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Designing Workplaces for Whole-Person Health

Designing spaces that magnetize employees starts with a whole-person health approach.

Shauna McQueen, MS RD

Director, Nutrition and Well-being

While many of us can describe what it means to be “unhealthy,” defining “healthy” or “well” requires more nuance. 

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

According to the National Wellness Institute, wellness “is an active process through which people become more aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.” 

What these definitions help convey is that health and wellness refer to more than the absence of diseasethey’re dynamic by nature and exist on a spectrum rather than in distinct categories (e.g., “healthy” or “unhealthy). While neither of these definitions are perfect, it’s clear that health and well-being are multidimensional, relative, fluid, and go beyond specific physical symptoms an individual may exhibit

What Is Whole-Person Health and Why Is It Important for Employers?

A whole-person approach to health acknowledges the many dimensions of health and well-being and honors its fluctuations. While multiple models representing the concept of whole-person health exist, their philosophies are similarthey tend to acknowledge that well-being can be achieved when a satisfaction within multiple factors, or dimensions, of life has been established

Although whole-person health may look different for everyone, there is a general consensus that it goes beyond physical health to include emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, physical, social, and even spiritual healtheach outlined below:

  • Emotional: includes the ability to process and express emotions productively, manage stress, connect with others emotionally, and be resilient
  • Environmental: includes everything from access to green space, weather, sustainability (green living), and built environments (including home and work)

  • Financial: includes the ability to meet financial needs in the moment as well as planning for the future

  • Intellectual: includes personal interests, education, mentally stimulating conversation/activities, and mastering new tasks 

  • Physical: includes diet, physical activity, sleep habits, drug and alcohol use, and the use of preventative medicine

  • Social: includes community, relationships with family/friends, and making time to be social

  • Spiritual: includes one’s beliefs/values and sense of purpose and meaning

While our collective thinking has evolved from focusing solely on physical health to now also prioritizing mental well-being, there is additional opportunity for an even more holistic approachespecially in the workplace

Bringing Whole-Person Health into the Workplace

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) defines whole-person health as looking at more than a single symptom to explore all the factors that promote health or cause illness. While the concept of whole-person health is widely acknowledged as beneficial in the healthcare space, it has been slow to be incorporated in the workplace. 

Estimates show that people will spend an average of one-third of their lives at work—that’s nearly 90,000 hours over the course of a lifetime. The working environment employers create contributes significantly to employee health and wellness during those 90,000 hours, but workplace satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) and feelings of stress experienced during the day carry over to affect employees’ health and wellness beyond 9:00 to 5:00. 

As an expert in facilities management and workplace experience, ISS is pioneering this approach and designing workplaces that meaningfully foster whole-person health. Below are some of the strategies ISS recommends and uses to incorporate whole-person health

Food Programming for Whole-Person Health

Food programming is a great place to start incorporating a whole-person approach to health because it touches on every dimension of well-being. 

Of course, a diet based on whole foods helps to support longevity and reduce chronic disease risk, but a whole-person health approach acknowledges that food has value and meaning beyond nutrientsit is part of how we celebrate, how we grieve, how we honor tradition, and how we connect with one another. Our food choices today are also shaping our environment of tomorrow. Leaning into this truth means we can strategically design workplace food programs to nourish not only physical well-being, but social, environmental, intellectual, and emotional well-being, as well.

Here are some tips for fostering whole-personal health in workplace food programs:

  • Create comfortable spaces that encourage connection
  • Offer regular, engaging, and intellectually stimulating culinary nutrition demos and educational sessions

  • Use positive reinforcement with whole-food options 

  • Lean into plant-based menusthrough partnerships with Cool Food, The Humane Society, and Beans is How, ISS is excited to bring creativity and innovation to plant-based menu offerings

  • Explore opportunities to preserve resources and reduce waste throughout the food cycle

  • Make a nutritious choice an easy one through thoughtful presentation and choice architecture

  • Create a veggie or herb garden onsite (one way ISS supports its clients gardens is through a program called Hives for Heroes, which is a beekeeping program for veterans that provides training on beekeeping techniques and helps keep onsite gardens diverse and blossoming). 

Whole-Person Health Beyond the Café 

Beyond food programming, thoughtful space design and curated experiences can offer nourishment within each dimension of well-being. 

One of the ways ISS brings this whole-person health programming to life is through dedicated Well-being Experience roles. This individual is an expert in topics like well-being, nutrition, and mindfulness who can work with stakeholders onsite to initiate a culture shift towards whole-person health through health-supportive design, educational events, and community building. 

Here are some tips for fostering whole-personal health in workplace:

  • Embrace natureoutdoor gardens, indoor plants, natural light, the sound of water, and even well-placed birdfeeders can all help to relieve anxiety and boost mood 
  • Offer employees opportunities for personal development beyond their rolewhat about a creative writing class or floral arranging workshop?

  • Provide support with financial well-being lecture series (research shows this is a top priority for employees)

  • Create a calm, clean mindfulness space where employees can take some time to breathe and reflect 

  • Organize a community volunteer dayhelping others benefits everyone

  • Use your pay power to support equitable and sustainable companies 

  • Allow opportunities for movement through fitness classes, walking clubs, or under-desk ellipticals for those who may want them

Workplaces Where People Want to Be

These are just a few of the ways facility service providers can help clients design workplaces for whole-person health while also magnetizing employees. Because each workplace is nuanced, ISS works with its clients to create a whole-person health strategy that meets individual needs. The inspired food programs and workplace experiences ISS provides support holistic well-being and reflects what today’s employees expect from their employers.

To learn more about whole-person health you can join the upcoming webinar: A Whole-Person Health Approach to Mental Well-being which is open to all, on May 11th from 3:00 – 3:30 pm ET. For more information, consider following ISS on LinkedIn and keeping up with the ISS blog for regular articles, news, and information.


Shauna McQueen, MS RD

Director, Nutrition and Well-being

Contact Shaunamailto:shauna.mcqueen@us.issworld.com?subject=Inquiry