Recently WellNation sat down for a discussion with Dr. Ray Fabius, Chief Medical Officer with Thomson Reuters, a technology and news organization that employs more than 55,000 people worldwide and delivers critical information to decision makers in the financial, legal, accounting, healthcare, and science markets. Dr. Fabius has a long and impressive history of helping large organizations build a culture of health, so we wanted to get his feedback on a range of health-related topics. This is the first in a series of posts that captures the highlights of our discussion.
You write that you are passionate about building a culture of health in the workplace. Can you share what “culture of health” means?
I would define culture of health as an environment that actually makes good health choices the easiest ones to make; to do that you need a collection of policies, facilities, social networks, and leaders all pointing in the same direction of cultivating wellness.
Health is such a personal matter; does that conversation really belong in the workplace?
We know a healthy worker is a more productive worker. I think if we could markedly improve the health and wellness of the American workforce, we could implement another “Bull Run” in the market, similar to the last one which many believe were the technology enhancements that led to great advancements in productivity.
Once you’re under the belief and passionate commitment that a healthy workforce is a competitive advantage, it makes it easier to understand why you wouldn’t want to separate a workforce’s personal health from their productive responsibilities.
Are employers embracing the idea that health in the workplace equals better productivity?
I’ve been beating this drum since at least 1996 and I’ve never been more optimistic than I am now. I do believe there’s an increasing number of employers who have the enlightened realization that they should really commit to advancing the health of their workforce, not because it’s a nice thing to do, or because it might get them to be thought of as an employer of choice, but because it’s a very important part of a successful economic formula.
What are you seeing employers do now to promote a culture of health they weren’t doing back in 1996?
There are a collection of employers that have publically announced their healthcare costs are going down. So when President Obama speaks to the notion of bending the cost curve, he’s really speaking about those corporations whose healthcare costs are not just experiencing a slowing of the escalation rate, but actually going down. When companies start to hear there are other companies who have done a good job of building a culture of health and their healthcare costs are going down, it starts to attract attention from leaders outside the human resources department. It attracts the attention of the CEO and CFO.
It’s always been about proof of concept. When we first spoke about the notion that building a culture of health could mitigate rising healthcare costs, it was theoretical until I was able to do it as Global Medical Leader at General Electric. During my tenure healthcare costs were rising at about 3% while our peer companies were experiencing a 7%-8% increase in costs. That was thought of as state-of-the-art as it existed, there weren’t any companies in the early 2000s I was aware of that actually announced healthcare costs were going down. Once companies say publically their healthcare costs are going down, it becomes a very attractive consideration because most large employers are self-insured. As you’re probably aware, in a self-insured environment, when healthcare costs go down the difference in what you spent last year and what you spend this year goes right to the bottom line.
Are there specific things those in leadership roles need to be doing to help drive a culture of health?
Benchmark companies that have established a culture of health have done so with active support from leadership at the top of their company. It’s essential for people in the executive suite to be committed to building a culture of health inside the organization and also “walk the talk.” Not only do they have to support the concept with communications, but they have to eat right, exercise, not smoke and be a good example of an employee making healthy choices. They must be champions and ambassadors of better health.
On the flipside, what are some things employers are doing today that contribute to poor health?
One is fostering an environment that makes it difficult for people to eat right, exercise, or have periods of reduced stress. In some cases they actually create an environment where working becomes a real problem to one’s physical and mental health by not supporting a reasonable work/life balance. A classic example is shift work; the human body is not designed to quickly shift to different work cycles. Yet so many factories, sometimes with the negotiated choice of the unions, have workers two days on day shift, two days on evening shift, two nights on the graveyard and then three days off – and then do it again.
In the next post Dr. Fabius will share his thoughts on the differences – and similarities – in building healthy cultures in blue collar and white collar working environments.