BenefitsPro | Redefining the future of workplace well-being

There’s a clear business case for helping employees get healthy, but it’s more than that—it’s simply the right thing to do.

We’re facing unprecedented levels of poor health—from obesity and chronic health conditions to loneliness, which poses a significant health risk equal to that of smoking. And employers are feeling the impact.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, absenteeism related to chronic conditions like obesity, smoking and physical inactivity was associated with annual costs greater than $2 billion per risk factor. On the flip side, when employees are happy and healthy, they’re more productive, have lower medical costs and are better able to focus on their jobs, leading to tangible financial benefits.
There’s a clear business case for helping employees get healthy, but it’s more than that—it’s simply the right thing to do.

Investment in employee well-being starts by redefining “health.” This means going beyond the “absence of illness” as our primary measure. While improving physical health remains a priority, we now know it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Other vital pieces include our social relationships, mental health and capacity to prioritize the greater good.

The next frontier in health care is holistic well-being.

To translate this thinking into practice, Aetna, a CVS Health business, is shifting how we support our own employees in achieving their best health. We entered into a five-year research collaboration with faculty at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to study the determinants of well-being. We developed a comprehensive assessment that measures well-being across six areas, including factors you might not normally associate with your health, such as having the opportunity to use your unique skills in your job every day and having the financial means to pursue your goals.

The assessment will be provided through a platform that delivers a personalized experience to each employee. Each user will receive a set of targeted actions that align with their unique health goals. Over time, we’ll measure the effectiveness of these actions and work to continually refine our offerings and develop new programs.

So far, more than 2,000 Aetna employees have taken the assessment as part of our initial pilot and the results are promising. The data highlights a growing focus on holistic health, with participants rating all six dimensions of well-being as important (with an average score of 9 out of 10).

Findings also provide valuable insights into the nuanced health needs of our employees, which can inform our strategy. From our pilot, we discovered several key demographic differences among employees:

  • Employees 50 and older reported the highest levels of well-being across dimensions except for physical health, while employees under 30 had lower scores for emotional health and social connectedness.
  • Men and women report similar well-being scores, but women rate every dimension more important than men do. Women reported slightly higher scores in emotional health, purpose, social connectedness and character strengths, while men scored higher in physical health and financial security, with the latter dimension showing the greatest gap between genders.

It’s this type of tailored approach to well-being that will help people succeed both personally and professionally. But even with these insights, it’s important to note that these findings are based on an initial pilot. We are continuing to validate this work over time.

In the end, our greatest takeaway from both this work and Aetna’s Health Ambitions Study, is that individuals are looking for support across all areas of well-being. This support ranges from helping individuals in the areas they value, to creating a climate where management truly cares about employee well-being and employees feel respected at work.

With CVS Health and Aetna now operating as one company, we have a unique opportunity to shift our focus from “managing care” to “managing health”—making well-being a priority every day versus just when we get sick. This evolution is a strategic imperative, not only for the health of our business but for the health of the millions of consumers we serve.

Authors: Kay Mooney is vice president of well-being at CVS Health; Eileen McNeely, Ph.D., M.S. RN, is director of SHINE (Sustainability and Health Initiative for NetPositive Enterprise), Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Tyler VanderWeele, Ph.D., is the John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The original article was published in BenefitsPro.