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Wellness vs Wellbeing…What’s the Difference?

Do you know the difference between wellness and wellbeing.  The important difference between these two common terms could be the cause of your frustration, and a way to move beyond the barriers you are facing.

We hear these terms thrown around interchangeably and few people recognize the difference. However, when you stop for a moment and consider each word, they are fundamental and critically different. 

The difference between wellness and wellbeing/

Practical Definitions of Wellness and Wellbeing.

I view wellness as the tactics utilized on the path to improving wellbeing. In other words, wellness is the action and wellbeing is the desired outcome of those actions. 

It’s important to remember this fact…just because you are taking certain actions, it doesn’t mean you will necessarily produce the desired outcome. When you take action, the outcome may be more probable, but unless we are tracking and measuring specific outcomes, you won’t know if they are working.

We know it’s critical to assess the outcome of our actions. This applies to your personal health and fitness goals, as well as your enterprise workplace wellness program. When we look closer at individuals and companies, a massive gap exists between tactics and outcomes. In other words, what we are doing isn’t working!

The Wellness-Wellbeing Gap

I call this the “wellness-wellbeing gap”. It’s at the heart of the personal and organizational challenges people are facing each day. 

Studies repeatedly show that healthy, happy, engaged employees are amazing for business and profitability. They are more productive, generate reduced expenses, and create increased profits for the business. PLUS, it’s better for employees because they enjoy their work, produce better work, and stick around longer! The benefits are endless.

Yet, this is old news. If the COVID pandemic taught us anything, it’s that culture, engagement, and wellbeing at work are more important than ever. Companies know this and most are doubling down on the tools, apps, and resources available for employees.

Yet, the engagement, wellbeing, and satisfaction of employees still sucks (in general)

So where is the disconnect in Corporate Wellness and Wellbeing at Work?

Despite ample corporate wellness, why are employees still stressed out, burnt out, frustrated, disengaged?

I believe it comes down to this misunderstanding between wellness and wellbeing, and it has huge implications for business profitability, corporate culture, and the employee experience,

A wealth of wellness options are being offered in companies today, yet there is very little wellbeing in the employee population. This means that the tools, apps, and resources are not actually moving the needle on employee wellbeing and performance. Or at least, they are merely a temporary bandaid to “stop the bleeding”. 

Employee stress, burnout, and disengagement at all-time highs. Yet, the wellness resources being offered are the equivalent of putting a Snoopy Band-Aid on a bullet wound. 

This demonstrates to me that companies are focused on the wrong things.  Companies are  focused on providing wellness rather than improving wellbeing. They are focussed on tactics rather than outcomes or progress. Offering wellness is easy. Businesses spend billions every year to offer the latest app, platform, or fancy office amenity. However, we the wellness-wellbeing gap still exists.

Moving Beyond the Checkbox

Companies can check a bunch of boxes, put out a few marketing brochures and say “it’s done”. They can add some resources to their EFAP plan, benefits portal, or run a few “one and done” workshops on stress management, resilience, DEIB, or the latest trending “future of work” topic.

The problem is, these are all simply stop-gap measures that fail to address the REAL reason people are stressed and burned out. THAT’S a much tougher conversation to have because it requires leadership to take a long, hard look in the mirror and take ownership of their role in this crisis…and more importantly, to do something about it.

Because that’s a tougher pill to swallow, it’s easier to check a few more of the standard boxes and remind people that you (and the company) care. Heck, just look at how much we’ve spent on all these features and amenities. We care a lot!

In essence, leaders are saying…”We know you are stressed, struggling with high workloads and lack of support from leadership, so here’s a stress management seminar to help you deal with the S**T sandwich you face at work each day”. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. These “checkboxes” can be valuable tools as part of an organization wide strategy that’s designed to tangibly move the needle on employee wellbeing. But without this overarching strategy and the executive support/commitment/resources to make it happen, real results will continue to be elusive.

How Do We Close the Wellness-Wellbeing Gap?

Over two decades ago, I started as a wellness service provider and eventually got frustrated with running programs that were well received by attendees, yet continually failed to make a bigger picture impact on the organization due to the leadership, operational, and corporate culture barriers in place for service providers and most importantly employees.

That’s what led me to this consulting. To facilitate change from the top down. For wellbeing to be the outcome, Boards of Directors and C-suite leaders must conceptually and operationally understand the financial and business implications of strategically cultivating wellbeing in employees. In other words, they must do it because it’s the right thing to do, AND is makes perfect business sense.

They must also understand that change in employee wellbeing will not come from throwing more wellness resources at a broken system. Wellness features are nice to have, but what companies really need is to improve their corporate culture and the overall employee experience. This is critical because offering a range of wellness benefits in a crappy corporate culture will make things even worse.

This creates stress, burnout, disengagement, and pessimism about the intentions of the organization and leadership. Sadly, we see this happening so often in companies today.  So my questions for you today are:

  • How is your company actually addressing well being?

  • How are they measuring moving the needle?

  • What changes are they making in leadership, organizational structure, accountability at the executive level for well being, not wellness? 

An Important Point to Remember

Wellness does not equal wellbeing!  Offering wellness tools and programs is only one part of the equation.

If you would benefit from a short strategy coaching session, let’s chat. You can contact me here, or on my LinkedIN page. I’m happy to discuss the details and what this might look like for your business to actually move the needle on wellbeing.

Think, Move, and Be Well.


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