September 16, 2014

Creating a Catalyst for Worldwide Change

By: Ben R. Leedle Jr., President and CEO, Healthways

Ben Leedle

Healthways President and CEO Ben Leedle

Almost seven years ago, we started on a journey with Gallup — a journey to measure well-being and explore the dimensions of a life well-lived. Our goal was to understand what is important to people, how we experience our day-to-day lives, and what we think our lives will be like in the future. We wanted to determine what distinguishes a thriving life from one spent suffering, to broaden the perspective that health is more than just physical. And we sought to understand how this more holistic definition of well-being could influence outcomes that are crucial to societies.

Through decades of research and with the help of many leading experts, we’ve been able to scientifically determine the elements of well-being that are the most predictive and actionable. These include our sense of purpose, our relationships, our financial security, our connection to our communities and our physical health. By thinking of well-being in this broader way, we can better understand the conditions affecting any population and, from there, develop targeted interventions that make a meaningful difference.

We’ve shown that even modest improvements in well-being can substantially lower healthcare costs and increase worker productivity within organizations. We’ve proven that scalable change can be realized across communities.

So where are we on our journey?

We continue to advance the science of well-being with Gallup to measure and study the well-being of populations globally. Together, we’ve amassed the world’s largest data set on well-being with more than 2 million surveys of U.S. adults. We’ve extended our reach around the world to create a “golden thread” of well-being information across 135 countries.

We now have a truly global picture of well-being. We can measure the elements that make up well-being, compare the relationships between well-being and other population metrics, and gauge the impact of well-being improvement initiatives in almost any country in the world. Our finding that only 17 percent of the world’s population is thriving in three elements or more tells us there’s much work to be done globally to improve well-being. This work includes promoting sustainable lifestyle changes and making environmental changes to develop communities that encourage high well-being.

We hope you’ll join us on this journey. It’s a journey that fosters thinking beyond traditional metrics that broadens our perspectives to include the essential elements that impact our daily lives. It’s a journey that connects well-being to any population that’s front-and-center for you — be it your employees, your community, your country, or, just as importantly, yourself and your family.

Measuring and understanding well-being matters to the employers that want to improve workforce performance, to the non-profits and international organizations that want to see positive outcomes in their development work, and to the governments that want to strengthen their communities. And it matters to all of us, as individuals who want to live better.

Written by: Madison Agee

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August 28, 2014

The Central Tendon

By: John Anderson, MD, FACS, Senior Vice President, Navvis Healthways

As a young surgeon some years ago, I had wonderful teachers and mentors who imparted to me a number of fundamental principles of practicing medicine. Though initially intended to be applied in clinical settings, a number of these principles I learned early on have sensible application to the complex domain of healthcare more broadly defined than traditional medicine and surgery. I’ve discovered this as I’ve increasingly devoted my career in recent years to the administrative side of medicine and healthcare.

For example, one mentor used to say that every patient – and more specifically, every surgical patient and every operation – had a “central tendon” which, when identified and “clipped,” made everything else seem minor and secondary. I quickly learned that this principle was significantly true in a clinical setting and have since realized it has much broader relevance.

As the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare, has swung into full gear with the opening of the exchanges and the expansion of Medicaid in 2014, virtually everyone believes that the healthcare industry has crossed into a very different place. This new reality has already begun to challenge our market’s brightest and most innovative minds to generate solutions that will position the American healthcare system as one to be emulated, rather than one that lags behind in virtually every imaginable dashboard metric. We as a country can do better…much better.

That said, here are a few observations regarding the current situation that I believe to be essential, beginning with my own view of what the “central tendon” might actually be. This short list is by no means intended to be comprehensive, rather just one person’s view of a few things that should be top of mind when thinking about how we fundamentally change and innovate our way out of the current reality with all of its issues.

