Changing Behaviors to Create Healthy Companies

November 15, 2019 Keith Karem

There has been a lot of chatter about the role of the workplace as a key social determinant of health. However, organizations don’t always fully grasp the intimate relationship between healthier employees and workplace productivity. While many companies intend to build a healthier, more engaged and productive workforce, the grim reality is that leadership teams often fail to recognize the issues that most impact their employees. This means that interventions that organizations implement to help their employees lead happier, healthier lives, mostly fall flat and do not produce the desired results.

Numbers Talk. Our Partners are Listening.

At the second annual Global Vitality Conference in London, where we launched the 2020 Vitality Running World Cup (more about this exciting opportunity later), Tal Gilbert, Vitality CEO, hosted a panel discussion on how and why leadership teams need to implement effective behavior change interventions to help their employees lead healthier lives.

He was joined by Dame Carol Black, Advisor to the UK Government on Health & Work, Donna Carbell, Head of Group Benefits Manulife Canada and Toby Todd, Head of Total Rewards Ericson in North America. In addition to sharing personal experiences about implementing targeted interventions to drive employee engagement, the panel members discussed how these strategies can boost productivity within organizations.

Dame Carol Black, a fiery campaigner for better mental health and well-being, kicked off the discussion by highlighting that mental health is one of the biggest challenges that needs to be addressed in the workplace. She noted that according to results from the 2018 Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey, an annual survey developed by Vitality in partnership with our esteemed partners, young employees are particularly at risk of having mental health issues. In fact, 12.5% of those in the 21-25-year age category indicated they suffer from depression, with the number increasing to 17.2% for those in the18-20-year age category. Professor Black also spoke about the link between mental health and physical health, with survey results showing employees with increased financial concerns were much more likely to smoke, be obese, suffer from hypertension or cholesterol, or report sleeping issues than the average respondent.

According to the survey results, participating organizations offer more than 20 workplace health interventions—such as fresh fruit and vegetables in the workplace or clinical screenings—on average. However, only 27% of employees were aware of the interventions made available to them by their employer. This is unfortunate, as 74% of employees who participated in any given intervention felt positive effects on their health.

Dame Black noted that the biggest challenge for management teams is to figure out the most pertinent issues relevant to their employees and then use an evidence-based approach to implement relevant interventions. Furthermore, those interventions need to have quantifiable outcomes to measure effectiveness and need to provide learnings that can then be used to drive optimal employee engagement.

Donna Carbell also noted that mental health related problems are responsible for most of the claims made by employees that Manulife supports, making mental health issues the number one barrier for people returning to work. She highlighted that, not surprisingly, the drivers for these problems are both the physical and cognitive demands of work, which lead to anxiety, exhaustion and stress, and ultimately loss of work productivity.

Carbell highlighted that by providing a platform for employees to engage in their well-being and supporting them to make more informed choices about their health, Manulife creates a preventative environment. This has proven to be more powerful and effective than waiting for employees to get sick and then, and only then, responding only to their medicinal needs.

In addition, Manulife also provides training to leadership teams on how to engage with their employees to raise concerns about health issues, including mental health, which involves providing them with the necessary skills and the language to have meaningful discussions with their workforce.

The final panel member, Toby Todd, spoke about Ericsson’s commitment to supporting the physical, financial, emotional and social well-being of their employees and their families via their E-Health Wellness program. The innovative well-being platform, which is a partnership between Ericsson and Vitality, recently won the prestigious C. Everett Koop National Health Award, which recognizes outstanding worksite health promotion and improvement programs. Over the course of three years, those who participated in E-Health recorded medical and prescription costs that were, on average, an astounding $385 lower than non-participants.

Todd noted that the wellness program is a key differentiator for Ericsson and is a vital offering for their employees. Even though this is a voluntary plan, there is high level of engagement across the company.

It’s Time to Move

Circling back to Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, the survey found that productivity loss in the UK has been worsening over time, with employees losing, on average, 23.0 days of productive time in 2014, compared to 35.6 days in 2018. These results are reinforced by the findings in a recent research collaboration between Vitality and RAND Europe in which we found even something as simple as an extra 15-minute daily walk could boost the global economy. If employers were to encourage their staff to meet the World Health Organization guidelines on exercise, the global economy could grow as much as $100 billion a year. Given this, it is crucial that workplaces figure out how to improve staff wellbeing and implement interventions that have long-term impact.

This all brings me back to 2020 Vitality Running World Cup. Building on our pledge to make the world 20% more active by 2025, Vitality has launched the Vitality Running World Cup—a free-to-enter, knockout, global running competition. Whoever you are, wherever you are, you can run and represent your country in the world’s largest running event. All you need is a smartphone or smart fitness device and the ability to run 3 km in 30 minutes. The country with the greatest distance in relation to their population wins, so the more you run the better. Sign up here and lace those shoes! Only one country will take home the victory, but the whole world will benefit when everyone starts moving more.

Keith Karem, Vice President of Marketing – Crossing the 10,000-step threshold daily by chasing after two rambunctious kiddos and navigating the neighborhoods of Chicago with my family.

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