Warning: Where We’re Missing the Mark on Employee Wellness
Walt Vernon, PE, LEED AP, EDAC, FASHE
Principal, Chief Executive Officer
I wanted to reflect on a couple of honors Mazzetti recently received and the broader implications they represent. Much of Mazzetti’s work is in the healthcare industry, and that seems to demand application of ideas of health and wellness to our people and our company. I spend a lot of time thinking about the problems of the healthcare industry, and what the responsibilities of people like me, and companies like Mazzetti might be.
Workplace wellness has become a catchy thing in the past several years. A few years ago, when we competed for the Kaiser SHBI competition, the fundamental problem they were trying to solve was how to operate a profitable small hospital. I spent a lot of time thinking about their business problem—thinking about they could reduce their costs by decreasing their utilization, and what that would mean for hospitals. Obviously, because they are an insurance company, Kaiser’s strategy has to be to right-size utilization by its members. To do that, they must influence their customers – employers like Mazzetti – to try to encourage wellness of their employees, and the wise use (NOT non-use) of health care resources available to them.
And so, being someone who loves to experiment, I decided to use Mazzetti to run a series of experiments in wellness. How could I help my people to help themselves, and, thereby, to achieve better health? How could their better health affect their healthcare costs and that of Mazzetti? And how could all employees everywhere do the same and make our country and or world more well, both physically and economically?
So, for the last couple of years, we’ve been dabbling in wellness. We started with a free biometrics testing program so that we could assess the health of our people and design effective programs for them. With our zeal to get it done, we must have mis-messaged it, because we had very low participation. Worse, I heard through the “Mazzetti grapevine” that people were afraid they might be penalized for bad health habits, so they opted not to participate. Needless to say, we scrapped this first experiment.
Instead, we rolled out various voluntary programs intended to help everyone, regardless of their health status, and penalizing no one. We provide fruit instead of candy for snacks; we provide discounted gym memberships; we promote biking to work (I commute by bike every day that I am not on an airplane instead); we create healthy workplaces; we engage annually in various bike rides to raise money for health related causes; we provide exercise and sleep trackers to encourage better sleep and more movement; we brought in mindfulness trainers to help people develop emotional resilience and intelligence and continue monthly mindful practices today.
We just got word from our health insurance carrier that they are raising our rates next year by more than 20%. Just like in the country as a whole, our health care costs threaten to squeeze out our ability to do other things.
A couple months ago, when I sat in that hotel ballroom to accept our San Francisco Bay Healthiest Employers Award, I listened to all of the amazing things other people are doing, and I realized that Mazzetti’s wellness journey is only just beginning.
What Mazzetti needs, and this country needs is the development of a new culture; a culture of wellness. We can talk all day long about the accountable care act, reforming medical malpractice, whatever. None of these will matter if we don’t right-size our collective utilization of the healthcare system. We must, as individuals, as families, as tribes, as a country, develop a culture of wellness.
A recent book by a Dartmouth physician and researcher, Dr. Gilbert Welch, discusses reasons for Americans’ overuse of our healthcare system. He begins with a study of doctors who estimated that patients seek about 100% more care from the healthcare system than they really need. Health Affairs magazine recently called Patient Engagement the blockbuster drug of the century. We need to become engaged; we need to create a culture of wellness; we need to learn how to wisely use our health resources.
We all need this culture of wellness, but nobody is going to do it for us. If not us, who? And if not now, when? We at Mazzetti are going to step up our journey, before its too late. We invite you to do the same.