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Local Service Partners

Local Service Partners are independent EAPs with which WPO has established strategic relationships for the delivery of global EAP services in alignment with the WPO models, processes and quality standards.

  • 1 March 2023
  • 12 months

Holistic, Personalized Care for Employees: What it Means, Why it’s Important, and What it Looks Like

Emily Fournier

Marketing Specialist

The start of 2023 marks a new age in healthcare. Gone are the days when the words “health” and “healthcare” referred exclusively to physical health and hospitals or traditional health systems; instead, today’s workforce now considers these to be all-encompassing terms, in which the former includes social, emotional, and mental health, while the latter now includes non-traditional care options including coaching, counseling, training, and other varied methods of support.

Findings from the CVS Health 2022 Health Care Insights Study show that most workers now recognize that health is heterogenous and complex, and that furthermore, they are now increasingly in search of care that will provide targeted yet at the same time multifaceted support that best meets their unique health needs. In order to meet this demand, more employers are recognizing that it is time to retire exhausted and outdated one-size-fits-all approaches to healthcare, and turn their attention toward holistic, personalized care.

So, what does that entail, exactly?

By now, most workplaces are all too familiar with the fact that different elements of health and wellness—physical and mental health, emotional wellbeing, financial wellness, to name a few—are not contingent upon the conditions of their respective areas alone. Financial wellness isn’t solely determined by one’s financial status, nor workplace health by the conditions of the work environment, nor physical health by genetics or one’s level of physical activity. Instead, each bleeds—or rather, feeds—into the other: poor mental health can lead to poor physical health or illness, which can lead to absenteeism and thus to loss of employment, which can then result in financial insecurity, leading to interpersonal conflicts, and the list goes on from there. The idea that each of these factors must be addressed aggregately is the guiding principle of what is known as a holistic approach to care.

As Mary Ellen Gornick, Senior Vice President of Global Services at Workplace Options explains, “if you look at the WHO’s definition of health, it’s about the absence of illness within every component of health—our physical, mental, and social health components. So, when I think about ‘holistic care,’ I think about the fact that you want to treat the whole person; you want to treat the mind and the body; you want to treat their physical, emotional, environmental, and spiritual needs. But in order to really do that, you need to have a whole system of care.”

And this system of care that Gornick is referring to includes both a multitude of care options, as well as a multitude of modalities or pathways to receiving care. While traditional healthcare coverage may cover medications, hospital or emergency services, and primary care appointments essential to one’s physical health, equally important to one’s holistic health and wellbeing include emotional support services (I.e. counseling, individual or group therapy, mindfulness programs, bereavement care), practical support services (I.e. community resource and information sharing, family or eldercare support, skills training, and coaching services), and critical incident response services (stress management, 24/7 crisis hotlines, crisis intervention) that ensure that individuals receive support within all areas of their life that may be negatively impacting their health. And just as people need access to different types of care, they also need different ways of going about accessing it, whether through in-person, onsite, or virtual care services that allow them to access the care they need in a manner that is most conducive to their scheduling needs or to any health conditions they may have that render certain pathways to care inaccessible to them.

Tying into that last point comes the second component to a more integrated approach to care; that is to say, the personalized approach to care. As Gornick explains in her assessment of holistic care, this more integrated approach is rooted in the notion that the “whole person” should be taken into account when it comes to providing support or treatment, and as such, is guided by the principle that no two people are alike in their needs, preferences, or experiences. And so, what the personalized component of this approach aims to achieve is to identify where and how the individual best fits within this system of care, rather than forcing them to fit into generalized treatment plans based on certain criteria that they might meet.

“If you look at what we provide at WPO,” offers Gornick, “We do have a systematic approach to care. We’re looking at all the pieces, so we have counseling, mindfulness, coaching, and training. The personalized piece is how you fit into that system; you need all parts of it, but you don’t always need all parts at the same time. It’s there for you when and as you need it—and that’s really important.”

Why it’s So Important

Perhaps the key distinction between a holistic, personalized approach to care and a more traditional approach is the former’s emphasis on contextual treatment, while the latter focuses on symptomatic treatment. This contextual approach to care is especially important in today’s climate of instability and uncertainty, in which our environments are playing a central role in determining the state of our health and wellness.

“We live right now in a world that is constantly changing, there’s a lot happening in the climate—a lot of unknowns,” Gornick asserts, listing the pandemic, the rise in violence around the world, and rampant geopolitical unrest as just some of the many environmental factors that are having a considerable effect on people’s overall wellbeing. “When you look at what the needs of the people are, you have to look at what environment they’re in, and how that environment is affecting them personally, and then who and what they can turn to, to help them better manage some of the reactions that they’re having in those situations. That’s where the ‘social determinants of health’ come into play,” she explains.

