The Dangers of Selling ‘360-Degree Wellness’

A thought piece by James Shillaker, Founding MD of Incorpore Limited’

I have an objection to the term ‘360-degree wellness’.

At best, the term has no clinical validation whatsoever. It is simply management jargon. At worst, it could be marketing a misleading message and preventing people from accessing more accurate clinical help. Putting it simply, it’s a phrase I’ve never heard outside of the employee benefits industry.

I’m sure it’s a euphemism for the holistic approach – which surely is accepted as passé by now? To me it implies a wellness solution which covers health or wellbeing from every angle and seems to encompass everything as ‘one solution fits all’.

That’s where the real problem lies.

A state of wellness focuses on three key areas: physical health, mental health and social wellbeing.

Firstly, the link with social wellbeing derives from the fact that any community’s poorest and most underprivileged people have a worsened state of physical and mental health. This can refer to entire populations living in abject poverty or particularly destitute areas in thriving countries.

The problem with addressing social health as an employee benefit is:

  • The UK is the fourth richest country in the world (Global Wealth Migration Review 2019)
  • By the very nature of an employee benefit, the targeted individuals are both employed and receiving a wage. As such, they probably don’t need the same social wellbeing guidance that the NHS is catering for. (That’s not to say there aren’t social issues directly affecting some employees – but they’re likely to be very complex and not covered by a generic employee benefit.)

Secondly, putting social wellbeing to one side, physical and mental health are fundamentally linked. They have roles in each other’s pathologies and treatments. Employees with poor mental health are at serious risk of experiencing chronic physical conditions and similarly those with poor physical health are at high risk of developing serious mental health issues.

I believe it’s dangerous for HRs to assume that solutions to mental health and physical health issues can be found under one umbrella without the requirement of more specialist help. The relevant phrase in clinical domains regarding health is still ‘multidisciplinary’.

Processes of assessment and delivery of mental, physical and social wellbeing are dependent on the expert providing the work; not the aspirations of one professional or company.

When doctors look at an individual’s mental health they have an entire range of possibilities and outcomes to consider. So, by definition, ‘360-degree wellbeing’ has to be wrong if it doesn’t do everything a clinical expert would do. This includes examining the physical, psychological and social aspects of each problem they’re trying to solve.

Another problem is that the term ‘wellbeing’ has been watered down so much by non-health-related marketing claiming solutions to improve wellbeing. You can apply it to anything these days – buy a penguin, be kind to it, improve your wellbeing.

Even the finance sector has coined the phrase of ‘financial wellbeing’ as a common marketing tool for their products. I totally understand why – I imagine they’d argue that they give sound advice and so employees get an improved wellbeing by understanding their financial future.

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Do you suppose those finance companies can evidence those specific wellbeing improvements or have we just accepted it?

I expect more ‘360-degree’ jargon to follow on from the COVID-19 crisis. I expect more diluted use of the word ‘wellbeing’. I definitely expect to see an influx of solutions which have no clinical validation whatsoever.