Wellness vs wellbeing

Wellness vs wellbeing

Shakespeare famously wrote, “What’s in a name?” The answer is a lot. Words, and how they’re activated matter. The subtle ways that words evolve and the “impact” they have can be highly influential on how people think. More and more often recently I have witnessed and experienced heated debates on the definition of the words “wellness” and “well-being”. Many people probably haven’t thought much about whether there is (or should be) a distinction.

This is a topic about which I have had many a discussion over my past 25+ years in the corporate, management, training, travel and spa sectors of the global health and wellness industry. During this time, the wellness industry itself has experienced phenomenal growth. As a result of such rapid growth, we experienced an under supply of managers and leaders that possessed both management and wellness skills. To meet the needs of industry and organisations, we, as an industry, combated this skills gap by upskilling experienced managers in wellness skills or wellbeing professionals in management skills. The word ‘wellness’ and ‘wellbeing’ have been used interchangeably.

It is that chapter of my professional journey from which I feel compelled to draw upon to address what is now becoming an ongoing question, particularly in the area of workplace health: “What’s the difference between wellness and well-being?”

Workplace health, safety and wellbeing

In some parts of the world, including Australia, the word ‘wellbeing’ tends to be more widely used, particularly in reference to workplace wellbeing in corporate settings. In other parts such as Asia or Europe, ‘wellness’ tends to be more widely used. Let’s have a look at some official definitions.

If you go by the book, here is how Merriam-Webster makes the distinction:
Well-being: the state of being happy, healthy, or successful”
Wellness: the quality or state of being healthy”

With respect to Merriam-Webster, the research shows that wellness means so much more than being happy, healthy or successful. Wellness is all of these things and more. How can you separate the physical health from the mental wellbeing when research clearly shows that they are so inextricably linked?

When we look to the World Health Organisation WHO definition of wellness for guidance, we find wellness defined as “the optimal state of health of individuals and groups. There are two focal concerns: the realisation of the fullest potential of an individual physically, psychologically, socially, spiritually and economically; and the fulfilment of one’s role expectations in the family, community, place of worship, workplace and other settings.”

The challenge clearly is that there is no consensus around a single definition of well-being, but there is general agreement that at minimum, well-being includes the presence of positive emotions and moods (e.g., contentment, happiness), the absence of negative emotions (e.g., depression, anxiety), satisfaction with life, fulfilment and positive functioning. In simple terms, well-being can be described as judging life positively and feeling good. For public health purposes, physical well-being (e.g., feeling very healthy and full of energy) is also viewed as critical to overall well-being.

Common principles for living well

Researchers from different disciplines have examined different aspects of wellness and well-being and include the following eight common threads:

  • Physical well-being
  • Economic well-being
  • Social well-being
  • Development and activity
  • Emotional well-being
  • Psychological well-being
  • Life satisfaction
  • Engaging activities and work.

At the Australasian Sustainable Wellness Academy (ASWA), our position is clear. We know that we ARE all leaders of our own lives and that the concept of wellness needs to be demystified in order to be within everyone’s reach. In order for wellness to be within our reach, we firstly need an awareness of the principles of wellness and to be enabled to make active choices that enable us to live and lead well.

Wellness is about living and leading at our best. As individuals, that means having consistent energy levels, the mental clarity and inner calm, to do the things that are important to us so that we can flourish and thrive, both personally and professionally.

We know that organisations CAN be supportive places for individuals to work and thrive. We know that majority of leaders, managers and supervisors genuinely WANT to support the health and wellbeing of their team members and colleagues. When individuals collectively thrive in a workplace then organisations are more likely to thrive.

Processes and Outcomes

Instead of getting caught up in semantics, the critical questions are:

  • Do you want to have more consistent energy levels, the mental clarity and inner calm, to do the things that are important to you, in your personal and professional roles, so that you can live and lead well?
  • As a manager or leader, do you want to support your team members to not only ‘avoid physical or psychological injury’, but to also build skills that support effective workplace relationships that value, respect and help team members to effectively perform their roles – for sustainable business success?

If the answer is “yes”, then moving forward, when you think about ‘wellbeing or wellness’, it may be useful to think of wellness as the aspects, strategies, process, tools and techniques available to enable and support optimum well-being (of an individual or a group of individuals).

Ask your people what wellness means to them. Define what it means in your unique organisation. Keep it simple and focus on the outcomes that you’re wanting, whether it’s building resilience, enhancing emotional intelligence and mindfulness for strengthening workplace relationships, practical nutritional knowledge and understanding, incidental movement, being sleep fit or harnessing personal purpose to support the organisation goals and values. Think prevention, integration, accountability, risk minimisation, health (both physical and mental) and sustainability.

Until we connect next …..live and lead well!


PS. This article was inspired by Susie Ellis, Chairwoman and CEO of the Global Wellness Institute.


The Australasian Sustainable Wellness Academy’s nationally accredited Wellness Leadership Program provides managers with the skills to confidently and effectively lead high-performing work groups. From developing resilience and mindfulness, integrating wellness principles into life and workplaces, to creating innovative workspaces and managing effective workplace relationships, this qualification meets the needs of organisations to create a safe, healthy and high-performing workplace culture by establishing strong frameworks to make healthy lifestyle practices commonplace.

Contact us for more information on our wellness approach for organisations.

Angela Derks, ND is the Founder and CEO of the Australasian Sustainable Wellness Academy (ASWA) - the award winning accredited leader of wellness training and consulting services for organisations. Her life’s work is helping people achieve optimal health, wellbeing and business success through skills-based learning and healthy leadership strategies. She is the lead developer of the nationally recognised 10299NAT Diploma of Wellness Leadership qualification, delivering relevant skills to effectively integrate evidence-based wellness and management practices into organisations. The ASWA Wellness Solutions Team delivers an integrative approach for individuals, organisations and communities.

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