“If we look at our system—the counseling piece, the coaching piece, the environmental and mindfulness pieces—” she begins, “all focus on the individual: if individuals are affected physically, we can address that through wellness coaching. If they have housing needs, we can address that through the practical aspects of the program—same with financial and family issues,” she explains. “And then, when they go to the work-life piece, they can really address some of the needs that they have based on these social determinants of health. And what I think that piece is saying—and why it’s so important to the world right now—is that your health is affected by where you live and what’s going on in your community.”

According to Gornick, this approach to care is a vital shift away from more traditional routes—in which the fundamental question has always been about determining which treatment will help the most people with a particular disease or symptom—because it recognizes that symptoms matter less than their causes when it comes to helping people improve their health for the long-term, and moreover, that one’s ability to cope with such triggers is a prerequisite for maintaining these long-term results.

As Gornick asserts, “Programs like the ones we have are really important because, without them, the individual will go to a program that is able to treat their most prominent symptoms. For instance, they’ll go to a hospital because they’re having a somatic reaction to stress, like a massive headache or chest pains or panic attacks.”

“But when you go to an institution like that, you run the risk that they’re going to treat the symptom and not the cause,” she warns. “What we’re doing with this personalized, holistic approach, is we’re looking at the individual from the perspective of, ‘they’re coming to us because they have a symptom, but there is a cause for that symptom. And that cause can come from a number of different places and have a number of different triggers. So, how do we help them with this program?’ For us in the EAP field, this personalized, holistic approach means that we have a system that has multiple options, and a system that can provide intervention for the individual at whatever phase they are trying to resolve.”

What this System of Care Looks Like

So how can employers go about securing this system of care for their employees? According to Gornick, a good framework to follow when it comes to building a robust wellbeing program that is not only holistic but really beneficial to their particular workforce is that of the three ‘R’s: reach, relevance, and results. Essentially, this framework expounds employers’ need to determine:

  1. What specific pathways to care are accessible to their employees (Reach)
  2. Which specific types of interventions (I.e. practical, emotional, work-life) would best suit their workers’ needs (Relevance)
  3. Which combination(s) of pathways to and types of care would have the greatest impact on their workers’ health and wellbeing (Results)

More importantly, this framework encourages employers to shift away from the paternalistic perspective that the physician or provider “knows best,” toward a more collaborative and empowering approach in which employees are allowed—and moreover, encouraged—to get involved in the planning and distribution of their own care; an approach that is associated with greater adherence to and clinical benefits from any guidance obtained through this system of care.

Ultimately, what this framework recognizes and seeks to make known is that the needs of one’s unique set of workers are not universal: while blue-collar workers may benefit from having access to on-site clinics or counselors for health screenings and wellness check-ins, for instance, white-collar workers who are working largely from home might be more in need of access to virtual services that provide work-life coaching, and child or eldercare support. Because workers’ needs can vary widely from one organization to the next, it’s important that employers’ wellness programs and benefits offerings are designed specifically with their own workforce’s needs in mind in order to optimize both the utilization and benefits of such services.

In order to undertake a holistic and personalized approach to care, this will require that employers look beyond the immediate or perhaps visible needs of their employees, and instead seek to offer care that will support them as a whole person, including their:

  • Cultural needs (I.e. expression of self, sense of identity, values, beliefs, practices; cultural capability: cultural competency, awareness, and safety; linguistic support)
  • Financial needs (I.e. money for housing, transportation, utilities, food, tuition, healthcare)
  • Mental and emotional needs (I.e. mindfulness, self-efficacy and self-esteem, coping strategies, resiliency, hope)
  • Physical health needs (I.e. exercise, nutrition, sleep, drug use)
  • Physiological needs (I.e. air, water, food, shelter, clothing)
  • Safety needs (I.e. security of body, of employment, resources; law and order, and stability)
  • Social needs (I.e. strong social networks, friendship, love, intimacy, family planning, home and family maintenance)
  • Spiritual needs (I.e. connection to others, sense of belonging, meaning and purpose)
  • Self-actualization needs (I.e. self-fulfillment, personal growth)

While the right solutions to these needs will vary, ranging from fitness facilities or employer-sponsored gym memberships, to affinity or peer-support groups, to financial or family planning and everything in between (grief, loss, or bereavement counseling, substance rehabilitation programs, tuition reimbursement or student loan assistance—the list goes on), there are several key steps that all employers will need to take in order to ensure that their benefits are accessible and effectual for all.

