employee engagement

Embracing the Whole Person Approach in Organizational Development

Uncover the power of a whole-person approach. Get actionable tips to integrate holistic practices, including mentorship, into your organizational culture

Jai Chaggar

Director of Customer Success

Published on 

February 7, 2024

Updated on 

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Workplaces are evolving, and linear approaches to organizational development are no longer effective. Traditionally, organizational success metrics are closely aligned with the company's bottom line and operational efficiency. However, 50% of senior leaders believe they are not doing enough to build critical skills and organizational capabilities. 

The VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) business environment highlights the need for a progressive organizational development strategy. Companies must embrace the entire individual rather than merely the professional function they serve. It lays the foundation of a whole-person approach, helping organizations stay ahead of competitors and attract top talent.

Overview of the whole-person approach

The whole-person approach is about recognizing that employees are more than their job titles or the tasks they perform. It acknowledges that individuals bring their unique experiences, strengths, and challenges to the workplace. The approach focuses on nurturing the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of an employee's life. It allows organizations to create a work environment where employees can thrive holistically.

The origins of the Whole Person Approach can be traced back to ancient healing practices such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. In modern times, the approach has been adopted by various healthcare systems, including integrative medicine, functional medicine, and naturopathic medicine. In an organizational setup, it encompasses emotional intelligence, leadership capabilities, self-awareness, and values.

The key principles of the whole person approach are:

  • Individualization: Each person is unique and requires personalized development plans to reach their full potential.
  • Holistic well-being: Focusing on improving the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of an employee's life.
  • Self-reflection and empowerment: Encouraging individuals to reflect on their strengths, weaknesses, and values leads to personal growth and development.
  • Collaboration: Bringing together employees allows them to share different perspectives and experiences to drive innovation.

The whole person approach helps create a positive work culture driven by the recognition that development at work should go beyond job-specific skills. 39% of employees look forward to opportunities for professional development, and 94% would stay longer at a company that prioritizes it.

The remarkable growth of Zappos in the eCommerce industry is attributed to its innovative, whole person approach to employee satisfaction. Under the leadership of Tony Hsieh, Zappos integrated core values into daily operations and established an employee-centric corporate culture. The company set itself apart from its competitors by applying principles from positive psychology. It resulted in higher levels of happiness, job satisfaction, and productivity. 

Their emphasis on employee engagement and personal growth helped the company reach $1 billion in gross revenue within a decade. The company’s acquisition by Amazon for over $1.2 billion highlighted the tangible value of the whole person approach. The company earned a spot on Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For" list, reinforcing the enduring impact of prioritizing employee well-being. Zappos' journey serves as a blueprint for organizations seeking to balance financial success with the holistic development of their workforce.

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Common pain points in traditional approaches

Despite their historical prevalence, traditional unidimensional approaches do not cater to employees' comprehensive development needs. Studies show that 90% of development programs fail to produce long-term results or achieve desired business outcomes. They are often narrow in their scope and overlook the complexity of the individual. 

The shortcomings of traditional approaches include:

  • Lack of personalization: A one-size-fits-all approach overlooks individual needs and differences.
  • Focus on technical skills: Honing specific job-related skills is not enough to create an engaged and motivated workforce.
  • Disregard for work-life balance: Prioritizing on-the-job performance over an individual's mental and emotional well-being lacks employee engagement.
  • Low employee engagement: Lack of interactive and collaborative elements impacts employee engagement.

By overemphasizing professional growth, organizations increase the likelihood of employee burnout. Research indicates that 22% of employees across the globe experience burnout. Sacrificing personal development and well-being in the pursuit of organizational goals leads to a disgruntled and disengaged workforce.

Organizations must address these pain points to avoid employee dissatisfaction and burnout. Gartner states that the lack of future career development increases employee attrition. 40% of departing employees consider it as a factor for dissatisfaction.

Employees need more than token policies to maintain work-life balance. Prioritizing personal lives and health alongside their professional responsibilities must not be a surface-level concept. It must be ingrained in the company culture. 

What are the benefits of a whole person approach?

Organizations that champion a whole-person approach reap a multitude of benefits. According to research, there is a significant, strong positive correlation between employee well-being and productivity. At the same time, it has a strong negative correlation with staff turnover. Another study concludes that enhancing employee well-being can lead to an average productivity boost of approximately 10%.

Some of the benefits of implementing a whole person approach in the workplace include the following:

Improved employee engagement

Organizations that prioritize employee well-being see higher engagement levels. Individuals who feel valued and supported are motivated to contribute towards the organization's goals. It helps establish a positive and productive work environment.

