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– Denise Adamson, Corporate Vice President, Sales, BioIQ –

I recently attended Modern Healthcare’s sixth annual Women Leaders in Healthcare conference in Nashville, Tenn. The full-day event is designed for women professionals in healthcare and offers unique lessons and learning opportunities. The day’s sessions provide insider knowledge and timely insights designed to improve leadership potential, enhance skill sets and inform decision-making. The conference featured a number of relevant topics, but a session titled “The Healthy Workplace and Beyond: Creating an Environment that Fosters Wellbeing” caught my attention in particular. Workplace wellness programs have the potential to transform employees’ lives while boosting overall business performance, so I was excited to hear from a panel of experts.

The session featured two healthcare leaders – Debra Lerner, director of the Health, Work and Productivity program at Tufts Medical Center, and Karen Schmidt, associate director of Wellness and Health Culture at the University of Michigan. The discussion focused on how employers can create stand-out workplace cultures, how wellness fits into the overall picture and of course, the contentious debate regarding ROI of these programs.

Lerner shared her perspective on the issue and made a strong case as to why demonstrating ROI in employer-based programs is not working: a lack of a well-defined data strategy, uncertainty of what should be measured (and how), and what exactly constitutes the “ROI equation.” She explained that costs savings should not be the primary driver for employer-based well-being programs. Instead, health improvement and doing the right thing for employees should be the reason behind such programs. In that vein, Schmidt recommended the Value on Investment (VOI) approach as an alternative to a traditional ROI approach. A VOI model includes softer measurements and focuses on what was done, if it worked and whether it was worth it.

Many employers offer wellness to employees but they can differ vastly in terms of scope, strategy and quality. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2015 survey indicated that 81 percent of large employers (with 200 or more employees) offer these benefits. However, without collecting uniform data, there is no way to prove that they save money.

Common sense tells us that we should value prevention over intervention, so let’s shift our collective focus to creating a culture of health in the workplace. Employers can help employees create long-term healthy habits and positive behavioral changes by offering balanced food choices in cafeterias and at company functions, access to onsite gyms and fitness classes, walking trails, bike racks and other amenities. Employers should strive to create a culture of health that promotes engagement and encourages employee input. This includes not only C-suite participation but proactive support from mid –level management and supervisors.

The discussion in this session was productive, but of course, the problem was not solved in the course of a few hours. I left Nashville thinking about Benjamin Franklin’s idiom – “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – and how this founding father’s wisdom is just as relevant today as it was 200 years ago.

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