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Two people biking in a parkInvestment in employee well-being starts by redefining “health.”This means going beyond the “absence of illness” as our primarymeasure. (Photo: Shuterstock)

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We're facing unprecedented levels of poor health—from obesity and chronic health conditions toloneliness, which poses a significant healthrisk equal to that of smoking. And employers are feeling theimpact. According to the Centers for Disease Control, absenteeism related tochronic conditions like obesity, smoking and physical inactivitywas associated with annual costs greater than $2 billion per riskfactor. On the flip side, when employees are happy and healthy,they're more productive, have lower medical costs and are betterable to focus on their jobs, leading to tangible financialbenefits.

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There's a clear business case for helping employees get healthy,but it's more than that—it's simply the right thing to do.

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Investment in employee well-being starts by redefining “health.”This means going beyond the “absence of illness” as our primarymeasure. While improving physical health remains a priority, we nowknow it's just one piece of the puzzle. Other vital pieces includeour social relationships, mental health and capacity to prioritizethe greater good.

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The next frontier in health care is holistic well-being.

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To translate this thinking into practice, Aetna, a CVS Healthbusiness, is shifting how we support our own employees in achievingtheir best health. We entered into a five-year researchcollaboration with faculty at the Harvard T.H. Chan School ofPublic Health to study the determinants of well-being. We developeda comprehensive assessment that measures well-being across sixareas, including factors you might not normally associate with yourhealth, such as having the opportunity to use your unique skills inyour job every day and having the financial means to pursue yourgoals.

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The assessment will be provided through a platform that deliversa personalized experience to each employee. Each user will receivea set of targeted actions that align with their unique healthgoals. Over time, we'll measure the effectiveness of these actionsand work to continually refine our offerings and develop newprograms.

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So far, more than 2,000 Aetna employees have taken theassessment as part of our initial pilot and the results arepromising. The data highlights a growing focus on holistic health,with participants rating all six dimensions of well-being asimportant (with an average score of 9 out of 10).

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Findings also provide valuable insights into the nuanced healthneeds of our employees, which can inform our strategy. From ourpilot, we discovered several key demographic differences amongemployees:

  • Employees 50 and older reported the highest levels ofwell-being across dimensions except for physical health, whileemployees under 30 had lower scores for emotional health and socialconnectedness.
  • Men and women report similar well-being scores, but women rateevery dimension more important than men do. Women reported slightlyhigher scores in emotional health, purpose, social connectednessand character strengths, while men scored higher in physical healthand financial security, with the latter dimension showing thegreatest gap between genders.

It's this type of tailored approach to well-being that will helppeople succeed both personally and professionally. But even withthese insights, it's important to note that these findings arebased on an initial pilot. We are continuing to validate this workover time.

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In the end, our greatest takeaway from both this work andAetna's Health Ambitions Study, is that individuals arelooking for support across all areas of well-being. This supportranges from helping individuals in the areas they value, tocreating a climate where management truly cares about employeewell-being and employees feel respected at work.

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With CVS Health and Aetna now operating as one company, we havea unique opportunity to shift our focus from “managing care” to“managing health”—making well-being a priority every day versusjust when we get sick. This evolution is a strategic imperative,not only for the health of our business but for the health of themillions of consumers we serve.


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Kay Mooney is vice president of well-beingat CVS Health; Eileen McNeely, Ph.D., M.S. RN, isdirector of SHINE (Sustainability and Health Initiative forNetPositive Enterprise), Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Healthand Tyler VanderWeele, Ph.D., is the John L. Loeband Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public Health.

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