The concept of “Stress-management” is a limited approach to corporate health. Similarly, some of the corporate wellness practices like in-house gyms, picnics or flexitime, though helpful, are cosmetic remedies which tries to alleviate symptoms but do not heal the malady at its roots. The long-term solution to the chronic problem of corporate stress lies in building a culture of integral wellness.
The four-fold wellness; collective dimensions of health; building the right psychological environment; examples of corporate wellness form the ancient world and modern age.
The Four-fold Wellness
In a holistic perspective wellness may be defined as the inner and outer felicity, which an individual feels in the act of living, working and interacting in a community. This experience of wellness, to be integral, has to embrace all the four dimensions of the human organism: Physical, Vital, Mental and Spiritual. The physical is the material sheath or body or the material environment. The vital is the source of our sensations, emotions, desire and the vital energy, anima, which animates our body and mind. The mental is the source of our thoughts, perceptions, ideas, ideals and values. The spiritual is the deepest and innermost source of our individuality.
The foundation of physical well-being is sufficient nutrition and regular exercise; a material environment which is gentle, pleasing and harmonious to senses; lots of fresh and clean air, sunlight and open space and contact with Nature; and a certain amount of outer peace, security and prosperity. The sources of vital well-being are; a work or occupation which is in harmony with our nature, temperament and capacities; joy and freedom of action, creation, achievement, growth, play, exploration and contribution or service to the common good of all; inner and outer harmony and mutual goodwill among people; and a collective environment or a system of government which is kindly, understanding, considerate, fare and just. Work-life balance is an important part of vital well being. In a broader perspective work-life balance means right balance and integration of the value and aims of work, family and community and that of the individual and the organization. In a video programme on “Ethics in Workplace”, Joanies Coila, a senior faculty member of Wharton School of Business, states that one of the major causes of the “Moral Crisis” America is facing today is too heavy emphasis on work and success in workplace at the expense of other equally important domains of life like family, community and religion.
The foundation of mental well-being is peace, tranquility, understanding, clarity and benevolence in the emotional and mental consciousness. The other important factors in vital and mental well-being are a certain amount of rest, relaxation and leisure and sufficient inner and outer space to pursue our higher evolution in the mental, moral, aesthetic and spiritual domains. The sources of spiritual well-being is an inner awakening to the spiritual self within us and integrate our physical, vital and mental being around the spiritual source of our being. And finally the foundation of this edifice of integral wellness is Truth, which means, sincerity, honesty and transparency in thought, feeling, will, action and relationship.
The Collective Dimension
But the individual human organism is not a separate and isolated entity cut off from others and the rest of the world. He or she is part of a larger community and a still higher unity of all existence. We are all linked together through an interacting, interrelated and interdependent unity of life. Our bodies are part of the ecological unity of the physical and biological Nature. Similarly our vital and mental beings are part of the universal unity of vital and mental energies of Nature. And finally our spirit or soul is one with the indivisible Oneness or the spiritual unity of the divine Being. So physically, psychologically and spiritually we are all linked together with our fellow human being and universal Nature. We are part of each other and the larger Unity of Nature. This means our well-being, progress and fulfillment is very much dependent on the well-being, progress and fulfillment of others and the larger whole. The effect or consequences of this link or bond of unity becomes especially strong and potent within a community in which people work or live together.
The psychology of the community or social psychology is still an infant science. We are not aware how much our hearts and minds are mingled together with the hearts and minds of others with a strong mutual interaction and influence. We constantly radiate energies at all levels – physical, vital, mental and spiritual, which interact with and influence the energies of others. We constantly influence and are influenced by others, openly by the conscious reception or radiation of thoughts and feeling and also unconsciously by the thoughts and feelings of people in the mental atmosphere. Our thought, feelings and desires are much more contagious than microbes. We are not aware how much our inner state of consciousness is shaped by the consciousness of others and that of the collectivity. For example when we approach a person with a negative feeling for him, psychologically we are giving a punch to his inner nose. If the other person is sufficiently sensitive he feels it, and there is a corresponding inner reaction; it induces a similar feeling in the other person. Similarly with our desires, our wishes or intention which can induce a similar inner movement in others. In other words, we transmit and communicate our inner condition, whatever it maybe, luminous or dark, health or sickness, to others.