Namely, these include:

  • Investing in culturally competent clinicians, counselors, and care providers. According to the Theoretical Domains Framework developed by a collaboration of behavioral scientists and team of researchers from Canada, the UK, and Australia, the three most crucial actions associated with personalized, holistic care are (1) relationship-building (I.e., active, empathic listening), (2) “knowing the patient” (I.e., inclusion of family, eliciting and respecting their values and personal health and wellness goals), and (3) knowing the context (I.e., understanding the factors that influence health outcomes, the performance of health behaviors). Findings from the 2022 Health Care Insights Study reveal that a strong majority of consumers (80 percent) now anticipate such actions, saying that it’s important to them that their care providers know and understand their lifestyle choices and personal health goals, their family medical histories and environmental risk factors, and their overall level of happiness and life satisfaction. Respondents also said they want to be able to receive advice or guidance on topics related to their holistic health and wellbeing, such as advice on where they can receive emotional, financial, or medical support.

More importantly, however, study findings also revealed a growing intolerance among consumers for siloed and disjointed interactions with providers that address their concerns and challenges “in a superficial, non-engaging, or hasty way,” and instead found a high demand for lasting, authentic relationships with providers, in which providers seek to “ask meaningful questions that address root causes of health conditions” and work together to determine lasting solutions for their overall health and wellbeing. That said, employers should strive to invest in health and wellbeing providers that offer individual and connected support; collaborative, co-designed care; decision-making and decision-support coaching; cultural and linguistic support, safety, and affirmation; health and psychoeducation; and effective communications.

For instance, under WPO’s Counseling Approach for Single-Session Therapy (SST), counselors strive to lead and listen with empathy, asking open-ended and probing questions, being attentive and taking time to dive deeper into their client’s concerns and the context surrounding them, collaborating with their clients to identify goals that they can work toward, providing in-the-moment strategies and psychoeducation needed to support the client, and providing resources and further points-of-contact that clients can explore for further assistance post-SST. More importantly, they’re advised never to rush the client, or to sound as if they are conducting an assessment or intake, both of which can cause clients to feel as though they are not important, not valued, not being heard or understood, and worst of all, are not being helped.

As Leila Raffoul, Director of Clinical Service Delivery for the Middle East and India, underscores, “Each person is their own person. Clinicians and counselors can’t just say, ‘Okay, so you’re experiencing anxiety right now. I have a textbook that teaches me about anxiety; you are that textbook. No, because every person experiences anxiety in different ways, and we need to be treated differently in the sense that the counselor needs to hear you out as if it’s their first time hearing about someone experiencing anxiety.”

According to Raffoul, this includes engaging in inquisitive conversations and asking thought-provoking questions that help clinicians to paint a better picture of the “whole person” that they’re working with, outlining not just their physical and mental symptoms, but also their emotional and behavioral reactions to them including their coping skills and self-care strategies, the conditions of their environment that may be impacting them, and the resources or support systems they currently have or lack access to. It also includes using caring tonalities to exhibit empathy and understanding, and using psychoeducation to help a client understand what is happening to them, and why their mind and body are having the reactions that they are. “And with that,” Raffoul argues, “it’s a conversation, nothing like a checklist. I’m not asking a couple of yes or no questions; I’m having a genuine conversation with the client where they feel heard and feel as though they have the space to talk at their own pace, about whatever it is they want to talk about.”

  • Prioritizing connected, integrated support. Just as consumers are now more in favor of their care providers understanding their health goals and having a better picture of their collective health and wellbeing, they are also equally interested in their providers being able to provide solutions that may extend beyond their targeted area of expertise. Say an individual is experiencing financial stress, for instance; not only are they going to be in need of financial coaching support, but they are also going to need that mental health or emotional support component that will help them develop coping strategies to deal with the mental or somatic symptoms of stress that they’ve been experiencing.

Therefore, it’s important that employers invest in robust wellbeing programs that provide their works with the multipoint and integrated solutions needed to cover all of their needs synergistically. For instance, WPO provides a variety of solutions under the umbrella of four main categories that clients can access synchronously, namely:

    • Health support, including healthy lifestyle, illness, personal injury, or traumatic event support.
    • Work/Study support, including student assist, workplace conflict, change in workplace or job function, financial insecurity, and retirement support.
    • Family support, including marriage, divorce or separation, family planning, caregiving, and bereavement support.
    • Personal support, including vacation, holidays, relocation, personal growth, and community involvement support.
  • Offering valued, varied, and flexible benefits. Arguably one of the most important actions that employers can take to provide more personalized, holistic, and effective support would be to grant employees the autonomy to choose their own benefits—and this is coming directly from the workers themselves. According to the 2022 Employee Benefits Survey, close to two-thirds of workers value the ability to choose their own benefits, yet only a little more than a third currently feel that they have a say.

