Here we focus on some differences between the United States and Europe in dealing with wellness and wellbeing. If you have not read the first two parts of this series I encourage you to click on the links above and spend a few minutes catching up with the beginning of this conversation (which took place on February 6, 2014) as part of my monthly “Talking About Tomorrow” series.
Erik Jaspers [Planon]: First, I must say I was a little surprised about the short conversation about Medicare and putting that in the perspective of wellness and wellbeing. I’m from Europe, and we don’t have this conversation, and certainly not in that context.
I have a question because I’m a newcomer in this area. How would you go about measuring results or determining the effectiveness of what you’ve been trying to achieve in these types of projects? How do you measure wellness in the larger context of an organization?
Kate Lister [Global Workplace Analytics]: That is a problem. Actually, I think Chris Hood has a pretty good take on that. He’s done a great job of chronicling the costs. Gallup, Healthways, and others have too. There are a lot of benchmarks out there on the cost of depression, the cost of alcoholism, tobacco use, obesity, etc.
Erik Jaspers: Let’s say you want to improve the general wellness, and you do a project and want to know whether you achieved anything tangible. Not so much on the finances, but did you really achieve something tangible for the team? How would you go about getting a grip on whether or not it was successful for you?
Chris Hood [CBRE]: We’re actually working on that at the moment. We’re working to establish a two-year study with Cornell University that looks at that very question. The subject site is one designed for certification under the Delos-living wellness standards, CBRE’s new headquarters building in Los Angeles. There are multiple imagined dimensions to the study, and proposals to look at everything from biometrics and vital health readings to measures of task performance.
But we have to be very careful how we do the measurements. In theory though, assessing health conditions before the implementation and comparing them to extended results over a two-year period following the move to our new facility ought to help us begin to detect whether the “health and wellness” needle has moved, or whether there have been any other benefits. It is however necessarily a slow, drawn-out process; and although we imagine that two years may begin to surface some findings, reliable conclusions could only be drawn from multiple sites and over longer periods of time – but it’s a start.
Kate Lister: I would also add that productivity is hard to measure; but it’s not hard to measure if you equate it to absenteeism. Every day someone’s not at the office costs the company money. That’s easy to measure. If you do pre- and post-studies on absenteeism, that’s a good barometer of success.
Michael Grove [Collabworks]: I’m wondering about companies like Safeway who are self-insured. That’s money right out of their pocket. I know that Safeway has a program on health. It might be interesting to see how many companies are like Safeway and if there’s data that would support showing that proactive management attention yields results.
Chris Hood: I can tell you that CBRE is contemplating negotiating healthcare costs as a result of improvements in the work environment. To connect investment to what the company and/or people will pay in terms of premiums as a result of creating more healthful environments.
Jim Ware: I’ve seen a couple of examples, although not a lot, of organizations that really put a premium on prevention. They scale the cost of healthcare premiums to someone’s meeting certain benchmarks, whether it’s obesity or smoking or other indicators. People who have quit smoking, for example, get a discount on their group health insurance. So they’re trying to put self-interest in line with corporate-interest. I think there’s a lot more opportunity for that than we have seen.
Chris Hood: One of the challenges our clients are now facing is how to get people back into the office. That’s a big deal for many of them. I’m pondering whether the health discussion is a positive or negative contribution
Jim Ware: I was thinking about Kate’s comment about people feeling pressure to be in the office, and yet they may be bringing germs into the office. Maybe we need to reverse that so it becomes “When you’re sick, stay home, but with technology you can still work.”
Erik Jaspers: Can I react to that? I’m startled because in Europe in general, that is the rule. You can’t go into the office when you’re sick because you’ll make your colleagues sick. It’s the standard rule; it’s normal sense.
Jim Ware: Unfortunately we don’t have as much of that here in the United States as you do in Europe.
Jessica Lipnack [NetAge]: I’ll leap off of that. I remain startled that we’re at this primitive state of understanding about these topics. Of course you shouldn’t go to work when you’re sick. Of course you should get decent vacations. Of course people should be getting breaks when their children are sick.
I’m a little depressed; I think I need mental wellness. I’m depressed at the primitive state of all of this. We know all of this is true, and I can’t believe you have to convince anybody of it. Hasn’t anyone in a C-suite ever had a sick child or a sick relative, or been sick themselves?
Rodney Stone: I want to comment about the C-Suite not knowing about sickness. I think the C-suite realizes that is an issue, but I think it’s the managers that are putting unwritten or unspoken pressure on people, and their staff feel they have to come in to get things done so they come in sick. Managers need to be better educated, and of course the C-Suite has to be the one to educate them and let them know how to treat their people, and have it flow down that way.
Jim Ware: One thing we haven’t talked about is the general economic context of the last 4-5 years of cutbacks and downsizing and trying to do more with less. Everybody’s working under much higher levels of stress. That’s got to be a contributing factor to all of this.
So, thank you all for a very stimulating and provocative conversation. I’m particularly grateful, Kate, for your contribution. Thank you very much.
Readers: I hope you found this whole conversation enlightening and perhaps even motivating. Paying attention to wellness and wellbeing feels like a no-brainer to many of us, but there is clearly much work to do. The good news is that there appears to be a massive opportunity to improve organizational productivity and enhance the quality of working life – at a relatively low cost.