Issue 1 – Physician Engagement

Others might have a different view, but I believe that “physician alignment” or perhaps preferably, “physician engagement” is just that central tendon issue, from which most all else in healthcare flows. Still the most respected and admired profession in the world, doctors always have and always will have a distinctive and irreplaceable role in the so-called conscience of the healthcare debate. (That in no way is meant to disrespect or undervalue the role of so many other healthcare professionals, especially that of nurses who will forever be the most intimate of partners with physicians at the sharp end of care. Enough said on that lest I be misunderstood.)

While not everyone will agree with me, I for one believe that our historically bifurcated payment schemes have ­– more than anything else over the last 75 years – driven doctors and hospitals further apart. Doctors ran the doctor business, and hospital administrators did likewise for facilities. Meanwhile, patients always thought of their care as “integrated,” and likely didn’t fully understand the distinction between professional and technical services. Nevertheless, we collectively have messaged within the industry something like this: “You take care of your business and I will take care of mine.”

The economic reality of where we are today, with our total healthcare spend being in excess of $2 trillion, cannot – and should not support – that kind of inefficiency and misalignment. We need the collective insight that both, really all, parties bring to the table. It is my belief that those hospitals and healthcare systems that “crack the code” when it comes to solving the physician relationship and engagement issue will be advantaged in the marketplace, regardless of local market forces and dynamics. The models for such alignment are numerous and certainly not confined to full employment and all should be fully explored.

Issue 2 – Healthcare Leadership

Second, and very much tied to the issue above, is the whole topic around leadership in healthcare. No, we don’t just need to train up an army of physicians with graduate business degrees to take over and fix what needs to be fixed. Rather, we need to thoughtfully and respectfully look at how leadership in healthcare has evolved and how narrowly focused we’ve been – something I think has happened from natural progress and isn’t anyone’s fault.

Regardless, our thinking about what healthcare is, where does it start and stop, who are the crucial stakeholders, where are the boundaries, and not least the question of role clarity are critical. We need to be intentional about leadership re-design, and we need to be bold. We need to build upon the strengths of the current leadership model, but not be constrained by it.

Much is said in today’s environment about taking risk, and most of the time we are talking about financial risk associated with the healthcare premium dollar. But we also need to think about bold risk-taking around leadership, empowering leaders to boldly redesign a model that is better suited and adaptable to where we are going, and not where we have come from. What are the skills and competencies that we need to anchor around? What perceived, but outdated, strengths do we need to jettison? Simply put, where do we need to build muscle, and how do we get the new muscle to work with the old.

This kind of change won’t just happen on its own, but needs to be led by a few brave organizations that will take it head-on. I believe that those organizations will be advantaged in the marketplace. In considering this challenge, organizations should think about the following three things:

  1.  Are our leaders currently equipped with the necessary skills and competencies to navigate the changing environment?
  2. Is our leadership and shared governance model the right one for us?
  3. Who do we need to engage to help us get from where we are to where we need to be?

Issue 3 – The Role of Boards

And one final thought: who is going to be the primary catalyst for change even if the only change we focused on were the two issues above? I for one believe that it is those who govern. One thing that has NOT changed in the current whitewater of healthcare is who has the final accountability for the long-term welfare of the organizations that make up the bedrock of our American healthcare system – our boards.

Given their connection to local communities, as well as their fiduciary responsibility to do what is best for those same communities, who else is better positioned to drive the challenging, and sometimes uncomfortable changes, that must take place? No longer can boards simply rely on what they learn from management regarding the current reality. They’re going to have to move into a posture that perhaps might be a little uncomfortable for all parties and begin to truly embrace a shared governance model. This shared model will more frequently challenges the status quo and isn’t reluctant to take the organizations that they serve to places that might seem a little daunting at first. A board might ask, “How much must we own, manage or control in order to have the kind of influence that we want to have on healthcare in this (our) market?” Make no mistake, boards will have a key and critical role in how the system of tomorrow is shaped.

As you see, the list is woefully incomplete, but we have to start somewhere. Many believe that the traditional players in healthcare cannot transform an industry as large and entrenched as is ours. I respectfully disagree and believe that real transformation from episodic acute care to true population health and comprehensive well-being can and should most effectively be led by those same people.