But new data indicates that it would be wise for employers to implement more adaptable benefits, as Mercer’s Health and Demand study found that the more varied an organization’s benefits were, the more the organization and employees both benefited: for instance, approximately three-quarters of employees with access to at least 10 benefits were shown to feel more energized, motivated, and confident at work, compared to a little over half of employees with fewer benefits.

When it comes to providing more flexible and personalized benefits, one of the easiest routes that employers can take is to provide monthly, bimonthly, or annual allowances that employees can use to cover a range of their health and wellness needs. This may include offering stipends or reimbursements, expense cards, or lifestyle savings accounts (LSAs), to cover things like tuition and student loans; gas and commuting costs; home office supplies for remote workers; and gym memberships, fitness classes, meditation apps, or desk exercise equipment. Or it might include providing adaptable health benefits such as HRAs, HSAs, or flexible health stipends that reimburse employees for medical expenses—including expenses paid toward mental healthcare.

Ultimately though, employers should prioritize offering whatever holistic financial benefits are best suited for their unique workforce, whether that be paid family leave, debt counseling, child or eldercare assistance, family-building support, or basic money management tools.

  • Providing multimodal access to support. Finally, in addition to offering more flexible benefits, providing holistic and personalized care also means providing flexible access to such benefits. According to the CVS Health Study, “quick and easy connections with providers via phone calls, texts, and other virtual means are now highly valued by patients.” In fact, new research from the American Medical Association found that more than three-quarters of Americans are now interested in using telehealth, with nearly 85 percent expecting to use it even after the pandemic ends.

Benefits of Holistic, Personalized Care

While employers should strive to provide more targeted and individualized support to their workers simply because that’s what’s best for their employees, there are plenty of benefits that such support offers to the organization that employers may also want to consider when it comes to implementing these solutions, including:

  • Improved retention rates. While research from Mercer finds that poor support makes it significantly more likely that an employee will want to leave their job, posing reputational, business continuity, and operational risks to their employer, new research from the Brandon Hall Group has found that investing in more versatile and holistic wellbeing support can lead to a 67 percent increase in retention rate—and even a 35 percent increase in customer retention. Employers may also have an easier time recruiting new talent as well, as prospective employees will want to work for the organizations that view them as whole people and who value their holistic wellbeing.
  • Reduction in burnout. By investing in holistic wellbeing solutions employers can also ensure that their workers have access to the support needed to address any of the concerns they have that may be contributing to increased levels of stress, such as mental, emotional, or physical fatigue, financial insecurity, loneliness or isolation, or poor social support, in order to prevent or alleviate burnout. In fact, additional findings from the Brandon Hall Group showed that investing in holistic wellbeing solutions lead to a near 50 percent decrease in burnout.
  • Increased engagement; greater profitability. Research from Gallup has consistently shown that employee engagement and wellbeing are reciprocal; while new studies reveal that more than half of employees believe that the state of their wellbeing has a direct impact on their level of productivity. According to findings from the Brandon Hall Group, by investing in more comprehensive and microtargeted wellbeing support, employers can increase their employee engagement by a whopping 81 percent, increasing their overall worker output and leading to a 24 percent growth in profitability.
  • Healthier employees. Generally, the more an employer invests in their workers’ holistic health and wellbeing, the healthier and happier their employees are. According to the 2022 Health Care Insights Study, nearly two-thirds of respondents noted that access to personalized, holistic care had a high-to-moderate impact on clients’ abilities to achieve desired outcomes and reach their personal health and wellness goals.

While this is only a small snapshot of the impact that holistic and personalized wellbeing solutions can have on an organization’s overall success, the case these benefits make on their own are compelling enough.

Therefore, as comprehensive, flexible, and personalized benefits continue to become the most sought-after wellness perks heading into 2023, employers looking to retain talent or attract new talent would wise to take a hard look at their own benefits package and determine how they can better expand it and ensure that it reflects and targets the needs of their workers, and provides the versatile, affirmative, and empowering support they need.

Workplace Options helps individuals balance their work, family, and personal needs to become healthier, happier, and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class member support, effectiveness, and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals, and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. Contact us to learn more. 

Disclaimer: This document is intended for general information only. It does not provide the reader with specific direction, advice, or recommendations. You may wish to contact an appropriate professional for questions concerning your particular situation.

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