As exemplified by Northwell Health's Culture of C.A.R.E initiative, the whole person approach has demonstrated a positive impact on employee engagement. The organization co-created a roll-out strategy and implemented internal frameworks to maintain C.A.R.E through the organization's culture leaders. Northwell Health significantly improved its employee engagement rates from 45% to 85% over two years or less. The approach involved training and certifying culture leaders to champion and drive C.A.R.E across the organization.

Increased retention rates

41% of employees leave jobs due to a lack of career development and advancement. Holistic development helps retain top talent, as employees are 3.6 times happier at their company if they get opportunities to learn and grow. It further helps in reducing recruitment costs and maintaining a stable workforce.

Salesforce offers a program called “Wellness at Work.” It provides employees access to various wellness resources, including mental health support, mindfulness training, and fitness classes. The company also offers a “Mindfulness Zone” in its offices, where employees can meditate and practice mindfulness. It helps the company drive better business results and greater retention.

Better work-life balance

A whole-person approach recognizes that employees have personal lives outside of work and encourages them to prioritize their well-being. It results in a better work-life balance, reducing burnout and increasing overall job satisfaction.

The "Here for You. Here for Each Other" campaign drives American Express's proactive whole person approach. It underscores the company's commitment to employee well-being. American Express encourages open discussions about mental health and emphasizes the significance of self-care. By creating a supportive environment where colleagues are reassured that it's acceptable not to be okay and that asking for help is encouraged, the campaign works to reduce stigma. Webinars, shared tools, and group counseling sessions facilitated by company counselors help promote a more balanced and healthy work-life integration.

Enhanced organizational performance

The positive impact of a whole-person approach on employee well-being translates into improved organizational performance. Engaged, motivated, and healthy employees are more likely to perform their best. It results in increased productivity, creativity, and resilience. The economic value of improved employee well-being ranges from £130 billion to £370 billion per year in the UK.

Canpa, the construction materials distribution company in Turkey, is a great example. The company faced declining profitability, a 30% employee turnover rate, and low company morale in 2015. The company underwent a remarkable organizational transformation to solve these issues by adopting the whole person approach. Canpa implemented a values-and-purpose-based culture into their employee experience, hiring procedures, and brand. Canpa witnessed extraordinary results and achieved record historical sales. The company dramatically reduced its turnover rate to almost zero and was awarded first place in Turkey's 2018 "Great Place to Work" assessment.

Positive company culture

Prioritizing the well-being of employees creates a culture that values and supports its workforce. It leads to higher job satisfaction, commitment, and loyalty towards the organization.

Atlassian's onboarding process is a compelling case for cultivating a great company culture. By prioritizing the holistic well-being of employees from the beginning, Atlassian ensures a seamless integration with company culture and fosters a sense of connection. The practice of new hires writing intro blogs encourages self-expression and promotes collaborative relationships from the very start of an employee's journey. The weekly Global Town Hall and the Buddy Program further exemplify Atlassian's commitment to creating a supportive environment. The holistic onboarding strategy contributes significantly to making employees feel valued and connected. 

8 Strategies for implementing a whole person approach

Whole person approach must go beyond mental health sessions and integrate into all aspects of an individual's life. It involves a systematic and empathetic understanding of an employee's pain points. The organization must find ways to contribute to their personal growth and satisfaction.

Embracing a whole person approach involves considering the entire employee experience, from recruitment to retirement. The approach must focus on creating an inclusive, supportive, and motivating work environment. 

Critical elements of a comprehensive, holistic development and employee well-being approach include:

  • Diversity and inclusion: Ensure that all employees of all backgrounds feel valued and included.
  • Work-life integration: Encourage a healthy work-life integration to prevent burnout.
  • Continuous learning: Offer opportunities for growth and skill development.
  • Leadership development: Foster a culture of mentorship to support leadership development.

Practical steps for implementing a whole person approach

Integrating the whole person approach into the organizational culture involves the following practical steps:

