What is total well-being?

Illuminating the connections among health, wealth, work, and life


Employers are investing considerable resources in comprehensive and ever-expanding arrays of benefits to promote employee well-being—yet clarity and consensus on how to define, measure, and solve for total well-being remain elusive. We believe that clear and comprehensive data insights about employee total well-being represent the missing link to optimizing benefits.

Fidelity has developed a definition, conceptual model, assessment, and scoring methodology for employee total well-being that focuses on four key domains included in most employer definitions of well-being: financial, health, work, and life. By revealing the complex interrelationships among domains of well-being, our comprehensive and holistic approach offers tangible advantages over conventional siloed assessments of health risks, financial wellness, and employee engagement.

Our model is grounded in leading academic theories and our assessment has been validated by a large-scale survey of more than 9,000 retirement plan participants.

Findings indicate that the domains of well-being are interconnected in myriad ways that should be taken into account when designing benefits:

  • Health and financial wellness ("health and wealth") are intrinsically connected in vicious/virtuous cycles: Achieving wellness in one domain is extremely rare when facing challenges in the other. 
  • Health and wealth strongly predict engagement at work and overall happiness in life more so than vice versa, suggesting that benefits targeting specific financial and health-related deficits are likely to yield greater returns in the workplace. This may prove fortuitous in that benefits design and delivery in these areas may have the greatest traction and the highest degree of employer input and control.
  • Employee debt is strongly associated with workplace productivity: Employees with the highest levels of debt have twice the absenteeism of those with low debt.
  • Employees struggle with many sources of stress in their lives, chief among them being work- and finance-related. Because these stressors strongly predict workplace absenteeism, it is critical for employers to have a clear sense of the prevalence, magnitude, and sources of stress within their workforce.
  • There are five key typologies by which employees can be categorized based on their scores across the four domains of well-being, from “Thriving” to “Barely Surviving.” These typologies can be leveraged for deeper understanding of employee needs and personalized approaches to benefits.

Our approach to total well-being offers employers deep insights about major challenges and pain points faced by their employees and enables data-driven decisions about how to optimize benefits. Armed with advanced workforce analytics, employers can gain insight into the greatest needs of—and intervention opportunities for—their workforce, select the best possible benefits for their employees, and ensure that they are truly moving the needle on employee well-being.