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Jun 23, 2022
5 Ways Employers Can Encourage Whole-Person Health
A friendly group of healthy employees at work

Today’s employers know the importance of encouraging employees to bring their whole selves to work, and workers thrive when their organizations encourage them to live their healthiest lives.

“Whole-person health focuses on each individual, not just treating a specific issue or disease,” said Jill Vaslow, vice president, talent strategy and employee well-being. “At Cigna, we respect and honor not just whole-person health, but the whole person. We understand and appreciate that what employees do outside of working hours helps shape who they are, and we strive to support them in any way we can.”

This includes considering everything that has an impact on employees’ lives; promoting preventive care; providing access to behavioral health care, including an employee assistance program (EAP); respecting time away from work; and communicating often in a thoughtful way that’s respectful of people’s time. Read on to learn more about these five ways employers can support and encourage whole-person health.

1. Consider Everything That Has an Impact on Employees’ Lives

Supporting employees in all aspects of their life is critical, Vaslow said, including during family events or emergencies. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that 79% of workers have access to paid sick leave. This is often in the form of paid time off (PTO) that can be taken for a variety of reasons. However, paid leave for new parents, people with long-term illnesses, or caregivers facing an emergency situation is far less common. For example, only 23% of civilians in the workforce and 26% of state and local government employees had access to paid family leave in 2021. Those figures include leave for all family matters, including paternity and maternity leaves.

Birth mothers employed by Cigna have access to up to a total of 12 weeks paid leave following the birth of a child. Up to four weeks of paid caregiver leave is also available to employees: following the birth, adoption or fostering of a child; to care for a spouse, child, grandchild, parent, grandparent or domestic partner with a serious health condition, a covered military service member with a serious injury or illness; or for situations that qualify under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Cigna also offers financial well-being resources to employees, including access to low-interest loans that are repaid via payroll and a $100 incentive for completing a brief online financial wellness assessment. Additionally, Cigna has introduced an after-tax feature in its 401(k) plan, which allows for after-tax contributions that are also eligible for the company match. Most recently, Cigna provided its workers with access to an informational resource on 529 education savings accounts, which also can connect employees to direct-sold 529 options and provide for funding such an account through direct deposit via payroll.

Enterprise Resource Groups (ERGs) are another important way to support employees’ whole selves. At Cigna, employees can take part in any of 11 ERGs, which are organized around various commonalities: 

  • ABLE (Achieving Better Lives for Everyone)
  • African American/Black
  • Aspire (Asian/South Asian)
  • Generations (multi-generational)
  • Juntos (Hispanic/Latino)
  • Pride (LGBTQ+)
  • Salute (veterans/military)
  • UpLift (interfaith)
  • UpNext (career mobility)
  • Virtual
  • WIN (Women Influencing and Networking)

These groups help foster an inclusive environment, create safe spaces for employees to bring their whole selves to work, and showcase the unique skills that our diverse communities have to offer. In addition, they enable professional development opportunities and help drive Cigna’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy.

A corporate culture that emphasizes diversity and inclusion can help with work-life balance. “There’s a lot of research out there that says that organizations that proactively commit to expanding their DEI efforts simultaneously improve their employees’ well-being,” Cindy Ryan, chief human resources officer at Cigna, said in a recent interview. “They all point to similar findings: Inclusive workplaces improve job satisfaction, support work-life balance, and promote connection with others, which all lead to improved well-being and better business and workforce vitality.

2. Promote Preventive Care

Preventive care is a win-win for employees and the plan sponsors. From an early age, regular medical and dental checkups help put children on the path to a healthier life. As we get older, the benefits continue: According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2030 campaign, getting preventive care can help reduce our risk of disease, disability and even death.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), people enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) pay nothing out of pocket for a range of preventive services, including an annual check-up, a flu shot and other vaccinations, and age- and gender-appropriate screenings such as mammograms and colonoscopies. These routine screenings can identify diseases and other concerns at an early stage, leading to better outcomes and helping control total costs for patients and plans.