This means for realizing collective harmony and well being, we have to put into practice the Biblical dictum “do unto others what you want others do unto you” not only in outer conduct but also in our thought and feelings. In other words, mutual trust and goodwill in thought, feelings and actions has to be the core values for building collective well-being. This mutual trust, goodwill and harmony at the psychological level has to deepen further into a unity of consciousness felt at the spiritual level, in the consciousness of the soul. This unity of consciousness expressing itself at the physical and psychological level as perfect mutuality and harmony among people is the highest ideal of spiritual health of a community.
The Psychological Environment
The other important part of collective psychology is the mental environment of the community. Just like the individuals, a collectivity like a community or an organization also has a consciousness of its own which is something more than the sum of the consciousnesses of its individual members. This collective consciousness acts on the individuals who constitute it.
So, creating the right psychological environment is an important strategic factor in realizing a sustainable corporate wellness. The mental environment of the group has to be saturated with values, ideas, motifs and forces, which lead to sustainable well-being. If the mental atmosphere of the group is full of forces of peace, harmony, understanding, goodwill and compassion then it has a soothing effect on the consciousness of its individual members and promotes wellness. On the other hand if the culture and values of the organization lead to constant tension, anxiety, conflict and stress, then it will have an adverse effect on the wellness of people and no amount of superficial wellness practices like in-house gyms or picnics or flexitime can neutralize the negative atmosphere.
We have briefly outlined the basic principles of integral corporate wellness. Are there examples of societies or organizations, which have realized this ideal fully or partially? In our present imperfect human condition, no ideal can be perfectly realized. There is always a discrepancy between the ideal, the actual conditions of the surrounding environment and the capacity to realize the ideal. But there are some honest attempts and partial realizations, which can be a role model and inspiration for a more perfect and fuller realizations in the future. Here are two such examples.
A Golden Leaf from Indian History
In the ancient world, some of the peak periods in the Vedic, epical and classical ages in the history of Indian civilization attained a certain level of collective well-being. They may not be perfect examples, but limited by the conditions of the age. However, in these golden ages of Indian history, human society as a whole attained a certain amount of material, mental and moral well-being. The Chinese traveler, Fa-Hsien’s observation on the Gupta Empire in India indicates a healthy, peaceful, vigorous and prosperous society. A team of American historians makes the following interesting remarks on the golden age of Gupta’s empire in India.
“Fa-Hsien who has no reason to bestow unlimited praise, described the government as just and beneficent. Taxes were relatively light and capital punishment unknown. He testifies to a generally high level of prosperity, social contentment and intellectual vitality when the nations of Western Europe were sinking into semi-barbarism.” (1)
There are two factors behind the achievement of these peak periods in Indian history. First is the conception of human being as essentially a mental, moral and spiritual entity and an emphasis on developing this higher nature in man. Second is the attempt to build a society based on the values of our higher nature, which mean our rational, moral, aesthetic and spiritual being. This conception achievement may not be unique or special to Indian civilization; it was perhaps a common factor in the peak moments in the history of all great civilizations, like for example, the age of Socrates, Plato and Periclus in Greece, the reign of Augustus Caesar in the Roman Empire, twelfth dynasty in Egypt.
A more living example in our modern corporate world is Tata Steel of India, which was described by an Indian management magazine as “the last bastion of the welfare state”! This humane Indian company always upheld the vision of its founder JRD Tata, who considered human well-being as much more important than all the bottom lines. Tata Steel is a living embodiment of this benign business philosophy, which was lived and built in solid outlines in the industrial township of Tata Steel in Jamshedpur in India. UN selected this industrial city of Tata Steel as a Global Compact City for its high quality of life. Here is a testimony to the achievement of Tata Steel in corporate wellness by none other than Lakshmi Mittal, the steel tycoon and the founder of one of the largest steel conglomerates in the world:
“I visited the plant with Russi Mody. But the plant this time was gleaming and far from what it used to be. Greener and cleaner and a tribute to environment management. You could have been in the mountains. Such was the quality of air I inhaled! There was no belching smoke, no tired faces and so many more women workers, even on the shop floor. This is true gender equality and not the kind that is often espoused at seminars organized by angry activists. I met so many old friends. Most of them have aged but not grown old. There was a spring in the air which came from a certain calmness which has always been the hallmark of Jamshedpur.” (2)
The author is a Research Associate at Sri Aurobindo Society and on the editorial board of Fourth Dimension Inc. His major areas of interest are Management and Indian Culture.