The Definition and Core Practices of Wellness: Wellness Is a Growing Player in the Integration Movement, and EA Professionals Need to Understand the Principles around Which It Is Organized

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For much of the last 20 years, the Employee Assistance Professionals Association has been examining the integration of employee assistance with other services. In the late 1980s, an EAPA task force focused on child care and its relationship to EAP services; the task force later attained committee status and began studying the juncture between EAPs and the work-family field.

In 2000, EAPA joined with the Alliance for Work/Life Progress (AWLP) and the Employee Assistance Society of North America (EASNA) to conduct a three-phase research project to examine various aspects of the "dance" between the employee assistance and work-family fields. A national survey of EA and work-life professionals found that a "significant level" of collaboration/integration was taking place and that a "new breed" of professional had emerged, one with expertise in both fields.

The second stage of the research project, an international survey of EAP and work-life vendors, made clear that wellness is another player in the integration movement. More than 80 percent of survey respondents reported they provide health and wellness services, and a similar percentage said they anticipate more demand for wellness services in the next five years. As a result of this finding, EAPA approached Michael Mulvihill from Leade Health, Inc., a vendor of wellness services, to discuss the history of the wellness field and its definitions and core concepts.

--Patricia Herlihy Ph.D., R. N.

Aquestion frequently asked by allied professionals outside the health promotion and wellness field is, What is wellness? It turns out to be a good question. Before we can begin to discuss the core practices of wellness and future considerations, we must get a clearer understanding of it.

Many people have what I call the "brown bag" view of wellness, meaning they see it as a series of "warm and fuzzy" activities like lunch-and-learn meetings, health fairs, and so on. While these activities may indeed be included in a health and wellness program, this view of the field is decidedly limited.

Michael O'Donnell, publisher of the American Journal of Health Promotion, has defined health promotion as "the science and art of helping people change their lifestyle to move toward a state of optimal health" (1989). While this definition has stood the test of time, it doesn't capture the many emerging developments within the wellness field today Health and wellness programs are becoming more sophisticated, more specialized, and more targeted to specific populations.

I would propose a more current definition of wellness, health promotion, and disease prevention, as follows:

"A set of organized activities and systematic interventions, offered through corporations/worksites, managed care organizations, and governmental/community agencies, whose primary purposes are to provide health education, identify modifiable health risks, and influence health behavior changes."


Just as early EAPs focused on occupational alcoholism, wellness programs began in the 1970s as worksite-based programs essentially centered upon fitness centers and activities. One of the first fitness-oriented books, Kenneth Cooper's Aerobics, was a major influence on the fitness movement. The body of exercise science literature was growing during this time, and exercise physiologists began prescribing daily doses of exercise.

The fitness focus led to the spread of corporate fitness centers and then to modern, state-of-the-art corporate fitness facilities, which may now include occupational and physical therapy along with other rehabilitative and alternative services. It is important to note, however, that for the most part this trend remains confined to Fortune 500 companies that are able to commit the significant capital resources needed for these centers.

Another major development occurred when Erfurt and Foote (1983) began conducting cardiovascular-oriented blood pressure screenings in the auto industry They were also among the first to coordinate wellness programs and EAPs and illustrate the potential to save on health care costs, especially when effective follow-up programs are put in place. …