Category Archives: wellness initiatives

Back to the Future for Healthcare

Value-based care. ACOs. Narrow networks. Consumerism. These were just a few of topics explored in depth at last week’s National Business Group on Health’s Business Health Agenda 2016 conference at the J.W. Marriott in Washington. But if there was a single thread running through these sessions and many others during the two-and-a-half-day event, it was the increasingly important role technology is playing these days as a disrupting force.

Consider this: It wasn’t a huge surprise to see the NBGH and Xerox Human Resource Services (the former Buck Consultants) unveil the findings of a study titled Emerging Technology to Promote Employee Wellbeing, one of three research projects released at the event.

Looking at four key areas—gamification, mobile technologies, wearable sensors and social media—the study of 213 employers found significant growth in all four areas, with mobile, not surprisingly, leading the way. When the survey was last conducted three years ago, just 16 percent of employers were using mobile apps to engage employees. In this latest study, that number jumped to 50 percent.

The study also revealed that wearable technologies climbed from 16 percent to 34 percent over the three-year period.

Social networking, meanwhile, grew by 50 percent. “People are increasingly relying on others to get their information,” said Scott Marcotte, client technology leader for Xerox HR Services.

Also, as might be expected, mobile topped the list of future senior-leader priorities, with 50 percent of the respondents citing it as a prime focal point over the next year. Many also predicted that texting will be an increasingly important part of their strategy going forward.

As for barriers to adoption, the respondents cited competing business priorities, the lack of buy-in and support from senior management, the lack of a guaranteed return-on-investment (and ways to measure technology’s impact), and confidentiality and privacy as significant hurdles.

“Technology is also enabling employers to more successfully reach family members,” Marcotte pointed out. He noted that more and more of the companies he’s been working with are “creating hyper-personalized experiences for the spouse,” distinct of the employee.

Of course, you would think the Internet and mobile technology would represent today’s best ways to get educational resources into the home and involve the family, right? But at a session titled Leveraging Technology to Reach the Home, several speakers suggested the next frontier might actually be the television. (Though one conference session on narrow networks featured Back to the Future in its title, I couldn’t help but wonder if that phrase might have been better suited for this one.)

In an effort being led by Kaiser Permanente and Comcast, just out of beta, employees at a handful of employers (Comcast, IBM and Lowe’s Cos.) are beginning to deliver information directly into the home through TV apps.

“People are consuming video on their phones and other devices, but the fact is that many are still watching a lot of TV,” said Chris Stenzel, vice president of business development and innovation at Kaiser Permanente.

Participating with Stenzel on the panel were Marc Siry, vice president of strategic development at Comcast Corp.; Lydia Boyd Campbell, director of global integrated health services at IBM Americas; and Bob Ihrie, senior vice president of compensation and benefits at Lowe’s Cos. (Ihre, by the way, will be participating at two sessions at HRE’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference later this month.)

All the panelists believe TV has the potential to make healthcare engaging and interesting for the entire family.

Maternity was selected as a pilot for the program because it represents a significant percentage of claims and is a time when families are really engaged in the health system. Videos are delivered to the employees’ TVs based on the stage of the pregnancy—so employees and their spouses/partners are delivered content that’s meaningful to them at that moment. The system knows what to deliver based on the due date, which is the only personal information that needs to be offered up to provide the just-in-time information. (Netflix-like binge watching, however, is still an option for those who prefer that approach.)

Television, of course, isn’t the only legacy device that’s attempting a comeback in the world of healthcare. Let’s not forget the 500-year-old watch, which many are predicting, thanks primarily to the Apple Watch, will someday be a major force in wearables.

That promise isn’t lost on vendors such The Vitality Group, which used the conference as a platform for officially announcing a program that enables “Active Rewards” members to fully fund their Apple Watches by meeting monthly targets over a 24-month period. (The founder and CEO of Vitality Group’s parent company, Discovery Group, Adrian Gore, also delivered the opening-keynote address at the NBGH event.)

Alan Pollard, CEO of The Vitality Group, told me the results of the program in South Africa have been “phenomenal,” with the early data revealing that Vitality members using Apple Watches are more physically active than those using any other fitness devices.

In the United States, early adopters of the new Vital program include Amgen, Lockton and DaVita HealthCare Partners. (The program is also available to consumers through Vitality’s arrangement with John Hancock.)