Employers can take a number of steps to encourage preventive care. For example, Cigna and many other employers have historically brought biometric screenings to the workplace. With a significant part of the population still working from home, virtual wellness screenings bring preventive care to them. MDLIVE, which is part of Evernorth, Cigna’s health services business, has been offering virtual health screening since early in the pandemic. Today, all Cigna customers enrolled in employer-sponsored plans have access to MDLIVE's network of virtual primary care providers for routine care visits and other needs.

In addition, Cigna is among the employers that reward employees for specific wellness activities by adding funds to their health savings account (HSA) or health reimbursement arrangement (HRA). The employees can use money in those accounts to cover deductibles, copays, and other approved expenses, reducing their total cost for care.

3. Offer an EAP and Emotional and Mental Health Support

Recognition is growing that whole-person health encompasses body and mind. According to Cigna’s 360 Well-Being Survey, 72% of respondents said mental health was the most important influence on their personal health and well-being; 70% ranked physical health the second most important influence.

The survey also found that 83% of those whose responded said they were stressed; 13% said their stress was unmanageable. When left unmanaged, behavioral health issues can lead to other issues, off the job and on. For example, nearly 70% of people dealing with mental illness also are coping with physical illness, and those co-occurring conditions can double or triple the cost of treatment as compared with treatment for patients without a behavioral condition.

Fortunately, employers can take a number of steps to boost their employees’ behavioral wellness.

  • Offer an employee assistance program (EAP). The programs offered by Cigna provide stress management resources, confidential counseling by phone, video chat or in person, support during crises (such helping those affected by the 2021 building collapse in Surfside, Florida), behavioral awareness education, elder care information, help with budgeting and other financial issues, guidance on nutrition and exercise, grief counseling, substance misuse assistance, and help on a wide variety of other issues.
  • Offer tools that are accessible and easy to use. Like so much that has changed over the last 2-plus years, virtual health care has moved from a niche market to mainstream. Just over 1% of medical and behavioral doctor visits were conducted virtually prior to COVID-19. Today [PDF], 25% of visits are virtual, and 58% of Americans are comfortable with the idea of virtual consultations.

“We've accelerated efforts to bring more virtual mental health care options so that customers have easier access to the personalized support they need – at a place and time that works for them," said Eva Borden, president of behavioral health at Evernorth.

Cigna’s partnerships include Happify, a behavioral health app designed to help people overcome stress and negative thoughts while building resilience through interactive games and challenges. Another Cigna partner is Ginger, a digital platform that connects people to coaches who provide on-demand behavioral health coaching, therapy, and psychiatry services. Ginger’s coaches are in network and can address a wide array of mental health issues, such as stress, depression, sleep problems, and relationship challenges. Cigna’s behavioral provider network also includes Talkspace, which enables text, voice, and video messages with licensed therapists through a secure app. Providers are also available for live video sessions.

4. Respect time away from work

Evernorth’s recent Health Care in Focus report found that 52% of consumers would like help from their employers with achieving work-life balance, while 43% were looking for help achieving flexibility. “The research reflects their desire for a shift in broader organizational culture and environment as a means of supporting mental health,” the report noted.

Yet there’s a disconnect between employers and employees on the importance of work-life balance, according to a recent study by Economist Impact commissioned by Cigna. Executives said that access to quality health care was the most important aspect of employee health, while workers said having a good work-life balance was most important.

5. Communicate often – but do so in a thoughtful way that’s respectful of people’s time.

Employees trust what their employers have to say about health and other issues, according to research from global communications firm Edelman. This gives employers a unique ability to promote the health of the people who make up their organizations – and to strengthen the health of the organizations themselves. For example, research has found that employer-driven health interventions drive productivity increases that can result in a 76% return on investment.

Employers need to strike a balance when deciding when and how to communicate with their staffs, however, and should be aware that many employees are overwhelmed by the sheer number of emails they receive every workday. According the McKinsey Global Institute, the average employee spends more than a fourth of each workday reading and answering emails. Of course, communications can take other forms than email, such as message boards, webinars, intranet posts, town halls, and in-person meetings.  The key is to reach out enough – but not too much.

“It’s easy to bombard people without meaning to,” Vaslow said. “Make sure your messages are short and to the point, and let people know how and why they will benefit from taking advantage of any resources you’re making available. Be thoughtful, and always be respectful of people’s time.”

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