Skip to content

Employers as a Force for Good: Normalizing a Whole-Person Health Approach

By Daryl Brewster, CEO, CECP

Employers invest in human capital for both their internal and external communities. At MI Health, we view the workplace as its own community, in which organizational leadership is uniquely positioned to introduce, model, communicate, and normalize a “whole-person” approach to health that prioritizes physical, mental, and financial well-being equally. Investments in whole-person health can come in the form of expanded health benefits, changes to internal policies and programs, shifts in workplace culture to allow people to bring their “whole selves” to work, and increased levels of opportunity that recognize the many roles and responsibilities employees take on, such as caregiving.

Sabrina Spitaletta, senior director, Public Health at the Milken Institute, and Daryl Brewster, CEO, Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP), sat down to discuss the ways leadership within organizations can lead with a whole-person health approach in mind.

Employers are defining “whole-person health” in various ways. As an employer, how do you envision a whole-person health approach in the workplace and in community investments from the employer?

As an organization, CECP believes that creating a whole-person health approach in the workplace involves addressing various aspects of employees’ well-being, including physical, mental, and emotional health. We offer employees training and skills development opportunities, an inclusive work environment, chances for regular feedback, and more. We believe in creating a trust-based culture by inviting people from all levels of the organization to co-create projects, collect feedback with semi-annual all-staff surveys, and set quarterly individual goals.

Since its founding in 1999, CECP has developed the gold standard for companies to achieve a return on purpose by providing affiliated companies with tangible frameworks, data, strategies, and goal setting. This includes access to the largest and most historical data set—22 years—on corporate giving by the world’s largest companies that represent more than $439 billion in total community investments over that same time frame. The resulting annual report, Giving in Numbers, shows an increase in total community investments between 2020-2022. 2022 was a time of rebuilding, with many companies revisiting their social impact strategies following a peak in giving for the pandemic and racial equity. Being a purpose-driven employer and investing in local communities is not only a socially responsible act but also a smart business strategy that can create a win-win situation, benefiting both the company’s bottom line and the community it serves. In fact, a new report Shared Resilience led by CECP with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation looks at how the pandemic has influenced corporate change management and finds that purpose in all its types—competence, culture, and cause—is ultimately the cornerstone of the company, serving as its North Star and fueling its strategy.

What are the risks if employers do not adopt or move towards a whole-person health approach?

If employers do not adopt or move towards a whole-person health approach in the workplace, they may risk both the well-being of their employees and the overall success of their organization. The results can range from increased costs and reduced productivity to challenges in attracting and retaining talent. Areas such as mental wellness are increasingly more important for younger generations like Gen Z. Society for Human Resource Management research found that 61 percent of Gen Z respondents said they would strongly consider leaving their current job if offered a new one with significantly better mental health benefits. Prioritizing employee well-being contributes not only to the health and happiness of the workforce but also to the overall success and sustainability of the organization.

What steps are employers uniquely positioned to take to normalize and achieve a whole-person health approach?

Collectively, companies can be a force for good by normalizing a whole-person health approach to business. Employers can play a crucial role by promoting this approach for both employees and the community. Internally, employers can create wellness programs that address physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Externally, corporate foundations can serve as vital levers within society. CECP’s annual Giving in Numbers survey has found corporate foundations provide significant community investments, with 80 percent of participating companies having at least one corporate foundation. This year’s report also found that the program areas that continued to receive the most funding were Health and Social Services and Community and Economic Development at 20 percent. This type of giving enables businesses to extend wellness initiatives beyond the workplace to the local community, collaborate with local health organizations to address broader community health, and sponsor or participate in community health events, workshops, and programs. By taking these steps, employers can contribute to the normalization of a whole-person health approach, benefiting employees and the community at large.

In your opinion, which organizational leadership roles or positions need to be involved for this integrated approach to be adopted across the organization and in the surrounding community?

Achieving a holistic, whole-person health approach across an organization and its surrounding community requires collaboration and involvement from various leadership roles. However, it should start at the top since the CEO sets the overall vision and direction for the organization. Their endorsement and commitment to holistic well-being are crucial for fostering a culture that prioritizes health. But everyone from human resources to communications should be involved, as it’s crucial to consider the diverse needs of employees. The above-mentioned Shared Resilience report includes a diagnostic tool for leaders to assess where their company currently stands on the path to purpose, empathy, integration, congruence, trust, and, ultimately, to build a shared, collective resilience. Integrating the opinions of different roles and voices can help to ensure that wellness programs are inclusive and accessible to all.

How do employers build a sustainable whole-person health approach that anticipates the ebb and flow of the external environment, whether those are shifts in the economic, social, or political landscape?

Building a sustainable whole-person health approach that anticipates and adapts to external changes requires strategic planning, flexibility, and a proactive mindset. It also necessitates that companies act with thoughtfulness and integrity, no matter the ebbs and flows due to elections and other contentious issues in the news. Businesses play a unique and important role. This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer found that companies are currently the only global institution to be seen as both competent and ethical. As we head towards the 2024 US presidential elections—along with 60 other notable elections happening around the globe this year—we put together this blog with information about how companies can spread a message of hope and trust in a way that inspires their people to act, to address adversity in their own lives, as well as the challenges that face the business.

At CECP, we find leading companies focus on enduring, long-term value creation—including purpose and measurement—as they assess both risks and opportunities. Those who prepare for the future consider long-term business risks such as climate, geopolitical events, and the impact of AI on jobs. By taking a proactive yet agile approach, employers can build a sustainable whole-person health strategy that is resilient to external changes. Regular assessment, collaboration, and a commitment to employee well-being are essential to its success.


This article was originally published on LinkedIn by the Public Health at the Milken Institute.