Putting Mental Well-being in a Better Place

The figure shared at this week’s IBI Forum in San Francisco is pretty jarring: Mental-health conditions are costing employers more than $80 billion in medical expenses and productivity losses per year. Yes, that’s right: $80 billion!

ThinkstockPhotos-462419617So I guess it’s not surprising that behavioral health was the focus of more than a few sessions at this year’s conference, which attracted around 500 people to the City by the Bay.

At the plenary session titled Behavioral Health and Its Impact on Productivity and the Workplace, Pacific Resources’ Vice President of Global Employer Solutions Patricia Purdy pointed out that employers still have a long way to go in their efforts to get their hands around the issue of mental well-being.

“When it comes to thinking about mental health and well-being, organizations are woefully behind,” Purdy said.

In her presentation, she referred to behavioral health as a “frontier,” adding that her word choice was “purposeful, because we’re still really on the cutting edge of helping organizations think about mental health and mental well-being.”

During a conference titled “The Productivity Summit: Improving Behavioral Health and Well-being in the Workplace,” held last May at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Purdy and others even devoted some time to talking about names, she said. “Do we call it behavioral health? Do we call it mental illness? Mental wellness? Mental well-being? Behavioral well-being?”

One of the challenges businesses face today, Purdy said, is coming up with a common lexicon that can be used to talk about the subject, in a way that’s “not threatening to employees.”

The panelists at the IBI session—which included Johnson & Johnson Chief Medical Officer Fikry Isaac; Georgetown University’s Robert Carr (director of its master’s program in health systems administration); and Sedgwick Senior Vice President of Corporate Development, M&A and Healthcare Kimberly George—also touched on making the business case for mental-health investment.

Purdy noted that people at the Carter Center summit said more data is needed to build the business case. But, she added, the truth is there’s already “scads and scads of data.”

The problem, she explained, isn’t that companies don’t have the data; it’s whether or not they can translate that data into the language of the business—so business leaders “understand what we’re talking about.”

As J&J’s Isaac put it, those in the profession need be able to explain to business leaders what’s in it for them and why health, including behavior health, matters.

Presenters also made the case for integrating mental health into other processes. Georgetown’s Carr pointed out, for example, that mental well-being is integrated into GSK’s annual employee survey. (Carr retired from the pharma company in 2014.)

The company, for instance, wanted to know if employees had the resources they needed, he said.

Also, at GSK, one of the six key leadership expectations is to “release energy in others,” he said, adding that the company helps those leaders lacking in this area to build this competency.

Behavioral health was nowhere to be found in the title of a breakout session later that morning, but it was nevertheless an important part of the discussion. The session, titled A Report from the Front Lines of Mindfulness-Based Programs: Four Years of Data from More than 100 Employers, looked at the benefits of mindfulness through the lens of a pioneering employer in this area: Aetna Inc.

As Aetna Wellness Program Strategy Lead Cheryl Jones explained, “mindfulness is about being in the present moment—paying attention to what’s happening around you in an open way.”

Since Aetna launched its program back in 2009, Jones said, it has seen a number of positive results, including a significant drop in employee stress levels.

Aetna—which uses eMindful as a vendor—also enjoys a remarkable participation rate: 13,000 of its 50,000 workers. (That compares to an average of 17 percent across all eMindful clients, reported co-presenter and eMindful CEO Kelley McGabe Ruff.)

Of course, having a CEO who is very publicly passionate about mindfulness doesn’t hurt. As some of you may be aware, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini credits mindfulness and yoga with helping him manage his pain, following a skiing accident that almost took his life in 2004.

“Recovery is a state of mind,” he told a morning news show last year. “It’s not just a physical practice, and … if you get your mind in the right place, you can do almost anything [while] managing pain.”

Jones told the audience that Bertolini plans to announce Aetna’s next step in its mindfulness journey at next week’s Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco. She said it will involve “creating a more mindful culture.” Guess we’ll have to wait until then for the specifics.

CFOs Not Just Focused on Numbers

You might think that controlling costs is the primary concern of the nation’s chief financial officers when it comes to health benefits, but a new survey from the Integrated Benefits Institute reveals otherwise.

