It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the workplace more than any single event in recent history. But if there is one good thing that has come from the pandemic, it’s that businesses worldwide are recognizing the importance of putting greater emphasis and focus on workforce health and well-being.
That was the topic of conversation between Elise Labott, adjunct professor at American University, and David Cordani, president and CEO of Cigna, who recently chatted during Washington Post Live’s “The Future of Work: Health and Wellness” event in a segment presented by Cigna.
According to Cordani, recent research by The Economist Intelligence Unit, which was commissioned by Cigna, explores the links between employee well-being, productivity, business success and economic vitality. You can watch their full conversation below.
Read on for some of the most interesting snippets from the conversation, as well as some of the key takeaways on the impact that employee health and well-being has on businesses, communities and the economy as a whole. (Editor’s note: The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
Labott: Talk to us about The Economist study. What do the findings tell us about employers’ role in encouraging employees to adapt healthy behaviors? Is it more of a responsibility, or an opportunity? Or, both?
Cordani: Cigna is a global health services company. Our view is that an employer has a unique role to play in how an individual’s health contributes to a vibrant business. And we also believe that a vibrant business helps to create a vibrant community.
To your question on whether this is an opportunity or a responsibility: It’s both, because those employers that have seized upon the opportunity have been able to produce better business results, longer, more retentive employee relationships, and higher productivity with their employees—and even better commitment and contribution to the community. So we see it as a pretty powerful fuel for those employers that want to lean into health and well-being.
Labott: The study is very interesting and it sheds an important light on stress and burnout, which have obviously intensified since the pandemic. Talk to us about how much of a threat this is to a company’s bottom line. What are the risks if a company doesn’t address these emerging issues?
Cordani: You are absolutely correct, the pandemic has further elevated behavioral health challenges like stress, anxiety, and strain in the workforce. If an employer doesn’t proactively address that, then they are at risk for reduced productivity, reduced presentism, higher employee turnover, and eroding business results. If an employer does address them, they can obviously avert that as well as differentiate themselves as an employer of choice.
Labott: Cigna has a long history of looking at mental and emotional issues like addiction, loneliness, resilience and how they intersect with chronic health conditions. Talk to me a little bit about that.
Cordani: We believe that for far too long society has separated physical health from mental health. …But, the science shows us that it is more interrelated than anybody ever imagined it could be.
Our work on loneliness reinforced that in the United States, for example, about half of all Americans saw themselves as somewhat or meaningfully lonely. And our youngest generation felt the most disconnected as it related to that. Our research around resilience, and the ability to bounce back and overcome obstacles, also showed a large decrement due to the pandemic.
As a global health services company we were early to see the connection between mind and body, to merge programs together for mental and physical health. …We’ve long seen the value in having a more coordinated, whole-person health approach. We think of it as a much more progressive way of addressing someone’s overall health and well-being, or vitality.
Labott: Let’s say I’m a CEO. This is important to my bottom line. But I am also grappling with all of these competing priorities. What’s the one thing I can do right now to start creating this culture of health for my employees?
First and foremost, I’d pose a question to you as CEO: Strategically, how do you see your employees and your talent? Do you think your talent is a strategic advantage? Do you think it is your most critical asset?
If you do, you are going to need to take a fresh look at your investment in health and well-being—not as an expense item, an accommodation, or a parity play, but as a competitive point of differentiation for your business. In doing so you’ll look at your culture, your readiness to change, your health burden challenges, and you’ll chart – with the right support – a multi-year strategy for more incentives, engagement, support and resources for health and well-being.
And as CEO, you are going to expect to track results. You’ll expect to see elevated presentism, productivity, and retention, and over time, lower health costs to what they would have been. So the question is, do you view talent as a strategic investment, or do you view it as a transactional expense? If you view it strategically, you enter the door through a completely different mindset.
A Healthy Workforce is an Employer Imperative
Research finds employers are the key to linking employee health and productivity, business success, and overall economic vitality.