Holistic employee wellbeing and its far-reaching effects

Vicky Koekemoer, Chief Human Resource Officer of Ignition Group, believes that leaders can champion holistic employee wellbeing by being role models who practice self-care, advocates who communicate its importance, and facilitators who provide resources and opportunities for enhancing wellbeing in the workplace.
5 minutes
Ignition Group thought leadership by Vicky Koekemoer

How leaders can foster employee wellbeing in the workplace.

Employee wellbeing is not just a matter of physical health but also of mental, emotional and social wellbeing. It is a holistic concept that encompasses the whole person and their experience at work. Employee wellbeing affects not only the individual but also the team, the organisation and society at large. It has implications for productivity, performance, engagement, retention, innovation and customer satisfaction. Ultimately, employee wellbeing can even be seen in its effect on a company’s bottom-line.  

However, employee wellbeing is not something that can be achieved by simply offering perks, benefits or wellness programmes. It requires a culture of wellbeing that is embedded in the values, norms and practices of the organisation. This culture of wellbeing starts with the leaders. Leaders have a crucial role in creating and sustaining a positive work environment that supports the wellbeing of their employees. They can do this by being champions of holistic wellbeing, who model, promote and enable wellbeing for themselves and others.

What is holistic wellbeing and why is it important?

Holistic wellbeing is a multidimensional concept that encompasses the physical, mental, emotional and social aspects of a person’s life. It is not just the absence of illness or stress but the presence of positive states and resources that enhance their quality of life. Holistic wellbeing is influenced by both internal and external factors, such as personality, values, beliefs, attitudes, skills, behaviours, relationships, environment and culture.

Holistic wellbeing is important because it affects how people think, feel and act at work. It influences their motivation, creativity, resilience, collaboration and performance. It also affects their health, happiness and satisfaction with their work and life. Research has shown that employees with higher levels of holistic wellbeing are more productive, engaged, loyal, innovative and customer-oriented than those with lower levels. They also have lower rates of absenteeism, turnover, burnout and accidents.

The Covid-19 pandemic introduced new and intense pressures on employees, both at home and in the workplace, with significant impacts on their overall wellness. According to a study by Oxford University:

Data from an Oxford University study shows this workforce data

How can leaders be champions of holistic wellbeing?

Leaders can be champions of holistic wellbeing by adopting three key roles: role models, advocates and facilitators.

Role models: Leaders can be role models of holistic wellbeing by practising self-care and maintaining a healthy balance between work and life. They can demonstrate healthy habits, such as eating well, exercising, sleeping, meditating and taking breaks. They can also show vulnerability, empathy and compassion, and share their own challenges and successes with wellbeing. By doing so, they can inspire and influence their employees to follow their example and take care of themselves.

Advocates: Leaders can be advocates of holistic wellbeing by communicating and reinforcing the importance and value of wellbeing for the organisation and the employees. They can articulate a clear and compelling vision and strategy for wellbeing that aligns with the organisational goals and values. They can also recognise and reward employees who demonstrate wellbeing behaviours and outcomes, and provide feedback and support for those who need improvement. By doing so, they can create and sustain a culture of wellbeing that fosters trust, respect and commitment.

Facilitators: Leaders can be facilitators of holistic wellbeing by providing and enabling the resources and opportunities for their employees to enhance their wellbeing. They can offer and encourage participation in wellbeing programmes and initiatives, such as workshops, coaching, mentoring, peer support and wellness challenges. They can also create and maintain a positive and supportive work environment that promotes autonomy, flexibility, diversity, inclusion and collaboration. By doing so, they can empower and enable their employees to thrive and grow.

Practical applications

Global analytics firm Gallup says that, “Organisations have the power and responsibility to improve their employees’ wellbeing. When leaders and managers cultivate the whole person at work – not just the employee – they promote the success of every individual in the organisation.” Here are some practical ways this ideal can be implemented:

  • Promote work-life balance: Encourage employees to take breaks, use their vacation time and avoid working excessive hours. Offer flexible schedules or remote work options when possible to help employees better manage their personal and professional responsibilities.
  • Provide Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs): Offer access to counselling services, mental health resources and financial planning assistance through an EAP. These programmes can help employees to manage stress, anxiety and other personal challenges.
  • Encourage physical activity: Implement wellness initiatives such as on-site fitness classes, standing desks or subsidised gym memberships. Encourage employees to take regular breaks for physical activity, which can improve overall health and reduce stress levels.
  • Foster social connections: Create opportunities for team-building activities, social events and employee resource groups. Strong social connections at work can contribute to a sense of belonging and improve overall well-being.
  • Offer healthy food options: Provide healthy snack options in the workplace or partner with local vendors to offer discounted healthy meal options.
  • Prioritise professional development: Invest in training and development opportunities for employees. When employees feel a sense of growth and accomplishment, it can positively impact their well-being and job satisfaction.
  • Promote open communication: Foster an environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their well-being concerns with managers or HR representatives. Regularly check in with employees and provide support when needed.
  • Lead by example: Leaders should model healthy behaviours and prioritise their own well-being. This can help create a culture where well-being is valued and supported throughout the organisation.


Employee wellbeing is a holistic concept that encompasses the physical, mental, emotional and social aspects of a person’s life. It is a key driver of organisational success and social impact. Leaders have a vital role in fostering employee wellbeing in the workplace by being champions of holistic wellbeing. They can do this by being role models, advocates and facilitators of wellbeing for themselves and others. By doing so, they can create and sustain a culture of wellbeing that benefits the individual, the team, the organisation and society.

I’d like to leave you with a quote that I find particularly motivating and which I feel encapsulates my approach to holistic wellbeing:

“Years ago, anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones.
But no. Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal.
A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts, Mead said.”

We are at our best when we serve others. Be civilized.

Vicky Koekemoer is Chief Human Resource Officer of Ignition Group.

Ignition Group Vicky Koekemoer Chief Human Resources Officer
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