HCSC Social-179275875The survey, which polled 345 CFOs and other senior finance executives at some of the largest U.S. companies, shows that while cost management is a major concern, other goals also rank high — including using health benefits to attract and keep top performers and helping employees better manage their health. The survey also illustrates the big impact the Affordable Care Act has had on corporate health benefits.

Nearly half (44 percent) of the respondents cited controlling costs as the most important of their company’s top five goals for health and related benefits. However, almost as many (36 percent) selected other goals as the most important, including attracting, retaining and satisfying talent (15 percent), helping employees become better healthcare consumers (10 percent), helping enrollees become healthier (9 percent), and improving workforce productivity (2 percent).

The survey found that 24 percent of CFOs said the finance function’s role in benefits decision-making has expanded since the ACA’s passage, compared to only 5 percent who said it has shrunk since then. Cost-sharing is also on the rise since the ACA: About half the CFOs said their company is increasing its offerings of high-deductible healthcare plans for employees and their dependents and raising premium shares and out-of-pocket expenses.

The ACA has also spurred more companies to up their wellness game: More than half the CFOs said their company has enhanced its health and well-being programs since the law was enacted and more than one-third enhanced incentives for adopting healthy lifestyles and wellness-program participation.

Interestingly, CFOs who said their companies place great importance on attracting and retaining talent and improving productivity said their organizations were less likely to shift healthcare costs to employees.

The survey results demonstrate that CFOs understand the importance of health-management strategies, says IBI President Dr. Thomas Parry:

These findings go against the popular notion that CFOs demand a hard ROI from health promotion programs, and that companies are scrambling for the cheapest options. If we want to understand where companies are going with health benefits, we need to think of them within the context of business strategies beyond cutting costs.

Parry and two CFO panelists will discuss the role of health and benefits at the upcoming Health & Benefits Leadership Conference on April 1 in Las Vegas.

Employee Weight Loss Takes More Than Money

Generally speaking, financial incentives seem like a pretty effective way of motivating employees to do many things.

New research from the University of Pennsylvania, however, suggests that it may take more than the promise of cold hard cash to help employees shed unwanted pounds.

In the study, which appears in the January issue of Health Affairs, 197 obese employees of the University of Pennsylvania health system were enrolled in a workplace wellness program. These workers were given a weight-loss goal equivalent to 5 percent of their weight at enrollment, and randomly assigned to either a control group that wasn’t offered any financial incentive for reaching that goal, or one of three “intervention arms” in which participants were offered an incentive valued at $550.

Two of these intervention arms used health insurance premium adjustments, which were either delayed until the beginning of the following year, or took effect in the first pay period after achieving the goal. Employees in the third intervention group, meanwhile, were entered into a daily lottery incentive. Twelve months after enrollment, the researchers saw no significant changes in average weight loss for participants in any of the groups.

While offering financial incentives didn’t yield vastly different results among this particular group of employees, the study’s authors point out that such incentives aren’t necessarily useless, and that a variety of factors may have contributed to this outcome.

For example, lead author Dr. Mitesh Patel, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, suggests in a press release that the discount offered to these employees may not have been substantial enough. Or, the way the reward was delivered may have affected some employees’ perception, he said, noting that the premium discount was rolled into a paycheck as opposed to being made in a separate payment.

“More than 80 percent of large employers use financial incentives for health promotion. Many use health insurance premium adjustments, but these incentives are often delayed, and even when they aren’t, they are typically hidden in paychecks along with other deductions and payments,” says Patel. “That makes them less noticeable. Our findings suggest that employers should consider testing designs alternative to the $550 premium-based incentives used in this study.”

In addition, the lottery incentives used in this study “were constrained by having to do weigh-ins in workplace settings,” adds Dr. Kevin Volpp, a professor of medicine and healthcare management and a co-author of the study. “That made sustained engagement and behavior change more challenging.”

Given such variables, co-author Dr. David Asch, a professor of medicine and healthcare management and director of the Penn Center for Health Care Innovation, agrees that the lack of significant weight loss among participants in this study “doesn’t mean that all incentive programs are ineffective.”

Rather, the findings only signify that “we need to move to more creative designs,” he says, “that might better leverage predictable barriers to behavior change.”

