Q&A: Holistic Wellness in the Workplace

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Holistic wellness approaches are gradually becoming more common in the workplace, with more organizations realizing that truly enhancing well-being requires a broader view of wellness. ERC continually sees employers gradually incorporating holistic approaches into their wellness and health care options, and citing very positive results.

Wellness is now recognized as much more complex than just physical well-being. Employees are "whole people" comprised of many aspects (physical, emotional, mental, etc.), and when one aspect is off-balance, the body and its health can be negatively impacted.

Holistic wellness, otherwise known as integrative medicine, alternative medicine, or natural healing, may be an effective medical option for your employees which strives to correct this imbalance. Not only is it proven to be effective in treating many common chronic medical conditions which could be present amongst your workforce, but it also can help find root causes of health issues, assist employees in reaching health goals, and support lasting lifestyle changes that help your employees achieve greater health, productivity, and happiness over the long-term.

We collaborated with our Preferred Partner, University Hospitals, which has a special program dedicated to integrative health, to answer several questions about how this approach can be incorporated into the workplace.

1. What is integrative medicine?

Integrative medicine offers a unique approach to well-being that blends evidence-based holistic therapies like acupuncture, massage,  mindfulness, and hypnotherapy with traditional medicine to promote optimal health of mind, body and spirit. Integrative medicine is focused on healing the "whole person" and all aspects of an individual's well-being, both physically and mentally.

A 2011 Consumer Reports survey found that more than 38 million Americans make an excess of 300 million visits each year to CAM specialists, including acupuncture and massage therapists. Most of them rely on alternative care, holistic treatments, and mind/body practices to supplement, not replace traditional and established medical treatment programs.

2. How does the Affordable Care Act affect integrative medicine?

Under the Affordable Care Act, complimentary medicine may become more accessible for many. The law specifically prohibits discrimination among licensed health providers and offers incentives for employers to promote employee health and wellness activities. Both of these measures may broaden the use of integrative medicine services.

3. Are employers increasingly offering holistic approaches to their workforce?

Companies are embracing many holistic approaches as another way to reduce healthcare costs and are offering on-site options such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga and stress management programs to reduce stress, decrease absenteeism, and help employees face their health issues and challenges with a different perspective.

4. Are integrative medicine services typically covered by insurance? 

Many health insurance providers do not cover the complementary and alternative therapies that are often used in integrative medicine. Some cover select treatments such as acupuncture, as well as some mind-body therapies, with a Primary Care Physician referral.  We recommend checking with your insurance provider regarding coverage of services.  

5. Can employers offer these services separate from their health plan? If so, how common is it to incorporate these services into corporate wellness programs? 

Many companies recognize the value of offering these services to their employees, especially with regards to stress reduction, and offer on-site integrative workshops such as meditation, mindfulness and yoga. Google, Proctor and Gamble, and Aetna are all examples of companies that offer mindfulness programs to their employees.

6. How much more effective are these services in treating some medical conditions (any evidence or ROI information)?

Increasingly, integrative services are being successfully used to compliment traditional medicine. It has become less of an "either/or" option for patients and practitioners. Successful integrative medicine programs combine the expertise of both traditional and complementary medicine to wholly treat a patient. Numerous studies have proven the effectiveness of many integrative services.   

For example, both the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization have concluded that acupuncture is effective in treating adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting, postoperative dental pain, stroke rehab, headaches, menstrual cramps, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

7. What should employers educate their employees about these types of services, if covered under their health plan?

It is critical to evaluate the training and credentials of any integrative medicine practitioner. Employees should also seek these services from a reputable health care system.

In addition, as cited previously, insurers may often require a referral from a primary care physician to approve coverage of some integrative services. Employees should be encouraged to check with their insurance company about coverage of these services prior to scheduling.


Employees often face many individual challenges, which may be stress and/or health related, and offering a comprehensive and holistic approach to health care and wellness in the workplace can help them attain better well-being. No matter what health or lifestyle issue your employee is dealing with, holistic/alternative medicine has a place in the workplace, specifically with regard to health care coverage and wellness programs, and can benefit everyone.

Additional Resources

Integrative Medicine Services

ERC's Preferred Partner, University Hospitals, offers a variety of Integrative Medicine programs and services including massage, guided imagery, yoga, meditation, Reiki, and optimal health coaching. These programs help employees feel empowered to take care of themselves, institute healthier habits, and assist in controlling health care costs, absenteeism, and turnover.