Business of Well-being

Paying Employees to Sleep at Work May Be Good for Business

"Worksite wellness" is once again under fire. A Health Affairs blog in January 2017, entitled "Building A Culture Of Workplace Health: More Complicated Than Offering Workers Money To Be Healthy," has suggested that "workplace health promotion programs, founded exclusively on providing financial incentives for achieving targeted health outcomes is not all that is needed to create a healthy workforce."

This likely comes as a surprise to many employers who expected to reduce health plan costs by keeping healthy employees healthy. Robin Bouvier, a Vice President on Aon's Health Transformation Team, presented on a panel discussing best practices in corporate sleep strategies sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation at the 8th Employer Healthcare & Benefits Congress (EHBC) last fall.

Aon's Health Transformation Team provides well-being consulting to organizations in order to improve the health and performance of their workforce. They help organizations develop, operationalize and measure the impact of well-being strategies based on the business results that are most important to company leaders while focusing on the lifestyle behavior changes that are most important to the workforce.

"Recruitment and retention is a major business metric that organizations need to be measuring as part of their well-being strategy. There is a lot of turnover, especially in the Millennial population," according to Bouvier.

Research conducted by Gallup reveals that there is a strong link between employee engagement, well-being and the likelihood of someone seeking out a new job. Organizations are struggling both to retain top talent and to quantify the impact of their wellness programs using health plan claims.

In a workforce with high turnover, employees simply are often not on the health plan long enough for the employer to demonstrate a change in utilization or health risks and are thus unable to show a return on investment (ROI). So how can employers improve the well-being of Millennials?

According to the 2016 Consumer Health Mindset Study[*], conducted by Aon in partnership with the National Business Group on Health and The Futures Company, the well-being activities most important to Millennials in their personal lives are spending time with family and friends, managing stress, getting enough sleep, and balancing work and personal commitments.

Sounds like the typical worksite wellness program, right? Wrong. According to Aon's 2016 Health Care Survey, the two most common focus areas in employer wellness programs are exercise and nutrition.

Even when worksite wellness programs are offered, the Consumer Health Mindset Study found that 76 percent of employees encounter hurdles when it comes to making healthy choices. The top hurdles are time and money.

This equation may appear to be the perfect storm when it, in fact, creates an ideal opportunity for organizations to take a new approach to the well-being of their workforce. From an organizational perspective, Bouvier offers these suggestions:

  1. Commit to the business results that really matter to your company's leadership and that have the greatest impact on organizational success. These should form your mission and strategic goals.
  2. Assess employee interests and needs when determining your focus areas. Incentives become a key motivator when employees are asked to do things they don't want to do, or that are not their top priorities. Supporting employees in addressing the well-being activities that are most important to them may be all the motivation they need to take action.
  3. Think beyond the program. If employees perceive that they don't have the time or money to make healthy lifestyle behavior changes, incorporate healthy activities into the work environment and culture.

  4. Increase movement during the workday with standing desks, walking meetings, stretch breaks and by promoting the use of the stairs instead of elevators.

  5. Change the nutritional values, portions, and costs of foods available in your cafeteria and vending machines to promote healthy options, and institute catering policies that limit company-sponsored meals to healthy menus.

  6. Take full advantage of the built environment to create spaces for socializing, rest and relaxation - including napping and meditation rooms. Employees are entitled to take breaks and should be encouraged to do so throughout the day in order to optimize their energy levels and productivity.
  7. Move away from a traditional ROI model (based on health plan cost savings) to a VOH - or value on health - model that incorporates such metrics as productivity, retention, employee engagement, job satisfaction and other business results that may have a more meaningful impact on your bottom line results.

"The goal is not only for employees to bring their best self to work but for their employer to support them in bringing their best self back home at the end of the day. That is really when we start to see the impact of total well-being on business results," said Bouvier.

Photo Credit: Copyright: melnyk58 / 123RF Stock Photo

[*] NOTE: The results of Aon's 2017 Consumer Health Mindset and Health Care Survey will be available during the second quarter of 2017 at

About the Author

Robin Bouvier is a Vice President in Aon's Health & Benefits Practice in the Boston area. As a member of Aon Hewitt's National Innovation Group and Health Transformation Team, Robin identifies opportunities for organizations to increase the health and wellbeing of their workforces.

She provides assistance to consultants and clients related to data collection and analysis, strategy development, wellness vendor selection, and program design and execution. Robin also evaluates opportunities for organizations to make policy and environmental changes to create a culture of healthy living.

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