Poll: Mindfulness Training Really Works

OK, full disclosure here. A company that provides online mindfulness programs for employers, insurers, wellness companies 166198718 -- meditation2and employee-assistance programs recently announced results of a survey showing mindfulness training improves sleep quality and workplace productivity, and reduces worker stress.

So consider the source, of course. But much like other vendor polls we occasionally report on, this one seems worth sharing. The provider — eMindful, headquartered in Vero Beach, Fla. — analyzed data from 1,200 employees across multiple countries and found a 29-percent reduction in perceived stress among companies offering mindfulness training.

Also, before taking the courses, employees at the responding companies reported losing an estimated 117 minutes of productive time per week. After taking them, that number was reduced to 70 minutes.

Again and mind you, this is one provider’s claim of success, but it does add to the collective wisdom growing rapidly out there that a commitment to workforce-wide mindfulness reaps benefits worth noting, and considering. (This post by me earlier this year features one company’s discoveries along these lines, along with a link to a column by our benefits columnist, Carol Harnett, underscoring the value of workplace mindfulness and the importance of a commitment to it coming from the top and being ingrained into the culture.)

Ruth Q. Wolever, eMindful’s chief scientific officer and associate professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, says scientific studies on mindfulness “have burgeoned recently, with demonstrated benefits ranging from decreased stress and anxiety to increased immune-system functioning and pain tolerance.”

“The costs of stress for employers include not only absenteeism and losses in productivity,” she says, “but also include medical costs related to unhealthy behavior patterns [such as alcohol or drug abuse, overeating, smoking and sedentary lifestyles as well as] stressful lifestyles that create and/or exacerbate chronic illness [including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke].”

Harnett, in her column, corroborates Wolever’s benefits and adds a few more:

“When all is said and done, mind-body programs seem to be at least as effective as lifestyle-management programs and bring benefits such as decreased stress and sleep challenges, and improved cardiac responses to stressful situations.

“Researchers such as RAND Corp.’s Soeren Mattke indicate lifestyle-management programs do not decrease healthcare costs to nearly the same levels as disease-management programs. However, Mattke related on the CoHealth radio show I co-host that employees with chronic health conditions achieve even better results when they participate in both disease- and lifestyle-management initiatives.

“Finally, as Mattke said and I agree, there are other reasons to offer lifestyle-management programs, including mind-body therapies, to your worksite. Mind-body curriculums will most likely please a growing portion of your employee population and improve your workers’ perceptions of the workplace culture. And that may be an employer’s greatest consideration of all.”

The Next Step for Wearable Tech

Wearable technology has been receiving a lot of attention in the press lately.

ThinkstockPhotos-126914550Just last month, FitBit—by far, the current leading provider in the field of tracking devices—scored a major client win when Target announced it would be giving its 335,000 employees a free Zip, the firm’s clip-on device retailing for around $60. Wall Street apparently was pleased by the news: FitBit’s stock price jumped as much as 22 percent following the announcement.

So I guess it isn’t terribly surprising to see wearable technologies quite visible at this week’s Benefits Forum & Expo in Orlando, Fla. Right?

Just a few steps away from the conference registration desk, FitBit employees were distributing complimentary devices to attendees who agreed to sign up for a charity competition. (Full disclosure: I picked up my first tracker on Wednesday, strapped it on my wrist and joined a team designated “MS Mercenaries,” though I’m clearly not contributing to our tally sitting here writing this post.)

I probably should also mention that FitBit did a similar competition at our Health & Benefits Leadership Conference last year and will be doing it again later this month at our HR Tech Conference.

I also counted at least three sessions dedicated to the wearables topic on the opening day of the Benefits Forum.

One of those sessions, titled “Wearables: A Believable Future or a Passing Fad,” featured David Spierer, president of human physiology at Wellness Science LLC, a New York-based data-intelligence company that focuses on wearable-tech validation.

Spierer shared his insights and perspectives on the phenomenon, including some of the drawbacks employers ought to factor in as they evaluate and implement these devices in their organizations.

Sustainability and accuracy continue to be two major hurdles facing device makers, he said.

According to Spierer, wearables have a life span of about five-and-a-half to six months before the novelty wears off and they end up in a drawer, he said. Either that, he said, or they break.

