Embracing Whole-Person Health in the Workplace

Embracing Whole-Person Health in the Workplace

In today's fast-paced business environment, small business owners are increasingly recognizing the importance of investing in the health and well-being of their employees. A recent conversation between Sabrina Spitaletta, Senior Director of Public Health at the Milken Institute, and Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, sheds light on how a "whole-person" health approach can be a game-changer, especially in relation to substance use and its impact on the workplace.

Whole-person health is a holistic approach that emphasizes the interconnectedness of physical, mental, and financial well-being. For employers, this means creating an environment that supports every aspect of an employee's life, recognizing that well-being extends beyond the office walls. Dr. Volkow highlights that factors such as a supportive community, stable employment, and access to healthcare are crucial in protecting against substance use disorders.

Ignoring the whole-person health approach can have significant consequences. According to a 2021 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, one in five full-time employed adults in the US reported having a substance use disorder. Substance use not only affects individual health but also has broader implications for workplace safety and productivity. Dr. Volkow points out that marijuana use, for instance, is associated with cognitive deficits and increased risk for workplace injuries.

Employers bear considerable costs due to substance use disorders, including increased healthcare expenses, absenteeism, and decreased job performance.

Employers are uniquely positioned to lead the way in normalizing and implementing a whole-person health approach. Dr. Volkow suggests several actionable steps:

  • 1. Expand Health Benefits: Integrate comprehensive coverage for substance use disorder treatment and mental health into employee insurance plans.
  • 2. Implement Wellness Programs: Employee wellness programs can be effective platforms for delivering evidence-based prevention interventions, helping employees at early stages of substance use disorders.
  • 3. Provide Overdose Reversal Medications: Stocking opioid overdose reversal medication Naloxone at worksites and training employees on its use can save lives.

One of the biggest barriers to addressing substance use disorders is stigma. Dr. Volkow emphasizes that viewing substance use disorders as chronic, treatable conditions rather than moral failings can significantly reduce stigma. Encouraging open communication where employees feel safe discussing their issues without fear of discrimination is vital.

Employers can foster a culture of respect and confidentiality, ensuring that employees know they will be treated with equity. Utilizing resources like NIDA’s "Words Matter" guide can help in using language that does not perpetuate stigma.

Building a sustainable whole-person health approach requires adaptability to the changing external environment, including economic, social, and political shifts. Employers can rely on scientific evidence to inform their policies and practices, like that provided in Drug Free America Foundation’s research blogs, which can be found here: https://www.dfaf.org/current-research/

Adopting a whole-person health approach is not just a moral imperative but a strategic business decision. Employers have a unique opportunity to make a profound impact on their employees' lives and the broader community by prioritizing holistic well-being.


The Power of Protective Layers: Employers advancing Whole-Person Health | LinkedIn. (2023, October 10). https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/power-protective-layers-employers-advancing/

Variable List | SAMHSA DAS. (n.d.). https://datatools.samhsa.gov/nsduh/2020/nsduh-2020-ds0001/variable-list