness clearly plays out at work. Even more, so it seems, than incentivizing people to work out or eat better.