Still, the appetite for these devices is unarguably huge. Spierer said they’re shipping at a rate of more than 21 million units a year—and some predict that number could rise to 150 million a year by 2018. So people clearly want them!

Spierer also emphasized the need for better validation.

He specifically pointed to manufacturers’ claims that these devices can measure calories, when the only way to accurately measure caloric expenditures is to wear a mask. “Carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen have to all be measured in order to get a true reading of caloric expenditure,” he said. “These devices just do an estimate.”

Yet despite such limitations, Spierer predicted that further innovation lies ahead for the technology and the future is promising.

By integrating the sensors with a complete system, he said, people will be able to do exercises at home and then send that information to their physician.

Spierer also predicted that the devices are going to become increasingly “invisible” and “personalized,” citing companies that have already added them to their clothing and are incorporating them in jewelry such as earrings.

He also expects the technology to get a lot smarter. “They’re going to be context-driven,” he said. “They’re going to know when it’s raining, what holiday it is [and] what your routine is during the day.” And they’re going to start to talk to other devices (for instance, the wearable on your wrist will be able to talk to your phone in your pocket).

“How great would it be if you were walking home with your groceries, the wearable senses your heart rate is going up, the smart lock on your front door opens … and because your sweating, your air conditioning goes on?” he asked.

I’d say pretty great—especially on a day like today, when temperatures in Orlando reached around 90 degrees.

The Ongoing Expansion of Worksite Health

Affordable Care Act uncertainties be damned—employers are going ahead with their plans to launch on-site health centers.

That seems to be the overarching message to emerge from Mercer’s new targeted survey on worksite clinics.

The New York-based consultancy’s poll is actually a follow-up of sorts to last year’s National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, in which 29 percent of organizations with 5,000-plus employees that provide an on-site or near-site clinical site said they offer primary care services. (That figure marks a 5 percent increase in the number of companies saying the same in 2013.)

For this recent survey, all participants from the 2014 poll that reported offering a worksite clinic were invited to answer detailed follow-up questions about their clinic operations. Among the 134 respondents, 91 percent of those with clinics identified controlling total health spend as a “very important” or “important” objective in establishing an on-site center. For 77 percent of survey participants, reducing lost employee productivity was also a key goal, with 68 percent saying they consider improving member access to healthcare important or very important.

These findings are very much in line with what Towers Watson’s 2015 Employer-Sponsored Health Care Centers Survey uncovered earlier this year. In that survey, 75 percent of 105 organizations currently offering employer-sponsored health centers cited increasing productivity as a key goal, with 74 percent indicating the same about reducing healthcare costs, and 66 percent reporting they hope to improve employee access to healthcare services.

What experts at both Towers Watson and Mercer find most interesting about these figures, however, is the suggestion that the ACA’s infamous excise tax hasn’t deterred many employers from building new on-site health clinics, or from expanding existing centers.

“ … Companies are adding centers despite concerns around the Affordable Care Act and its excise tax, which [requires] that the cost of an on-site center has to be included in the cost of delivering healthcare to employees,” Allan Khoury, senior health management consultant at Towers Watson, told HRE in June.

“If that cost goes too high, you violate the Cadillac tax. But we’re still seeing great support for these clinics among employers.”

That’s not to say companies aren’t concerned that on-site health centers’ operational costs could help push them over the threshold for the excise tax, of course. But, by and large, most organizations remain convinced that their clinics “will deliver positive net value,” said David Keyt, principal and National Onsite Clinic Center of Excellence leader at Mercer, in a statement.

In the latest Mercer survey, 15 percent of respondents said they believe their general medical clinic will hurt them in terms of the excise tax calculation, but 11 percent said they think it will help, “presumably by helping to hold down the cost of the company’s health plan,” according to Mercer. Twenty-eight percent think it won’t have an effect either way.

And, ultimately, most companies aren’t really using cost as a barometer for the value of their on-site health centers anyway, according to Keyt.

“For many employers, employee satisfaction is a more important measure of success than ROI,” he said. “If employees are using the clinic, it means they haven’t been taking time off work to visit a doctor, and that they’re getting the medical care they need to stay healthy and productive.”

