Why should organizations invest in their employees’ health and professional growth?

Matt Eurey: Employee benefits are a strategic asset for employers, as they correlate directly to employee satisfaction, health, wellness, loyalty, retention, and employer reputation and recruiting. When employees have the benefits they need to succeed both at work and in their lives, organizations see marked and material impact on their business.  

Heather Lavoie: People are the single greatest asset of an organization. To ensure they reach their highest human potential, you have to invest in their health and well-being. This is no different than cultivating a garden to ensure it thrives, and especially true in highly complex and competitive fields such as data science. 
At Geneia, we are recruiting data scientists at a time when the demand far exceeds the supply. A January 2019 report for the job site Indeed showed a 29 percent increase in demand for data scientists year over year and a 344 percent increase since 2013. Employees who believe their employer prioritizes investment in their well-being and professional growth are more likely to serve as company ambassadors and help attract like-minded employees. We know employee word-of-mouth about life as a Geneia employee has played an important role in recruiting across roles, but most particularly for data scientists, technologists and product developers. 

Karan Singh: Employee retention is a huge challenge for many — if not all — organizations. Talent is the most valuable resource that can either make or break a company’s trajectory. While there are many factors that go into strong employee retention, the most critical is an impactful behavioral health program. Investing in employees’ behavioral health and wellness can improve overall employee morale by helping to create a focused, positive and productive workforce. As research from Gallup shows, companies with engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147 percent in earnings per share. When employees have a place to turn to when experiencing stress or anxiety — in the workplace or in their personal lives — they are less likely to miss work due to stress, create interpersonal conflicts, lose productivity or face the many other negative symptoms that can occur. 

Todd Simon: Simple. As an organization, if you hope to attract and retain good people, it’s essential that your company culture makes people feel good. Not only about themselves but also about the work they’re doing for you. Your employees should know you recognize their effort and that their well-being always comes first. Otherwise, what’s their incentive to keep coming back? A paycheck? That mentality, frankly, just isn’t forward-facing. Recognize your team members for who they are, give them opportunities to shine and when they do, compensate them with rewards they can sink their teeth into. Investment in the well-being and growth of your personnel means they’ll be ready and willing to deliver their best work when it really counts. By investing in them, you’re maintaining a well-oiled team that won’t let you down. That’s the backbone of any successful business. 

John Harrison: It sounds obvious but it’s an essential starting point: Everyone wants to enjoy going to work every day. We all want to feel like the company we work for cares about us and our well-being. Workplaces are a lot more fun to be around when people feel a social connection to their colleagues and support from their company. A large number of empirical studies confirm that positive social connections at work produce highly desirable results: people get sick less often, experience less depression, learn faster, remember longer and even perform better on the job. A positive culture in the workplace creates happy employees and happy employees are more productive. More and more, a company’s culture is recognized as an integral tool for top talent acquisition and retention. A strong well-being program can be a vital driver of the environment you and your employees seek. 

What is the biggest obstacle companies face when trying to improve workplace wellness, engagement and retention? 

ME: Employers struggle with the balance of providing exceptional, well-rounded benefits while containing unsustainable annual healthcare cost hikes. This is a confounding balance for even the most sophisticated HR teams. The answers lie in personalizing and integrating benefits, while gathering and applying insights on what’s working and what is not for their people.  

HL: Motivating employees is a huge challenge for most companies and broad incentives are only marginally effective. That’s because motivation is individualized — it takes knowing the employee, understanding what is meaningful to them and meeting them where they are. Motivating employees to become invested and engaged in their health is even more challenging. After all, there wouldn’t be a $66 billion diet industry if it were easy for most of us to lose weight. Yet, if we’re going to curb the costs, productivity losses and devastating effects of chronic illnesses like diabetes, we need to improve our ability to motivate and engage employees. 

KS: Right now is a critical time for companies to be thinking about employee behavioral health. It’s the biggest obstacle that employers face when it comes to addressing employee wellness, engagement and retention. Nationwide, the reports of behavioral health challenges, such as stress and anxiety, are on the rise. In May 2018, The American Psychiatric Association, in a study that drew from 1,000 American adults, diagnosed a statistically significant increase in national anxiety since 2017. In addition, research from the National Institute of Mental Health shows that almost 20 percent of Americans have experienced an anxiety disorder in a given year and over 30 percent will experience an anxiety disorder over the course of their lifetime. Employers who prioritize intervening early by providing programs that offer access to on-demand, in-the-moment behavioral healthcare can prevent this trend from impacting their efforts to grow and nurture an engaged workforce. 