So as for me ….

  • Transformational physician engagement partnered with a …
  • Transformational leadership paradigm that is insisted upon by …
  • Transformational boards of governance willing to push the envelope

Not a bad place to start and we’re happy to help out!

This article will also be published on the Navvis Healthways blog and appears with permission of the author.

As senior vice president for Navvis Healthways, Dr. Anderson provides strategic counsel, planning and implementation support for physician integration and alignment, accountable clinical management, and strategic planning for the organization. Before joining Navvis Healthways, Dr. Anderson served as a senior vice president and chief medical officer for Baylor Health Care System in Dallas from 1995 until 2004, and held the same position at Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) in Denver from 2004 until 2008.  Dr. Anderson’s clinical background is that of a general and vascular surgeon. He holds an M.D. from the Baylor College of Medicine and a B.S. from Baylor University.

Written by: JohnAnderson">John Anderson

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August 22, 2014

New Study Reveals a Better, More Comprehensive Way to Measure Well-Being

Improving well-being can create a vast range of positive outcomes, such as better quality of life, increased longevity, greater on-the-job productivity and lower healthcare costs. Research has shown that overall well-being is a stronger predictor of health and performance outcomes over time than factors such as people’s demographic characteristics, the amount of healthcare they’ve used, and their behavioral and physical health risks alone.* According to Jim Clifton, Gallup chairman and chief executive officer, “The most important dial on any leader’s dashboard for the next 20 years will be well-being”.

If your organization understands that well-being is an important aspect of its success, step one in putting this knowledge to work, then, is to establish a baseline measure of well-being. This will enable you to determine the effectiveness of any programs you put in place to improve well-being. Sounds easy, right?

It’s actually a highly complex endeavor. Health risk assessments abound in the market, but well-being is much more than physical health. Therefore, measurement tools need to capture information about all five of the interrelated elements of well-being: purpose, social, financial, community and physical.

A recent study published by Population Health Management details the development and ultimate success of such a tool, known as the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being 5. The study, co-authored by researchers at the Healthways Center for Health Research, Gallup and Pro-Change Behavior Systems, shows that the Well-Being 5 comprehensively measures, reports and tracks well-being at individual, local, national and global levels.

The Well-Being 5 is based on decades of scientific research by Gallup and Healthways. Experts evaluated hundreds of well-being questions and millions of responses to determine specific question and response wording and question order. The final set of questions in the Well-Being 5 was chosen based on its power to identify risk, comprehensively capture well-being, and predict outcomes with optimal validity, accuracy and precision. The survey experience is designed to maximize both engagement and action, applying principles that include:

  • Making the best choice the easy choice
  • Suggesting direct action
  • Moving the individual through the experience in increments that allow for learning
  • Providing feedback on what is most valuable to that individual

The new study concludes that the Well-Being 5 “comprehensively captures the known constructs within well-being, is reliable and valid, significantly relates to health and performance outcomes, can be diagnostic and informative for intervention, and can be used to track and compare well-being over time and across groups. Using the Well-Being 5 instrument, well-being issues within a population can be effectively identified, prioritized and addressed, yielding substantial improvements to the health status, performance, functioning, and quality of life for individuals.”

As more organizations look to well-being improvement to help them reduce healthcare costs and improve performance, a reliable and validated tool such as the Well-Being 5 can help. Learn more about the Well-Being 5.

* This sentence was edited on August 28, 2014 to include the word “alone.”

Written by: Madison Agee

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August 08, 2014

Infographic: More Americans Now Have Health Insurance, New Gallup Data Shows

New data from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index® demonstrates that, despite the many hiccups associated with rolling out provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), the healthcare law has led to a tremendous shift in health insurance coverage. In the third quarter of 2013, 18 percent of Americans were without health insurance; by the first quarter of 2014, that number was down to 13.5 percent, its lowest point in years.