How Wellness Programs Must Evolve

Last month a diverse group of experts gathered in New York for a roundtable discussion on “redefining workplace wellness.” The group spanned academia, the health professions and corporate America and while their conclusions weren’t necessarily groundbreaking, they were nonetheless insightful and thought-provoking. The Global Wellness Institute organized the meeting and they’ve just released a report summarizing the discussion — I’ve included some of the highlights below:

1. It’s Time to Get Past “Unscientific Mud-Slinging on ROI.”

The argument over return-on-investment is one of the great bugaboos bedeviling wellness. But the roundtable participants agreed that in the future companies will shift their focus on ROI to a “wider ‘return on value’: not just lower healthcare costs, but important gains in retention and productivity.” “Critics are misusing this ‘ROI science’ to castigate critical, fledgling workplace health efforts,” said participant Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier, clinical professor of medicine at UC-San Francisco and the University of Arizona. “These critics are also imposing a ‘standard of evidence’ that doesn’t exist for any other workplace investment — like a software upgrade. Successful companies — Google is a shining example — have moved well beyond ROI, to embrace total value on investment, and workplaces where a culture of health is the norm.”

2. Take Seriously That Technology-Enabling 24/7 Work Is “Killing Us.”

Those midnight calls to discuss project updates with the team in Dubai or Singapore? No good, conclude the experts: “Technology has suddenly spawned new, global work realities: imprisonment by screens, and a powerful erosion of the line between now always-on ‘work’ and ‘life.'”

James Brewer, workplace consultant at Steelcase, said large companies could learn a thing or two from their much-smaller counterparts: “Start-ups appear to be more proactive in implementing policies that help their employees define when it is OK to ‘turn it off’ and disconnect … these types of policies are largely absent in larger companies.”

Paul Terry, president and CEO of Staywell, said so-called “resilience” and “high-performance cultures” may just be colloquialisms for “high endurance cultures.” In the future, the experts agreed, tackling this 24/7 version of work will become a focus of wellness programs, possibly including a redefinition of “productivity.”

3. Embrace the Tech

Innovations like telemedicine let workers connect with doctors in ways that don’t involve a disruption to their work schedules, the experts noted. And wearables may look very different in the future, according to Dr. Pelletier: “invisible, ingestible nanotechnology, wireless Bluetooth, and the next generations of the Apple Watch will capture a broad spectrum of employees’ biometric data effortlessly and around the clock.”

4. Don’t Forget the Remote Workers

Employees working remotely may suffer more loneliness and a lack of peer support in their work and their health, the experts note. Smart wellness programs will shift from “workplace programs” to “total workforce solutions.”

“Sustaining a culture of health across the increasingly remote workforce will be utterly key in the future,” said Dr. Fikry Isaac, chief medical officer at Johnson & Johnson. “And in order to impact these remote and at-home workers, smart companies will touch on, and include, the family, significant others and the communities where they live.”

5. Mental Health Must Be a Greater Priority

Most global wellness programs have focused on physical health, the experts noted. However, the rampant “do more with less” approach to work along with the aforementioned 24/7 nature of many jobs means “we have a once-silent, but now getting louder mental health, stress and ‘burnout’ epidemic on our hands.”

“More stressful jobs and lives mean emotional well-being is taking a toll from East to West. Twenty percent of the U.S. population (at any given time) has a diagnosable mental health issue, and the research on the state of employee mental health/stress in places like Asia is sobering.”

This has led to more addictions — sleeping and anti-anxiety pill use keeps climbing, the experts noted.

There’s hope on the horizon, they also noted: research around neuroplasticity, and studies on the effectiveness of approaches like positive psychology, meditation and mindfulness is “exciting,” and the near future will bring more innovative strategies for addressing mental health and stress, and “not just for Silicon Valley and Wall Street executives.”

There’s plenty more in the report, and it’s a worthwhile read.

The Steep Price of Sleep Deprivation

The conversation around nap rooms in the workplace isn’t exactly a new one.

(For example, you can see just a few of HRE’s contributions to the long-running discussion here, here and, most recently, here.)

The consensus seems to be that nooks around the office where employees can retreat for some (probably much-needed) shuteye will likely remain a dream for many workers. But the effect that sleep deprivation has on the workforce—and on the countless employees who seem to perpetually run on too little rest—is very real.

The Washington Post’s Jena McGregor examined this impact in a recent piece.

