Creating a Healthy Workplace Culture

Employee benefits and human resources consulting firm Paradigm Group recently wrapped the company’s second annual conference focused on helping employers create a supportive workplace wellness culture.

“There are so many elements that go into creating a healthy culture,” noted Kelly Holt, wellbeing strategy consultant for Paradigm. The inaugural conference in 2015 focused on financial wellbeing and nutrition. The 2016 edition, “Elements of a Healthy Culture: Unlocking Purpose & Passion for Lifelong Wellbeing,” centered on physical activity, motivation and purpose.

Holt, a certified health coach, said the original impetus behind wellness programming at work was to impact healthcare costs. “Our intuition says if someone is healthy, their claims will be lower over time,” she noted. While direct cost remains a primary focus, Holt said there are many other reasons to create a healthy climate, as well. Wellbeing programs positively impact retention and productivity. Additionally, she said long-term disability, worker’s compensation claims and absenteeism all benefit from a healthful culture shift.

Although Paradigm doesn’t host onsite programs for clients, the company crafts and tailors a wellbeing strategy based on a company’s specific needs, puts them in touch with the resources to bring that strategy to life, and evaluates the effectiveness of programming. The wellness conference was another opportunity to connect clients with keynote speakers, who shared the latest research and their personal insights into finding purpose … the personal ‘why’ … that drives engagement in wellness. Holt said an individual’s wellbeing ‘why’ statement varies by whatever motivates them whether that be playing with children, walking a daughter down the aisle, or enjoying an active retirement in the future.

Kicking the conference off, Paradigm President Bob Levy said, “This year’s focus is on unlocking passion and purpose for a lifetime of wellbeing.” He added that doing so required a focus on wellness at work since Americans spend on average more than 2,000 hours a year in the workplace.

Mike Edgeworth, MD, a board certified neurologist and senior medical director at Cigna; Jennifer Pharr Davis, National Geographic Adventurer of the Year and the record holder for fastest completion of the Appalachian Trail; and Sean Foy, author of Wellness Council of America (WELCOA) physical activity books and co-author of the New York Times bestseller “The Daniel Plan” each addressed the audience.

Davis and Foy explored motivation and the power of purpose in their presentations. Quoting Mark Twain, Foy noted, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” The two speakers also talked about the power of just moving whether it’s 10 minutes of interval training, a 20-minute walk, or hiking the more than 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 46 days.

Edgeworth, who joined Cigna in 2014, said he made the move to the large insurer because of his desire to have an impact on population health. “This is what I’m passionate about – really beginning to work on improving the health of large groups of patients, and historically employers have not been a real big part or player in that mix.” However, he said, that trend has begun to shift as company leaders understand the impact they can have on their employees’ lives and health and how that impacts not only the wellbeing of their workforce but also the corporate bottom line.

Honing in on obesity and chronic disease, Edgeworth noted, “One of the greatest drivers of cost in healthcare in this country is obesity.” He added obesity significantly contributes to numerous chronic diseases, which impact patients on a number of levels – financial, utilization of unneeded services, disability, preventive death and medical errors.

Edgeworth continued, “From a financial standpoint, chronic disease accounts for $3 out of every $4 spent on healthcare in the United States.” For employers, he added that 5 percent of workers probably spend nearly 50 percent of a company’s healthcare dollars, and 1 percent accounts for 23 percent of the overall expenditure. “Patients with chronic disease are five times more costly than patients without chronic disease,” he added. “Probably the most important stat is this one, though. Chronic disease causes seven out of every 10 deaths in the United States.”

Looking at a year in the life of a patient with chronic disease, Edgeworth said an individual probably sees their physician quarterly and spends, on average, about 15 minutes per visit with their physician. “That’s 90 minutes in a year spent with your physician to understand how to manage and treat your chronic disease vs. 525,000 minutes, which is the rest of the year, that you’re essentially on your own to manage your disease.”

He added there are so many critical decisions that a patient makes on a daily basis from nutrition and exercise to medication management and assessing when to seek help and at what acuity level. For that reason, Edgeworth said it is critical for the healthcare industry to partner with the community, employers and employees to impact chronic disease.

“Historically where we’ve struggled is the way we’ve thought about personal health engagement,” he said. “Historically, the mindset has been – ‘That’s a lost cause.’” Instead, Edgeworth continued, “We have to begin to think of personal patient engagement as the next blockbuster drug of the century. We have to really believe that it is a critical and necessary condition of improving our healthcare system.”

He added fostering patient engagement increases healthy behaviors, improves patient experience, improves health outcomes and decreases health costs. Edgeworth noted the five best practices for engaging employees and promoting health in the workplace are:

  • Offering programs that are practical and accessible;
  • Creating a work environment that is health conscious;
  • Integrating wellness into the company structure;
  • Linking wellness to existing support programs; and
  • Offering health screenings and education.

He concluded by saying there are a number of excellent resources to help employers craft meaningful wellness programs from both private companies and the federal government, which offers the work@health program and the Worksite Health ScoreCard from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.



Paradigm Group

CDC Program work@health

Worksite Health ScoreCard