  1. Assessing employee needs: Deep dive to understand employee needs by conducting surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one interviews. It will help identify areas where employees need support in their personal and professional lives.
  1. Evaluate current practices: Conduct a thorough assessment of the organizational culture, policies, and procedures related to employee well-being and development. It will help identify gaps and areas for improvement.
  1. Design a comprehensive plan: Based on the results of employee needs assessment and evaluation of current practices, you must design a comprehensive plan. Keep a 360-degree view that includes your employees' physical well-being, emotional satisfaction, and mental resilience. It must include strategies for addressing identified gaps and areas for improvement of physical health, stress management, and emotional well-being.
  1. Understanding work-life balance: Consider all the factors that might be disrupting your employees' work-life balance. From long hours to unclear job expectations and lack of autonomy over their schedule, everything should be taken into account.
  1. Involve all stakeholders: Implementing a whole person approach requires collaboration and involvement from various organizational stakeholders. It includes leadership, the HR department, managers, and employees at all levels.
  1. Develop holistic policies: Create policies that support work-life balance, continuous learning, and leadership development. Implement flexible work policies, provide access to mentorship programs, and prioritize employee well-being in decision-making processes.
  1. Mentorship programs: Establish formal mentorship programs to support employees' personal and professional growth. Encourage leaders and senior employees to take an active role in mentoring others.
  1. Employee Feedback: Collect feedback through surveys and one-on-one discussions to understand employees' concerns and needs. Ask about their stress levels, work-life balance, and what they feel could be improved. Use the feedback to tailor well-being and development initiatives. Recurring feedback helps track progress and discover new needs.

Lynita Taylor, Program Manager - Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion at Samsara, talks about creating company cultures that help them thrive and grow:

Tips for developing a comprehensive whole person program

A comprehensive whole person program involves considering all aspects of employee well-being and development. Here are some tips for developing a program that resonates with your employees:

  • Promote physical health: Organize fitness challenges, yoga sessions, or ergonomic workspace assessments. Healthcare and nutrition programs must be personalized to meet individual needs.
  • Support mental and emotional well-being: Introduce stress management workshops, meditation classes, and subscriptions to mental health management apps. Offer support programs for those managing mental health conditions. Foster a culture where seeking help is not only accepted but encouraged.
  • Work-life integration: Create an environment where personal commitments and work can peacefully coexist without causing stress. Flexible work hours, remote work options, or paid time off can contribute. Encourage taking breaks, setting boundaries between work and personal life, and providing access to resources for remote work management. 
  • Encourage continuous learning: Include programs for encouraging skill upgrades, reskilling, and mentorship opportunities. Share clear paths for employee career progression. Support employee efforts through flexible work schedules.
  • Create a positive work environment: An open and supportive culture makes employees feel comfortable sharing their struggles. Foster a culture that values well-being and naturally integrates the programs into the daily work routine.

Setting up a holistic work environment requires collaboration across all levels of the organization. Leaders should champion the whole person approach by modeling work-life balance and actively participating in mentorship programs. HR professionals must focus on developing and implementing policies and evaluating the outcomes. Employees must take ownership of their well-being and development. They must actively participate in the programs, provide feedback, and continuously work towards achieving a healthy work-life integration.

What is the role of mentorship in the whole person approach?

Mentorship is a holistic approach. Mentors act as guides and role models, providing support and guidance to mentees for their personal and professional growth. It is one of the main differentiators between a mentor and a business coach. Unlike traditional coaching, which focuses predominantly on professional milestones, mentorship is a combination of challenging and nurturing.

A mentor cares about the individual and wants to see them succeed both in their professional and personal life. Effective mentors develop their mentees' leadership capacity while increasing their skills. They nurture the alignment between employee aspirations and organizational goals.

Benefits of mentorship in the whole person approach

Holistic guidance via mentorship

Mentors not only provide guidance on career development but also help mentees align their values and beliefs with organizational goals. Additionally, mentors act as sounding boards for ideas and provide valuable feedback based on their own experiences. They strive to build their mentees' confidence, resilience, emotional intelligence, and self-awareness.

A holistic approach helps employees manage their professional roles alongside their personal lives. Supporting the complexities of the individual’s life outside of work helps enhance the overall well-being of employees. Mentors can guide their mentees on work-life balance, stress management, and personal growth initiatives. 

Building meaningful connections

Effective mentorship creates a trusted space for open communication, mutual respect, and understanding between mentors and mentees. It allows for the exchange of genuine knowledge and experiences that are impactful. When mentors invest in knowing their mentees as individuals, they create a sense of belonging and reinforce the mentee's intrinsic value to the organization.

Besides increased job satisfaction and loyalty, it helps mentees perceive their success as a shared objective within the company. In a nurturing atmosphere, mentors contribute significantly to building a collaborative and supportive culture across the organization.

Career and personal development alignment

Mentorship aligns achievement of career milestones with personal ambitions and life goals. It acknowledges that professional achievements are just one aspect of an individual's identity. Mentors guide employees to seek fulfillment beyond job titles and work responsibilities.

Employees who feel valued, seen, and supported tend to be more engaged and committed to their roles. Mentorship also helps mentees develop essential skills such as communication, problem-solving, and leadership qualities that contribute to their overall growth.

How to overcome the whole person approach implementation challenges

The transition to a whole person approach is a significant shift that impacts the entire organization. It requires a fundamental shift in mindset, policies, and practices.