For instance, McGregor cited Harvard data demonstrating that, for the average worker, insomnia results in the loss of more than 11 days of productivity each year, equaling $2,280. Add that up across the United States, and the figure comes to $63.2 billion.

Researchers have also found “clear links between poor sleep and reduced quality of life on the job,” wrote McGregor, noting studies that have revealed links between insomniac supervisors and abusive behavior as well as correlations between lack of sleep and medical conditions such as dementia and diabetes.

Employers are noticing these connections as well, and some have taken steps to aid employees in sleeping more and sleeping better, and in turn becoming physically healthier, mentally sharper, and, of course, more productive.

Vendors are helping as well. As McGregor points out, Ceridian has begun to include sleep coaches as part of the wellness packages it offers clients, while sleep diagnostic and treatment company SleepMed has introduced a nationwide health and wellness product that screens employees for sleep disorders and provides access to therapies.

Big Health’s Sleepio at Work program is the latest addition to this market space. Big Health launched the digital sleep improvement program last week, not quite one year after releasing its Sleepio app, which imports sleep data from fitness tracking devices to give users an overview of their sleep profiles, and provides a personalized program of cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. The digital provider of personalized behavioral medicine includes organizations such as LinkedIn and Henry Ford Health System on its client roster, and has helped lead employee workshops on sleep at Google, according to the Post.

Ultimately, however, it’s going to take more than technology and workshops to change the “sleep is for losers” mentality that remains prevalent in many organizations, according to Russell Sanna, a former executive director of the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School.

This mind-set must go, and employers should be helping to see it out the door, he says.

“’Some companies don’t want to be known as sleep-friendly,” Sanna told the Post. “They want to be known as lean and mean.”

Thus far, the conversation about sleep deprivation has been “dominated by sleep scientists and self-help gurus,” he continued. “It needs desperately to have people in the organizational change, workplace advocacy and legal [fields] to help reframe the agenda.”

SHRM ’15: Global Shift, High Performers and More

Blistering temperatures hovering around 115 degrees apparently didn’t keep folks away from this week’s SHRM 2015 Annual Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas. Under the theme “It’s Time to Thrive,” the event attracted a record 15,500 attendees from around the globe. (Vegas seems to be a draw, no matter what the time of the year.)

SHRM photoCrowds and the heat index aside, I did notice at least one refreshing change at this year’s event: a lot more practitioner speakers.

Though I didn’t do a thorough analysis, a quick scan of the program book suggested there were definitely more HR leaders on the program than in prior years—a development I would certainly put under the category of a good thing.

Case in point: a Monday morning session by Steve Fussell, executive vice president of human resources for Abbott Laboratories in Abbott Park, Ill.  Titled “Managing a Global Workforce During Times of Change: M&A, Organic Growth and Spin Offs,” Fussell’s talk recounted Abbott’s dramatic and impressive transformation in the aftermath of spinning off its research-based pharma arm, AbbVie, in 2012. (Fussell, BTW, was named to HRE’s Honor Roll in 2010.)

As Fussell explained to the packed room, the spin off left Abbott with a much more global business and workforce. (Today, he said, less than one-third of the firms’ revenue now comes from the United States and 70 percent of employees are outside of the country.)

On top of that, he added, Abbott became, almost overnight, a much more customer-facing business.

These changes, Fussell said, will inevitably lead a very different leadership mix in the coming years.

“Three to five years out,” he said, “I can tell you that we will probably double the number of people in senior leadership roles … who do not carry a U.S. passport.”

As a part of the transformation, HR focused on three specific buckets: core, critical and unique.

“Core,” he explained, is having people who feel and behave like owners and are able to make hard decisions. “We don’t want GMs saying this doesn’t matter in this market,” he said. To that end, he continued, Abbott built business advisory committees in every one of its markets around the globe and requires leaders in those markets to talk about those areas they consider to be core.

“Critical,” he said, “are the [issues] we have to get right together to build the market presence that allows us to [successfully] compete.”

And then there are those issues that are “unique”:

Don’t call me up and ask me about the summer bonus somewhere … . If I’m getting those calls … I need to question the people we have in those jobs.

Fussell also shared what he looks for in leaders. First and foremost, he said, leaders need to be able to analyze a situation. “Do they have an analytical ability to notice the things that are happening in the markets in which they serve?” he asked. “Can they see things our competitors can’t see?”

