Dr. Erin Nitschke by Dr. Erin Nitschke

Wellness is more than a concept or a series of isolated events. Wellness is a lifestyle and a culture. The term “wellness” itself can seem nebulous and esoteric and ultimately hard to define. In fact, there are as many definitions of “wellness” as there are organizations committed to its existence.

The National Wellness Institute defines wellness as “an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.” The Wellness Council of America (WELCOA) further defines wellness as “the active pursuit to understand and fulfill your individual human needs—which allows you to reach a state where you are flourishing and able to realize your full potential in all aspects of life.” WELCOA also includes seven benchmarks that define wellness in a holistic vision: health, meaning, safety, connection, achievement, growth and resiliency.

Other perspectives on wellness include “a sense that one is functioning at his or her best level” (Housman and Odum, 2016) and a conscious and constant pursuit to live life to the fullest (Thygerson and Thygerson, 2019). Finally, the American Council on Exercise thoughtfully reminds us that “While there are many different definitions and models of wellness, almost all interpretations of this widely used term reflect the fact that wellness is multidimensional” (American Council on Exercise, 2019).

While definitions of wellness may vary, we observe common threads throughout each one. Wellness is regarded as an active process focused on behavior change that facilitates the development of an individual’s whole health. Therefore, creating a culture of wellness is also a conscious, active process that aims to foster an environment capable of supporting and nurturing healthy habits. A culture of wellness isn’t established or developed overnight. Rather, it is an evolutionary process that takes strategy, thoughtful consideration and culture coaching.

Judd Allen, PhD, and president of the Human Resources Institute, LLC, has focused his career on creating supportive cultures and believes that groups, communities and organizations are more likely to achieve personal health and professional productivity objectives if they are supported at work. He claims there are five dimensions of creating a supportive culture of wellness:

  • Shared values or priorities 
  • Cultural norms or established expectations within an organization or community
  • Touch points or social mechanisms similar to policies and procedures
  • Peer support or employees helping employees
  • Climate or sense of employee morale and teamwork

To Dr. Allen, these are all the elements that make up an organization’s culture. To read more about his insight, view his expert interview with WELCOA.

Here are some aspects to keep in mind as you engage in discussions surrounding a well workplace within your own organization or community.

Step 1: Measure the Culture

Does your organization or facility have a “well at work” mentality? Conduct a SWOT analysis to determine the strengths and opportunities within your organization. This approach allows you to critically examine the existing culture. You might also consider using an instrument to gather quantitative data and hold focus groups to uncover the more qualitative aspects of the existing culture.

Step 2: Identify Your Wellness Warriors

Developing a culture of wellness takes a team approach. Who do you have in your organization that could serve as wellness warriors and champions? Seek out a group of three to five people who could be members of team wellness that can provide peer support to others.

Step 3: Define Wellness

As we’ve already seen, definitions of wellness will vary by organization and entity. Wellness means something different to each individual. Therefore, your organization must define what a “culture of wellness” looks like at your organization. What does it entail? What does it look like? How will you know when it’s been achieved?

Step 4: Include a Broad Focus

When considering how to develop or enhance a culture of wellness, don’t limit your thinking to physical health parameters (including wellness blood draws, physicals, etc.). Employee wellness encompasses more than a single dimension. Rather, employee wellness is and should be considered holistic and requires a multidimensional approach that targets areas such as stress management, ergonomics, mental health, nutrition, fitness and employee satisfaction.

Step 5: Develop Your Wellness Toolkit

After taking the initial first steps to examine the culture, identify wellness coaches or champions and define what wellness means to your organization, it’s time to put together a wellness toolkit or program that is as unique to your company as it is to the individuals within it. It’s not necessary to have the entire program developed and implemented from the start. Begin with small initiatives that grow over time and build upon each other so that eventually, wellness is the culture.

For specific tools and examples, visit NWI and WELCOA.

Wellness is a unique journey and should be respected as such when shaping the culture of an organization. An organization is made up of individual people with varying needs and concerns; addressing those concerns holistically is paramount to nurturing a supportive culture of wellness.

Interested in expanding your client offerings? Become an ACE Certified Health Coach!



American Council on Exercise (2019). The Professional’s Guide to Health and Wellness Coaching. San Diego: American Council on Exercise.


Houseman, J. and Odum, M. (2016). Essential Concepts of Healthy Living. Burlington, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett Learning.


Thygerson, A.L. and Thygerson, S.M. (2019). Fit to Be Well: Essential Concepts. Burlington, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett Learning.