TS: Internal obstacles tend to mirror external ones. Difficulties of scale and budget rear their ugly heads whenever you try to affect change company-wide. This is especially true for long-established businesses like Omaha Steaks. Beyond the tricky operational logistics of implementing new benefits and programs across a large company, it’s often hard to simply generate interest and awareness from facility to facility among associates who are already stretched for time and energy. We’ve found the only way to truly connect with and encourage engagement is to hit them where they live. Don’t skimp on internal marketing. Make your initiatives visible and accessible. Promote curiosity as well as action. Get on the ground and talk directly with your staff so they know their participation in these programs — and their personal well-being — matters. Do this right and you’ll never struggle to retain your best team members. 

JH: Consumer expectations are higher than ever for how companies use technology to serve them. A recent survey found that more than half of consumers believe it’s absolutely critical or very important for companies to provide a personalized experience. Whether they’re shopping online for a new pair of shoes or looking for parenting tips, people have grown accustomed to personalized interactions, tailored recommendations and special offers that cater to their unique needs and preferences. Well-being programs must measure up to these lofty expectations. Individuals should be able to interact on their own terms, with as much choice, as much control and as much fun as they have come to expect from their favorite digital experiences. (Just because a program is offered by an employer doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.) More than anything, the experience is what people care about. It’s only natural that they should be in charge.

What is one industry trend that is helping to combat this major challenge you just mentioned? 

ME: The structure of employee benefits and healthcare are a maze of curiosity and complexity that we’ve asked our employees to sort out on their own. Personalized advocacy shows remarkable impact on employee engagement, benefits utilization, health outcomes and costs. When people have support, they make better decisions and that helps everyone.  

HL: More than 33 percent of American adults are prediabetic, 90 percent don’t know it and 70 percent will become diabetic without significant lifestyle changes. The increasing use of healthcare analytics enables us to identify prediabetics earlier, while there is still time to engage in the kind of lifestyle changes that can reverse the diagnosis. Analytics further support the ability to tailor messages, personalize messages and attune timing to improve engagement levels and effectiveness. Just as importantly, the use of a shared analytics platform by the employer, health plan, hospital and physician supports a much higher degree of collaboration toward the common goal of identifying prediabetics, engaging them in their health and creating personalized, achievable care plans. Rather than duplicating efforts and potentially working at cross-purposes, each member invested in their good health can support their progress. 

KS: For many employees who spend 40-50 hours — or more — a week working, getting to and from a traditional therapy appointment that’s offered between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. just isn’t possible — despite the need. In addition, therapy or psychiatry isn’t the solution for everyone. Employees who are experiencing low to moderate stress may just need the support of an emotional health coach who can help them learn new skills to reduce stress and reach goals. For employees who need higher levels of care, telehealth for therapy or psychiatry has come a long way in the past 20 years. Today, behavioral health providers can offer on-demand care through video-calling — tapping into sophisticated platforms that help clinicians provide high-quality care with little overhead and ample flexibility. Telehealth platforms are also gaining traction with employers: a 2017 Willis Towers Watson survey found that 25 percent of employers are providing coverage for mental health care via telemedicine, and another 46 percent are planning to do so or will consider it in the next three years. A technology-backed platform can provide a means to increase access to care without sacrificing quality for the individual seeking care. 

TS: For as much debate as it provokes in mainstream culture, social media gives us an unprecedented, invaluable avenue through which we personally connect with our employees. Spreading word of exciting new initiatives and opportunities has never been easier. I said we like to hit them where they live and these days, people live on social media. We use social tools to interact directly and immediately with our associates, and in doing so we gather real-time feedback and insight into how the business operates at every level. This not only helps us better understand them, but also to fine-tune our internal communications strategy and the programs themselves. Through content like employee spotlights we foster a continued social dialogue, allowing us to promote a positive work environment and a focus on well-being from the ground up. 

JH: Personalization has been a growing trend but sometimes it’s not enough to meet consumer expectations. We believe the focus should be on relevancy. Relevancy is giving you what you asked for — which anybody who is paying attention can do — as well as useful information you didn’t know you needed but are glad to receive, delivered at just the right time. Context is critical. Many factors make an experience relevant to an individual. At the highest level, interactions occur within a given context, intelligently blending demographic data, user behavior, and device or other imported data. Experiences must be convenient, which means not only offering a variety of channels (text, email, phone call, mobile, desktop and in person), but also providing tools that actually help people in ways that are comfortable for them, when they need them. Relevancy also requires offering choice — giving individuals the power to decide what’s important to them.