Addressing Holistic Health at Work with Ashish Kothari and Barbara Jeffery

Think about how tough it can be at work sometimes. We get stressed, feel down, or just can’t connect with others. This can take a toll on our health and it’s just as bad for our organizational performance too. 

But what if we looked after every aspect of our overall well-being? In this article, Ashish Kothari and Barbara Jeffery, Partner at McKinsey & Company, discuss how addressing our holistic health at work could transform our work lives. 

Holistic health in the workplace

Holistic health at work is about the interconnectedness of our physical, mental, social, and spiritual health. Barbara highlights that this is a core part of healthy living. Employee health and well-being play an important role in helping everyone live happier, healthier lives.

It’s not just adding years to life, it’s adding life to years. Traditional wellness programs no longer cut it in today’s rapidly evolving work environment. For companies looking to make a real difference, investing in employee health is the right place to be. 

But per Ashish, even though funding for organizational health initiatives has increased over the last several years, real funding that makes a positive impact on employees’ health is very little. That’s because organizations today are investing in the wrong things. This is a wake-up call for us to rethink how we’re supporting well-being at work in a way that truly counts.

The four dimensions of holistic health

Often, due to our hectic work, we feel we are in an epidemic of hopelessness and meaninglessness, which are such killers around well-being, says Ashish. Understand that holistic well-being at work encompasses the four dimensions of health: 

  1. Physical Health – the extent to which an individual can competently perform physical tasks without significant discomfort. More than just fitness, it’s about everyday comfort and capability.
  1. Mental Health – an individual’s cognitive, behavioral, and emotional state of well-being. 
  1. Social Health – Loneliness and social isolation is a killer. Social health means an individual’s ability to build healthy, nurturing, genuine, and supportive relationships. 
  1. Spiritual Health – It isn’t about religion. It’s about the extent to which people integrate meaning into their lives. 

Addressing these dimensions in the workplace is crucial for holistic health. It involves ensuring physical safety and health, providing support for mental challenges, fostering social connections, and helping employees find meaning and purpose in their work.

How organizations can foster holistic health

Barbara points out that many organizations only focus on a broader conversation about supporting employees across holistic health because so much of this is hard to disaggregate. But although some companies are still skeptical, we’re increasingly seeing a movement towards understanding this issue. 

In fact, investors are starting to understand that there is a strong correlation between a company’s workforce and the degree to which they are thriving and actual performance. Studies now show improved stock market performance. So there’s not just a moral case for doing this; there’s also a business case. 

The extent to which they’ll do this depends on it being forced upon them rather than proactively moving. As Barbara states, you can either take the opportunity to do this yourself or wait and have it done to you. It’s high time to leverage holistic health as a strategic and sustainable competitive advantage for your company.

Understanding burnout

Several factors impact our holistic health at work, including workplace culture, job demands, and team dynamics. A prevalent drawback in our organizations today is the silent epidemic of burnout. Barbara states that it’s perfectly possible to have good holistic health and also experience symptoms of burnout at the same time. 

In a global study, they found that 57% of employees report being in good holistic health across all four dimensions: social, spiritual, physical, and mental. However, around one in five employees globally were experiencing symptoms of burnout, such as exhaustion, mental distance, emotional impairment, and cognitive impairment.

Barbara classifies three burnout groups of employees:

  • Stretching zone group – They seem healthy but are close to burnout.
  • ‘Managing’ group – Not severely burnt out, but not in great overall health.
  • Drowning group – Not reporting good holistic health and having high burnout symptoms. 

Burnout and holistic health are different issues. The data suggests that it’s important to focus on not only those who are visibly struggling but also those who might be silently nearing burnout. Ashish notes, “You can be burnt out and functioning well.” Understanding this distinction is vital for organizations to effectively address burnout. 


By understanding and addressing burnout, fostering a supportive environment, and considering the various dimensions of well-being, organizations can enhance employee satisfaction and productivity and contribute to their holistic health at work. The key is to adopt a comprehensive and proactive approach that values and nurtures every aspect of an individual’s well-being. 

As we move forward, it’s clear that holistic health and well-being will continue to be a critical focus for successful and sustainable workplace environments.

Work stress affects us all—mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually. In this article, Ashish Kothari and Barbara Jeffery, a Partner at McKinsey & Company, discuss how addressing our holistic health at work could transform our work lives.

Learn more about Barbara at her LinkedIn.

Listen to the podcast with Ashish and Barbara below.

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With the focus on enhancing joy, health, love and meaning in your life, my transformational approach is interdisciplinary and integrates learnings from spiritual wisdom traditions, philosophy, positive psychology, neuroscience and organizational development.

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