Potential challenges of implementing a whole person approach are:

Cultural resistance

Many organizations have been operating with a traditional siloed approach to employee wellness for years, and employees may resist change. 68% of employees already feel the full value of existing well-being resources is not being realized. They find the employee wellness programs to be time-consuming, confusing, or cumbersome.

To convince the whole person approach, involve employees in the process from the beginning. Communicate openly about the reasons for the shift and share how it will benefit them. Encourage feedback and incorporate employee suggestions into your implementation plan.

Lack of resources

The whole person approach requires a significant investment of time, money, and resources to be successful. It may involve hiring new staff, training existing employees, or implementing new technology. Many organizations may struggle with arranging the necessary resources.

It is essential to have a clear plan for seeking additional funding, reallocating existing resources, or optimizing the impact of limited resources. Prioritize phases to streamline the implementation process and start with high-impact areas.

Up-front investment 

Incorporating a whole person approach, such as whole-family care, requires an up-front investment. Leaders may hesitate to invest in the change if they are comfortable with established policies and practices.

Educate leaders about the benefits of a whole person approach and how it aligns with the organization's overall goals and values. Demonstrate how employee well-being can impact organizational performance to get leadership buy-in.

Managing expectations

Ambiguity in mentor-mentee pairings can lead to confusion and inconsistent experiences for employees. Several factors, like time commitment, the nature of the relationship, or outcomes, need clarity. Unfulfilled expectations cause disappointment and disillusionment.

Set up a transparent and data-driven matching process. Equip mentors and mentees with resources to build successful relationships and track progress. Foster a supportive environment with regular check-ins and ongoing support.

Inadequate technology

A whole person approach may require integrating various technologies like online health assessments, virtual coaching, or wellness apps. It is a significant challenge for organizations with outdated systems or limited IT resources. Employees toggle between tasks and apps up to 10 times per hour and waste around 32 days yearly. It leads to burnout, anxiety, and distraction.

Consider investing in user-friendly and inclusive technology that meets the needs of all employees. Maximize the impact of your employee wellness initiatives through mentorship platforms like Together. It integrates with other technologies and streamlines communication, making it easier for employees to engage in wellness activities.

Best practices to make mentorship work in your whole person framework

Implementing mentorship within a whole person approach is not a one-and-done deal. It is an ongoing process that requires vigilance, adaptability, and sometimes a willingness to rethink the approach entirely.

Here are some best practices to successfully integrate mentorship with your whole person program:

  • Flexibility and personalization: Each employee brings unique experiences and needs to the table. One-size-fits-all mentorship programs can fall short of providing them with tailored support. Design mentorship programs with a whole person approach by ensuring flexibility to accommodate various learning and support styles. Encourage mentors to tailor the experience to their mentee's needs and goals.
  • Managing mentor fatigue: Mentors who feel overburdened or underappreciated can quickly disengage. Sustain their enthusiasm and involvement by recognizing their valuable contribution to the organization. Celebrate the most impactful pairings to realize mentors' role in their mentees' growth. 
  • Promote a culture of learning: Mentorship is not just about passing on knowledge. It also involves continuous learning and improvement from within. The organization must encourage employees to learn new skills, gain knowledge, and share perspectives.
  • Inclusivity and diversity: A successful mentorship program should include all employees, regardless of background, age, or position. Build a diverse pool of mentors and mentees for an effective match.
  • Ongoing support: Encourage mentors and mentees to build lasting relationships. Provide them with relevant resources and support through communities or forums.
  • Regular re-evaluation: The needs and expectations of employees can evolve over time. Regularly evaluate your mentorship program to ensure it meets their personal needs and aligns with organizational goals. Make adjustments based on feedback from mentors and mentees.
  • Adopt technology: Streamlining and enhancing the mentorship experience requires a robust technology infrastructure. Adopt user-friendly platforms like Together to facilitate communication, track progress, and provide resources for both mentors and mentees.

Bake the whole person approach into your company culture

Adopting a whole person approach catalyzes transformative change within organizations. Nurture an organizational culture where employee well-being is paramount by holistically enhancing each employee's professional and personal growth. The well-being of your employees starts by understanding their aspirations and developing engaging programs. Create the right environment and measure outcomes continuously to build a sustainable whole person wellness framework.

Mentorship plays a pivotal role in fostering a supportive and continuous learning environment. You can invest in your employees' growth and well-being by integrating mentorship into the whole person approach. Adopt a holistic approach that values employees as whole individuals, resulting in a more engaged, productive, and committed workforce. 

See the tangible benefits of the whole person approach for your company through mentorship. Book a free demo

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