Check out our newest infographic, which reveals some fascinating insights from Gallup-Healthways research, including which states are seeing the greatest percentage of their residents without insurance as well as how health insurance coverage affects well-being.

For a deep dive into the data, Dan Witters, research director at Gallup, extensively discussed trends associated with health insurance data in a Healthways-sponsored webinar last month.

To learn more about the Well-Being Index, visit

The ACA's Impact on Health Insurance Coverage Nationally, Regionally and Individually


Written by: Madison Agee

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August 06, 2014

More than 40 Percent of Americans Have Past-Due Debts

In a report released in July, the Urban Institute found that 5.3 percent of American adults have a debt past due – meaning anywhere from 30 to 180 days late. To become current on these debts, these individuals would have to pay an average of approximately $2,300 per person. Even more alarming, the study also revealed that 35 percent of American adults have a non-mortgage debt in collection (more than 180 days past due). These 77 million Americans owe an average of about $5,200 each.

As we’ve discussed before in this blog, financial well-being is one of the five inter-related elements of well-being – along with purpose, social, community and physical. Because these elements are interdependent, low financial well-being can negatively affect the other elements. Low financial well-being can adversely impact physical and emotional health, put incredible strain on family and social relationships, decrease people’s interest or ability to engage in their community, and otherwise act as a barrier to people living their best lives. At work, it can make an employee less productive (imagine trying to get an important project finished if your water is in danger of being shut off) and less willing to engage in any well-being improvement programs offered by the company. In short, financial well-being matters – a lot. We should all be talking about it and devising ways to improve it.

Dave Ramsey is someone who talks about financial well-being and the ways in which individuals and families can alleviate financial stress. Considered America’s trusted resource on money, his straightforward approach to financial management, household budgeting, debt reduction and savings has been put into practice by millions of Americans. Perhaps most importantly, Ramsey understands that the key to improving financial well-being is achieving and sustaining behavior change, one step at a time.

One of the millions of people Ramsey has helped, a guy named Vince, recently garnered some media attention when he posted a hilarious online advertisement listing an amp for sale. In the ad, Vince laments, “Dave Ramsey ruined my life” by advocating “tightening the old spending belt and saving all of your disposable income.” The tongue-in-cheek tone of the ad has Vince remembering with nostalgia a former period in his life when he could buy things that brought him fleeting enjoyment but added to his household debt. To keep faithful to Ramsey’s philosophy, Vince is selling his amp to earn enough cash to purchase an acoustic guitar he’s been eyeing.

Vince listed his amp for sale so he could earn enough cash to buy an acoustic guitar.

Vince decided to sell his amp so he could earn enough cash to buy an acoustic guitar. With this kind of savvy approach to money, he hopes to avoid being one of the 40% of Americans with past-due debts.

A follow-up article to the ad captures Vince’s more sincere feelings toward Ramsey’s approach. Vince says, “[I]t’s given my wife and me something concrete that we can be together on regarding finances,” noting that “having unified financial goals plays a big role in marital harmony.”

Although Vince’s ad puts a humorous spin on raising your financial well-being, it’s an incredibly serious issue. Unless people are able to adopt new attitudes and behaviors toward their money, we’ll likely continue to see staggering statistics like those in the Urban Institute study for some time to come.

Written by: Madison Agee

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July 30, 2014

Which Has a Greater Impact on Employee Productivity: Well-Being or Chronic Disease?

Having a chronic condition no doubt has an impact on your productivity at work. Employers are well aware of this fact, and typically structure their wellness programs to focus on improving their employees’ physical health to prevent productivity loss. This approach is understandable, given that the existing body of scientific literature supports the idea that physical health (such as the presence or absence of chronic illnesses) is the primary contributor to worker productivity.

However, findings from a new study recently published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has called this commonly held belief into question. The study showed that employees’ well-being is actually a more important contributor to on-the-job productivity than their chronic disease status. The study, “Comparing the Contributions of Well-Being and Disease Status to Employee Productivity,” is the first to challenge the common belief that physical health is the primary contributor to employee productivity levels. It’s also the first study to specifically show that well-being improvement can increase productivity in both healthy populations and those with disease.