Second, he continued, are they leaders who can diagnose the things that ultimately will determine outcomes?

Third, are they able to describe a direct course of action? “Do they have a sustainable record of taking what they’ve seen and diagnosed, and then put together an outcomes-based approach … ?”

And fourth, can they execute? With a tone of sarcasm, he said “I’m sure none of you have seen a business that noticeably missed its plan for the year, perhaps by a mile, and then, after looking at all your performance ratings, found that 36 percent [of the employees]exceeded performance.”

Performance—and rewarding those employees who excel at it—was certainly at the heart of a presentation delivered Tuesday afternoon by Michelle DiTondo, senior vice president of human resources for MGM Resorts in Las Vegas.

In the session title “MGM Resorts: What is it Worth to You to Keep Your Top Performers?” DiTondo shared the talent-retention challenges facing the gaming giant and detailed an approach currently being piloted to help address them.

Envision having 50,000 of your 62,000 workers all located on a single street—and then having the vast majority of biggest competitors located on that same street as well. (In this case, the street is the “Las Vegas Strip.”)

That’s the reality facing MGM Resorts, DiTondo said.

To tackle this challenge, DiTondo said she put a unique twist on question business leaders at MGM Resorts were more than familiar with: What are your very best customers worth to you?  She asked them to think about what their very best-performing employees were worth to them?

“It’s an easy analogy for us,” she said. “As business leaders, we understand the value of treating our best customers [known as ‘whales’] differently from all of our other customers. We understand why an airline has a first-class lounge for customers who pay more …  .”

By making sure all of this is done in a very public way, she said, you’re able to drive “aspirational behavior.”

Every industry has “whales,” not just gaming,  she added.

At MGM Resorts, DiTondo said, the highest level of its loyalty program is called “NOIR.”

These “whales” represent less than 1 percent of the company’s total customers and are treated very differently, she explained. “They get exclusive awards such as being picked up in a private plane [or] staying in “The Mansion,” [exclusive quarters] just behind the MGM Grand. Why are they treated differently? Because while they represent just 1 percent of MGM Resorts’ database, they drive 600x more revenue compared to the average customer.”

Building off of this model, DiTondo, with her CEO’s blessing, began to rethink the way MGM Resorts’ approached its top talent. “If we have high-performing employee, do we apply the same sort of things to them that we give to our high-performing customers?” she asked. “Do we give them access to the chairman? Are they given access to senior leaders? Are they given exclusive benefits that are only for high performers? Do we have personal relationships with them? Do we know about their family, their interests, their personal milestones? Do we understand the impact on the business were they to leave? Do we treat them like VIPs? From my standpoint … the answer is no.”

In the pilot, DiTondo said, MGM Resorts partly copied an approach taken by Chipotle Mexican Grill to groom more restaurant managers internally. Under the initiative, she said, general managers at the chain were given a $10,000 bonus for each individual who was promoted into Chipotle’s management program.

To hold onto and incent its top talent, DiTondo said, MGM created, as a part of the pilot, a tiered bonus program for general managers and executive chefs who met certain benchmarks that included a “super incentive” of 1 percent of both the restaurant’s top and bottom lines.  (At one of the highest performing buffets, she said, these high-performing individuals could now receive a $30,000 bonus, compared to $3,000 under the prior arrangement.)

On top of that, she said, they also now have the potential of reaping a bonus of 10 percent of a person’s base pay if that individual is promoted to a GM and executive chef job. (To receive the bonus, the individual needs to put in a place a plan, as well as coach and mentor the candidate.)

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In other news: SHRM continued its tradition of releasing its latest Employee Benefits Survey at the annual conference.

According to Evren Esen, director of SHRM’s survey programs, the big headline this year was employers’ continuing commitment to wellness. Of the 463 respondents, employers with wellness programs jumped between 2011 and 2015 by 10 percent, from 60 percent to 70 percent.

Esen suggested that employers were investing in wellness as a way to counter the financial strain resulting from healthcare.

In line with this increase, the study revealed significant increases over the past five years in the use of healthcare premium discounts for participating in wellness programs (from 11 percent to 20 percent) and healthcare premium discounts for those not using tobacco products (from 12 percent to 19 percent).