Strategy Session: Chief Health Advocate

Employee wellness often starts in the C-suite.

The health of an organization begins with the tone at the top, it’s often said. That can be equally true when it comes to employees’ health.

A recent study by the American Heart Association CEO Roundtable found a strong correlation between employee participation in company health programs and the CEO’s own engagement. According to the study, 93 percent of those who know the CEO participates say their employer is committed to employee health, compared to 55 percent of those who say the CEO doesn’t participate.

That involvement can have a positive impact: Workplaces where the CEO participates report better productivity, improved work quality, and higher job satisfaction by wide margins, according to the study, based on a survey of more than 2,000 adults at workplaces with more than 25 people.

Employers are key to building a culture of health and well-being.

“Employers are key to building a culture of health and well-being,” says Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, AHA chief medical officer for prevention. “By offering programs, whether they are related to health, finances, or mentorship, employers signal to their employees that they care about their health and well-being.”

Workers still worry about the negative effects of office life, though, according to the study: 40 percent of respondents say their job gets in the way of their health. Though a CEO promoting a health program can send a valuable signal to employees, Sanchez says that providing incentives can also help move the needle toward participation.

Survey respondents say they would welcome opportunities during the day to exercise, and Sanchez points to research that shows the effectiveness of awards programs that spotlight workers who get in those 10,000 daily steps. Mentoring programs can also be effective, as are simple reminders that it’s OK to take a break in the middle of a stressful day.

But not every health goal is meaningful for every demographic group, the study shows. Millennials prioritize getting sleep and reducing stress levels, while Gen Xers and baby boomers more commonly list weight loss as their top health goal.

Effectiveness in helping workers meet those goals can start with the CEO both talking the talk and walking the walk: The study says participation in workplace health programs is higher in places where the CEO actively encourages it (88 percent) versus those where the CEO doesn’t (78 percent).

“Talking about it, supporting it, and doing it are all important,” Sanchez says. “I think what this reveals is the opportunity to improve the communication happening about CEO and leadership involvement and to build a workplace culture of health.”


Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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