This past week I attended an academic-like gathering in Chicago, Illinois, at a conference called HERO. The acronym stands for “Health Enhancement Research Organization,” but everyone these days only knows it as HERO. I had heard that this was “the” event where one could learn about the latest in employee health management. It seems I was right. HERO is a national nonprofit, and it works to improve the health and wellbeing of workers, their spouses, dependents and retirees. It is a collaboration of over 100 organizations and has been around for nearly 20 years.

Since this year’s Global Wellness Summit’s research emphasizes workplace wellness, we have invested in a fair amount of education. We want to understand what is trending in this segment of wellness, so that we can showcase the opportunities to all attendees at our upcoming November Summit in Mexico City. 

 It’s hard to fully grasp—and my guess is few people understand—how much work has been done in this arena over the past decades. It has truly set a strong foundation for the rest of us to build upon.    

There is no doubt that the U.S. is leading the conversation on workplace wellness, driven by the increasingly unsustainable cost of healthcare that is squarely on the shoulder of companies. In most parts of the world, governments pay the majority of healthcare costs, so while the burden on businesses is less, the burden to governments is skyrocketing.

For now, it is U.S. companies that are uniquely motivated to solve the healthcare cost crisis, and they’re also more nimble and entrepreneurial than governments. Through their experimentation and research they can more quickly identify what works and what doesn’t. Presentations and research explored things like: Which wellness metrics are resonating? Does giving employees wearable wellness technology to track their progress help? What are the right incentives to spur employees’ engagement with wellness initiatives? What is the right balance of initiatives that focus on physical, mental/emotional, social—and even financial—wellness?  

For those of us who would like to know which companies are doing a great job with workplace wellness—and specifically what they are doing—there is a great resource called the Koop Awards. The awards were established almost 25 years ago in collaboration with former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to recognize private and public health initiatives that improve health status, and HERO formally recognized the 2015 winners at its event. The awards’ website outlining these successful winning programs over the years is a gold mine of useful information:

We should indeed be thankful for all the work HERO has done over the past two decades, with special kudos to Jerry Noyce, retiring president, and Paul Terry, the incoming president. Paul was a participant at our New York roundtable on “The Future of Workplace Wellness” a few months ago. And all of the leaders and organizations who are part of HERO have been in the trenches working tirelessly in an arena that has not had a lot of visibility or support. Let’s face it—this hasn’t been “sexy” work. 

But things are about to change—and we are part of that change, as wellness in the workplace is now moving into a bigger spotlight. More research is showing positive outcomes for workplace wellness programs whether in ROI (return on investment) or the wider concept, ROV (return on value). The latter is the metric that is ascending, as intelligently conceived workplace wellness initiatives show a return beyond a reduction in bottom-line healthcare costs, including improved employee engagement and productivity, from less absenteeism and presenteeism (attending work while sick), to greater retention, etc. 

More companies are investing in comprehensive corporate wellness services that span fitness, nutrition consultation and medical screening, as well as stress-reduction programming like mindfulness, yoga, massage or coaching. These are, of course, the kinds of things that spas have been doing successfully for many years. Also emerging is an opportunity for companies to use health-oriented gift cards as rewards for employees who reach health goals or participate in health screenings, etc. Health-oriented gift cards also deliver a “culture of wellness” halo effect to that workplace. 

I came away from HERO with a profound sense of gratefulness that we aren’t starting from scratch. And frankly, I think that other countries are eventually going to recognize that when they get serious about workplace wellness, they won’t need to start from scratch either. All of us get to piggyback on all the research and work that so many companies and strategists have already invested in—whether we know much about them, or not. HERO is, really, a hero for all of us. And should there be an opportunity for “us” to say thank you, I think it would be a great thing to do. 

About Susie Ellis

Susie Ellis is chairman and CEO of the Global Wellness Institute and leads its research and wellness initiatives. She also guides the Global Wellness Summit. Susie is a prominent industry analyst and speaker and is frequently quoted in news outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and the Financial Times. Additionally, she is president of Spafinder Wellness, Inc.®

AuthorSusie Ellis