What Are ‘Wellness Officers’ And Do You Need One?

Did you know there are professionals whose job it is to ensure the wellbeing of staff?

In a world where the word ‘wellness’ is thrown about so frequently, in so many contexts, we are constantly searching for more ways in which we can improve our wellbeing.

In the current wellness landscape, we are seeing more and more recognition around the fact that, since we spend around 70% of our lives at work (this may feel more like 99% for many practitioners and business owners!), more efforts towards personal wellbeing should also be made at work, not just during ‘me time’. It is no doubt that for this reason we’re now seeing the rise of a new professional job role – the wellness officer.

This new executive position has been developed to combat the rising levels of burnout in the workplace, a condition which even the World Health Organisation officially recognised as a legitimate occupational phenomenon this year. Though not as prevalent here in Australia yet as much as the US, a quick Google search is all it takes to find countless recent articles on the importance of wellness officers, particularly for clinicians in the healthcare and medical aesthetics industries.

In one of these, Dr Jonathan Ripp MD, MPH, chief wellness officer at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (New York) reported a low number of wellness office positions in existence when he began mid-last year, a number which has been growing ever since.

“There have been at least a dozen more who have been named in the past year, and several more places that are looking to create the position,” said Dr. Ripp. “I would not be surprised if, 10 years from now, it’s commonplace for most large organisations to have a chief wellness officer or equivalent, taking this challenge on, and doing so in a way that is effective.” His role includes promoting personal resilience and mental health among clinicians, students, and trainees, and on improving workplace efficiency and culture.

Another account is that of Kathleen Nelson, Associate Dean For Leadership And Wellness at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. Their program includes mindfulness training, yoga classes, and weekly farmers markets, working on the “low-hanging fruit” of individual wellness. “Most people who go to medical school and go through residency and training are pretty resilient individuals,” says Nelson. “So that’s part of it, but the rest has to do with the culture that you’re living in and the things that are put upon you by the practice of medicine.”

Australia isn’t too far behind it seems, with the Australian Heart Foundation offering a comprehensive toolbox on how best to facilitate wellness in the workplace:

“Workplaces are ideally placed to implement policies and programs that encourage employees to improve healthy eating behaviours, break up sitting time, increase physical activity levels, as well as build a positive workplace culture,” it reads. “These programs in turn, can improve employee retention and productivity as well as reduce absenteeism and cost and frequency of worker’s compensation.”

Focus areas and tips include:

  • Nutrition – such as offering healthy snacks in kitchens and vending machines, distributing nutrition info or recipes, or offering complimentary days of dietician consultations
  • Physical activity – such as walking meetings, subsidised gym memberships, group physical activity or encouraging staff to take active commutes
  • Stress management – you could consider hosting classes like meditation, mindfulness or yoga

“The more well your work force, the more optimal your health system functions,” says Dr Ripp.

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