HuffPost | Health and Well-being: A Business Imperative

Health pervades all facets of business. It is pivotal to business strategy and operations, and it is material to long-term profitability.

Companies across all sectors make an imprint on health in four ways: through the safety and integrity of products and services; through workplace culture and its influence on employee health risks, health outcomes, and performance; through the impact of operations on communities; and through the impact of operations on the health of the environment.

On a global level, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the World Economic Forum, $47 trillion of cumulative output will be lost through 2030 as a result of the impact of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes and poor mental health. The cost of chronic disease, work-related injuries and illnesses, stress—along with the resulting employee disengagement, poor productivity and absenteeism—is estimated to amount to more than $2.2 trillion, or 12% of GDP in the U.S. alone. Never before has the business community faced risks and opportunities in health at this scale.

As such, we must turn our attention to the growing body of research that shows integrated approaches to health and well-being are associated with better business outcomes and improved stock performance for investors.

For example, recent studies published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that companies investing in the health of employees outperform peers by an average of 7-16% a year. Other studies emphasize the robustness of health promotion programs and the strength of the culture of health within a company as one facet of a high performing and well-managed business. And business leaders are taking notice.

As most companies who have come onto the health promotion bandwagon have noticed, merely offering health promotion programs and counting participation rates to reduce healthcare costs is not sufficient. It cannot holistically account for performance and innovation. As a result, an integrated approach to health is increasingly gaining ground among businesses, investors, and non-profits. These players are re-thinking the culture of health for business and embracing all the ways that health impacts business – from the supply chain to the employees all the way to consumers.

The Sustainability and Health Initiative for NetPositive Enterprise (SHINE), a program at the Center for Health and the Global Environment of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health is one organization leading this effort on the workplace health front. Through research and partnerships with businesses, SHINE is developing a multi-faceted approach that raises the potential for corporations to contribute to better health outcomes in a way that is mutually beneficial to both society and business. SHINE is building the evidence base and momentum for measuring and improving the health and well-being of the workforce.

In 2013, SHINE teamed up with Johnson & Johnson, a company that has been at the forefront of workplace health and performance for decades, to develop a well-being index that would take a pulse on the health and well-being of a company’s workforce. This metric goes beyond measuring health care costs and participation rates in wellness programs; instead, it emphasizes the working environment and workplace resources as a factor for health improvement, and ultimately better performance.

Measuring health in this way is offering our partners the data and insight they need to transform the workplace, their supply chains, and their products and services in a way that improve human well-being and drives performance.

Other forums and conferences, such as the Vitality Institute, the Culture of Health Conference hosted by Harvard Business School and Harvard Chan School, and the B Team, an initiative led by a group of global business leaders, including Arianna Huffington, are creating a new wave of leadership and impact in health and business.

Responsible investors have long been holding business accountable to environmental and social impacts—folding health into the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) assessment of companies will add a layer of rigor to investment analysis and decision-making.

We hold a tremendous opportunity to transform thinking and action around health in business and investing. Health supports human capital, which is only as robust as the skills, knowledge, experience, and health of an individual. Just like our natural resources, health is an essential resource. Companies need access to natural resources to grow and prosper, and any threat to those resources presents risks as well as opportunities for innovation. The most innovative companies are putting back or re-using environmental resources. We need to look at the health and well-being of our workforce, communities, and customers in much the same way. When employees thrive, so do their teams, families, and communities. So, too, does the economy.

At SHINE, we imagine a world in which corporate responsibility and responsible investing are inclusive of both the environment and health. In business, risks turn into opportunities, and opportunities into solutions. We have opportunity for financial and intellectual capital to transform our world and lead to more flourishing people and economies.

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