Well-being is a more complex and holistic measure. Well-being considers not only the important role of physical health but also a person’s sense of purpose, social relationships, financial security and community attachment.

“As individuals, we intuitively know that we are not at our best when we are stressed about anything that is important to our well-being,” said James E. Pope M.D., chief science officer at Healthways and coauthor of the article. “What this research has shown is how these elements of well-being interact to drive decreased productivity. Equally exciting is the discovery that programs designed to help improve the overall well-being can improve the productivity of both healthy and chronically ill individuals alike.

“Measuring employee well-being and understanding the unique aspects of their populations will help employers achieve more successful outcomes with their programs. Higher well-being manifests in greater degrees of creativity, innovation and employee engagement, all of which can improve value for employers by shifting the focus from productivity loss to productivity gain.”

The two-year survey tracked the well-being of more than 2,600 employees at three different companies. Researchers divided the employees into two groups: those that had no chronic conditions and those with diabetes (these individuals may have had other health conditions). Diabetes was selected as the focus chronic condition due to its prevalence and demonstrated impact on productivity.

The study showed that employees with higher well-being demonstrated greater workplace productivity, regardless of whether they suffered from chronic conditions. In addition, well-being was more important than chronic disease or demographic factors in defining how productive a person would be in any given year. Over time, changes in well-being contributed significantly to shifts in productivity beyond what could be explained by any individual characteristic, such as disease status, age, gender or socioeconomic status.

To read more about improving on-the-job productivity, download a copy of Healthways’ eBook 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Improving Productivity in the Workplace.

Written by: Madison Agee

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July 24, 2014

Arianna Huffington: Changing the Definition of Success

Arianna Huffington has a mission: She wants to evolve our society’s thinking on how we define success. Traditionally, we’ve seen it as twofold: money and power. Huffington believes that this is far too limiting, not to mention borderline dangerous. In putting too much importance on accumulating more power and more money, we’re putting ourselves at risk of burnout and exhaustion, poor physical health, unhappiness, and low well-being. We’re also negatively affecting connections with our family, friends and community.

Especially concerning for Huffington is that our modern culture fetishizes this. Being overworked, exhausted and burned out is a badge of honor. We constantly talk about how many hours we’ve logged at the office, how few hours of sleep we got last night, how many emails we sent, how many projects we’ve completed.

In Huffington’s case, she was a model of traditional success – lots of money and power – but it led her to have a serious wake-up call. She passed out in her office, sending her to the hospital with a fractured cheekbone, a gash above her eye, and the start of a medical journey looking for answers to why she passed out. With few definitive reasons for her accident other than “exhaustion,” Huffington realized that she needed to change her thinking around success.


Huffington shared her story at Healthways’ 2014 Well-Being Summit and in her latest book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. Each one of us needs to start thinking of success as having three metrics instead of two – the third necessary to truly thrive. This “third metric” has four pillars:

  1. Well-being. Huffington remarked that we take care of our smartphones better than we do ourselves, and this needs to change. Because 75 percent of our modern healthcare costs go to treating preventable, stress-related chronic illnesses, taking time for our better well-being can make an enormous impact.
  2. Wisdom. We need to take time to just think, engage in intellectual activity, and connect to ourselves and the people and the world around us. This requires that we disconnect from our electronic devices and pay attention to things we wouldn’t otherwise see.
  3. Wonder. This entails bringing back to the joy in everyday life – taking note of the usual “occurrences and small miracles that fill our lives” and reveling in them.
  4. Willingness to give. Huffington suggests that we, as human beings, are wired for giving. Our empathy for other people encourages us to complete selfless acts, which in turn creates good feelings within ourselves. This is a “virtuous cycle” that contributes to our better well-being.

