The Pillars of Employee Well-Being: 1977 vs. Today — #12DaysofHCM

December 12, 2018      By Karina Schultheis

In 1977, Dr. Bill Hettler co-founded the National Wellness Institute, Inc. (NWI), and shared his “Six Dimensions of Wellness Model” with the masses. With a mission of providing professionals with resources and services to fuel professional and personal growth, the NWI paved the way for a more holistic approach to well-being at a time when few corporations prioritized employee wellness beyond health insurance. Dr. Hettler’s six dimensions for employee wellness included:

  1. Occupational. Personal satisfaction and enrichment relies on finding meaningful and rewarding work.
  2. Physical. Physical wellness requires eating well, exercising regularly, and avoiding excessive alcohol/tobacco/drug use.
  3. Social. Actively seeking to enhance and protect nature, personal relationships, friendships, and community.
  4. Intellectual. Prioritizing intellectual growth, creativity, and learning; expanding knowledge and skill sets; and discovering the joy of challenging the mind.
  5. Spiritual. Seeking to fulfill meaning and purpose; consistency between actions and values.
  6. Emotional. The effective awareness and management of one’s emotions and behaviors, including feeling generally optimistic and enthusiastic about life.

Today, an ideal vision of holistic wellness appears quite similar to Dr. Hettler’s original pillars, but there are a couple societal changes that have made a big impact on employee well-being. Here are two more pillars to consider:

  1. Financial. In 1977, one-third of baccalaureate recipients graduated with college debt, and the average debt was $2,700 — about 3% of their pre-tax earnings upon graduation. Compare this with 2018, where the average student loan debt for 2017 graduates was $39,400 — a whopping 78% of an average 2016 graduate’s pre-tax salary. And then factor in interest. Another important consideration is the fact that Congress set up the first private 401(k)s in 1978, paving the way for the extinction of most company pensions. With today’s increased debt and fewer resources to support retirement, financial wellness is a necessary priority for employees and employers alike.
  2. Technological. The ability to work from wherever, whenever has improved many aspects of work, but it’s also led to more burnout and stress for many individuals. It’s important for employees to be able to disconnect and fully relax — not just when it comes to work, but also the news cycle and a wide variety of technological distractions.

This holiday season, consider what you can do to take care of yourself in the above eight areas to really prioritize holistic wellness. And, if you’re an HR or business leader, evaluate opportunities to help your people feel fully supported in their wellness and well-being.

It was foundational in 1977, and it’s even more important today.


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