Q&A: Building your organization’s health culture

Medcan CEO Shaun Francis talks about creating a culture that encourages a healthy workforce

Medcan doesn’t simply help clients make health and wellness an integral part of their business – we lead by example every day in our own. That’s why we recently asked Medcan CEO Shaun Francis to offer his insights on how to effectively align people, place and purpose to build a vibrant health culture.

Can you begin by telling us why you think health and wellbeing are so important to running a successful business?

Well, at the end of the day, there’s the happiness factor that comes from promoting health and wellness, which we’ll get to. But purely as a numbers exercise, if you look at employer health expenditure costs throughout Canada, they’re rising year over year. And that’s because employers are focused on providing benefits, such as drug coverage, that only support employee health once they’re sick.

In other words, right now, most businesses operate in a reactive way toward employee health. And continuing to do so, without becoming more involved in prevention and active management, means they’re bearing – and will continue to bear – tremendous costs with chronic illness.

That’s where creating a fertile health and wellness culture comes in. Becoming more actively involved in employee health means businesses don’t just contain costs by getting ahead of disease but they enable positive behaviour change – in other words, employees find purpose in what they do, productivity increases and so does engagement and happiness, which, of course, is what we’re all striving for.

Do you have some bottom line numbers you can share, in terms of the how wellness – or lack of wellness – can impact an organization overall?

Some of those figures associated with not addressing wellness, are quite stark.

For instance, more than 50% of employees in Canada – 1 in 2 – report that they’re dealing with a chronic illness. That’s illness that may develop slowly and can continue indefinitely, chipping away at people’s day-to-day ability to work productively. In fact, in terms of productivity loss alone – which includes both absenteeism, i.e., not showing up to work, as well as presenteeism, which is showing up sick but not being “all there” – chronic disease costs the economy over $120 billion annually. Huge numbers.

Also, some 87% of employee healthcare claims costs are the result of individual lifestyle choices. And those costs are three times more than the cost of investing in preventive healthcare programs. So, financially speaking, employee health and wellbeing make a lot of sense.

How can a company create a culture of health and wellbeing – what are the basics?

It starts by demonstrating that the health of all employees matters to your organization. You can do this in a number of ways.

First, by facilitating primary care for your employees. That way, when they’re sick, they have the resources and ability to get well fast.

Second, by promoting early disease detection in your workplace. For instance, you can host on-site screening days to stay ahead of challenges as they arise and prevent future risks. This not only can help safeguard your employees’ health, it can also result in reduced drug costs and getting a handle on lost productivity.

Third, by making it easier for employers to adopt healthy lifestyle choices – both in their personal lives as well as things as seemingly innocuous as whether you serve chips and soft drinks in meetings.

Can you share a few obstacles you’ve faced in trying to create a healthy and successful work culture at Medcan? Or that other organizations might face?

There are two main sets of obstacles, I think.

There’s the challenge of not starting from the top, from the executive level. If your leaders aren’t showing the value of sleep, for example, and sending emails at wee hours of the night or while on vacation, if they’re not exercising, or not eating healthy, it’s going to set the wrong kind of expectations for employees. Managers need to lead by example – when they don’t, it makes achieving your employee health goals more difficult and costly.

There’s also the issue of consistency. Launching a step counting challenge to get your employees to move once a year won’t cut it, because it’s not about being healthy for a month. It’s about living well, eating well, staying active, having a healthy mind, all year long, all life long. You need to help employees take care of their health and wellbeing every day.

What, in your opinion, are the three key elements to successfully implement a health and wellness program?

You have to lead by example, I can’t emphasize this enough. That’s where it starts. Here at Medcan, it’s very normal to see employees grab their gym bag and leave for an hour. No one questions their absence and, often times, their boss asks “did you have a good workout?”, probably while heading to the gym herself. It’s important to create an environment that supports healthy living.

You also need to communicate effectively and educate – make sure your team knows what sorts of health and wellness benefits they’re eligible for and inspire them to use those benefits.

Finally, there’s the positive feedback loop – evaluating, adapting, refining and improving. What’s working and what’s not? And remembering, incidentally, that what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. Take Millennials. They’re now the largest generation in the workplace and they have a different outlook and attitude. At Medcan, we support the “always on” approach Millennials appreciate, like for instance the ability to see a doctor via video.

What would you say are the best ways to engage your workforce in thinking healthy?

I think it really comes down to inspiration. Our motto at Medcan is “Live well, for life” and we take those words very seriously. When a colleague crosses the finish line, literally or figuratively, we celebrate it and let the whole company know. In fact, like our clients, our employees get a health inspiration newsletter every month. We also make an effort to share valuable and encouraging stories that prove we’re making a difference through our work. We are in the business of inspiring healthy change in people and that alone is very fulfilling.

And, whether it’s the ride employees have set for the weekend to train for our team’s Ride to Conquer Cancer or a cool new way to ferment yoghurt, you walk by the proverbial cooler and, amazingly, our employees are talking about their healthy life. At this point our health culture intrinsically supports itself and that’s very gratifying to see. It’s pretty amazing.

To learn more about our approach to wellness, book a tour.

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