 Huffington also discussed how this third metric is playing itself out in workplaces, hers included. At the Huffington Post, there are nap rooms and meditation spaces, and employees and journalists are not expected to check email during non-working hours. She also drew attention to a Volkswagen policy of disabling its employees’ phones after hours.

Huffington believes that by pursuing this third metric of success, we can lead more fulfilling lives with deeper connections to the things that really matter.

Written by: Madison Agee

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July 18, 2014

The Power of the Patient Centered Medical Home

Intended to have a transformative impact on healthcare, the Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) is a model that stresses care coordination, accessibility, patient centrality, comprehensiveness, quality and communication within primary care. It emphasizes primary care physicians, putting them in director-type roles in which these doctors have greater responsibility for the outcomes of their patients’ care. Ideally, the PCMH model can lead to higher quality of care, better outcomes, reduced healthcare costs, and more positive experiences for both the patient and the primary care doctor.

The merits of the PCMH approach to healthcare have been much discussed and analyzed in recent years, in scholarly journals and traditional and online media. Recently, a new Washington Post/Kaiser Health News article was published that highlights the cost savings that Healthways partner CareFirst has realized since the implementation of its PCMH program in 2011. Additional data released by CareFirst suggests that CareFirst members under the care of participating PCMH physicians fare well when measured on key quality indicators.

CareFirst is one of the largest health insurers in the country, with 1.1 million members enrolled in its PCMH. Since the program began, CareFirst has seen the overall rate of increase in medical care spending for its members slow from an average of 7.5 percent per year, in the five years preceding the program’s launch, to 3.5 percent in 2013.

In addition, key quality indicators suggest positive impacts on CareFirst members who are under the care of PCMH primary care providers. When compared to members under the care of non-PCMH physicians, CareFirst members seeing PCMH providers had:

  • 6.4% fewer hospital admissions*
  • 11.1% fewer days in the hospital*
  • 8.1% fewer hospital readmissions for all causes*
  • 11.3% fewer outpatient health facility visits*

This new data released by CareFirst certainly adds to the argument that the PCMH model is one that the healthcare industry should continue to explore as a way to improve outcomes and lower costs.

*Per 1,000 CareFirst Members.

Written by: Madison Agee

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July 16, 2014

The 3 Leadership Tenets Behind a Strong Well-Being Culture


Are your leaders actively — and visibly — improving their own well-being?

If your organizational culture and your stated commitment to well-being improvement aren’t in close alignment with one another, you could be unconsciously undermining the potential of your wellness programs. In other words, culture counts – a lot. It doesn’t matter how excellent your benefits package and well-being improvement offerings are if they’re at a constant disconnect with your overall culture. For example, what’s the point of having a generous paid time off (PTO) policy if employees are never actually taking vacation days?

An essential step in determining the state of your well-being culture is to turn a critical eye on your organization and ask some important questions. Once you’ve completed this self-evaluation, you can focus your attention on those areas that you’ve identified for further development. For many organizations, the commitment and behavior of their leaders is a crucial area for improvement.

In a popular webinar from June, experts from Gallup and Healthways provided a great deal of insight into the important role leadership plays in creating, cultivating and sustaining a culture of well-being. According to Ross Scott, Chief Human Resources Officer at Healthways, there are three key leadership tenets behind a strong culture of well-being:

  1. Leaders should be grounded in the value proposition of and fully understand the business case for well-being. Do your leaders truly believe in the value of well-being – that healthier people cost less and perform better? If they do, then they’re much more likely to participate in and encourage their teams’ participation in well-being programs. But if there’s any lingering doubt in a leader’s mind, that could inhibit the success of your well-being improvement program.
  2. Leaders’ own well-being impacts their ability to show up and lead effectively every day. Employees, of course, will model the tone and behaviors set by your leaders, so leaders can’t just expect that employees will embrace and embody better well-being without them. Demonstrating their individual dedication to well-being improvement can make leaders healthier, happier and better in their roles. At the same time, doing so shores up the strength of your well-being programs by not only making it okay, but actively encouraged for employees to engage in well-being improvement activities.
  3. Leaders have the opportunity to influence the well-being of others with every interaction. As described by Gallup, there are “20,000 moments in a day” during which organizations can positively impact their cultures of well-being and help their employees on their own individual journeys. Leaders who remember this and continuously take advantage of the multiple touchpoints and opportunities they have with their employees can make a tremendous positive impact. Relatively simple actions – smiling, taking a moment to listen to an employee, starting a meeting with a question about well-being – can be incredibly powerful actions.

So, how well are your leaders doing in terms of supporting your culture of well-being? Are they exhibiting these three key tenets on a regular basis? Simply educating them on these three principles could help you cultivate your well-being culture – perhaps your leaders aren’t totally aware of the enormous impact they have.

As you’re building your well-being culture, you may want to consider a few thought-provoking ideas that can continue to guide your organization. Luckily, we’ve collected nine of the top ways organizations can create and grow their well-being cultures – complete with easy tips for getting started today with little to no major investment of resources or budget.

Written by: Madison Agee

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July 08, 2014

The Quiet Emergency of Financial Well-Being

Have you ever stressed about your finances? Have you worried that there’s not enough money in the bank to pay bills? Or felt like you didn’t have an idea how to pay for your child’s college education? Or simply couldn’t figure out how to retire comfortably?

If so, you’re definitely not alone. According to data from Gallup, 43 percent of American workers, if they lost their job, couldn’t go more than one month without experiencing significant financial hardship. More than a quarter (28 percent) don’t feel they currently have enough money to live comfortably. Nearly one in four (39 percent) say saving for the future just isn’t a realistic goal for them.

People at all income levels are struggling financially, with wide-ranging impact. They may not be sleeping at night, exercising or eating right, or quitting smoking even though they know they should. They may be delaying necessary medical treatment, as 30 percent of Americans have done, according to Gallup.

As a result, low financial well-being can all negatively affect the four other elements of well-being: purpose, social, community and physical. Individuals with low financial well-being are at greater risk for cardiovascular disease, depression and substance abuse, and have a lower sense of self-worth. They’re likely to restrict activity with friends and family, and reduce their involvement in their communities. In fact, this epidemic of financial distress has been dubbed the “Quiet Emergency in Healthcare” by Forbes.

The impact of poor financial well-being isn’t just limited to individuals. Employers can see higher rates of absenteeism, less on-the-job productivity, and increased health costs from their employees who are struggling financially. Low financial well-being can also impede adoption of employee wellness programs. For example, someone who is living under a mountain of credit card debt probably isn’t making losing weight a top priority. Yet, less than half of large U.S. companies have, or plan on having, a financial wellness strategy in place over the next two years and only 22 percent offer any education around debt management and budgeting to their employees. Poor financial well-being can drive up healthcare usage, creating additional costs for health plans and health systems as well.

At Healthways’ 2014 Well-Being Summit, Andres Gutierrez from the Dave Ramsey organization spoke on the issue of low financial well-being and what can be done to address it. He asserted that one reason for this crisis is ignorance – people simply don’t know enough about personal finance. This isn’t necessarily their fault; the financial services industry refuses to use “straight talk” and real language to better explain its products and services. Little wonder, then, that people make bad decisions when it comes to their money, according to Gutierrez – decisions that become increasingly worse the more trouble they’re facing (e.g., taking out payday and title loans).

So how can individuals improve their financial well-being? The Ramsey approach stresses behavior change over “head knowledge,” guiding people to adjust the way they think about and interact with their money. Using the Seven Baby Steps, complemented by a powerful combination of plain-language education and inspiration, individuals can follow a proven path to taking control of their finances. At the Summit, Gutierrez noted that if people’s financial houses are in order, then it becomes much easier for them to then focus on other aspects of their own well-being.

To learn more, read about the Ramsey approach in action in the workplace – outstanding results achieved in just 90 days.

Written by: Madison Agee

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