Wellness: Crisis, Opportunity for Change, or Both?


From CEO Anna Gudmundson

Healthcare systems are overloaded, healthcare costs as a percentage of GDP are increasing and demands from our increasingly unwell populations are growing. We also see that public healthcare systems are under equipped to deal with the increase in stress, depression, anxiety, and other mental health related issues.

Only 2.7% of people in the US are categorized as having “a basic healthy lifestyle, which includes exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, avoiding smoking and maintaining a normal body fat percentage.” To generalise, in the west, the vast majority are on some sort of trajectory to get sick; from problems with digestion or sleep, which decrease productivity, to diabetes and cancer which have much more severe consequences. This causes a lot of unhappiness or tragedy on the individual level as well as for the people around them. For an employer this is a big risk, and ultimately a big cost.

I recently sat on a panel at Bloomberg, discussing millennials, and even this group in their prime twenties and early thirties are reporting 31% mental health related issues, as well as being overweight, which we know leads to a lot of other problems over time.

Our current situation is already costing employers a lot in terms of insurance premiums and absence, and surely a lot more than they are aware of with regards to productivity. With the current trajectory there is a real necessity for companies to look after the health of their workforce. As well said by Head of Wellbeing, Beate O’Neil, at our partner PSHP – wellness programmes are fast becoming a must-have and not just a ‘nice-to-have’.

The good thing is that the employer can really have a great impact here. We all spend a lot of time at work and with the support of people around us it’s much easier to change behaviours towards a healthier lifestyle. Our clients aren’t trying to spy on their employees; they choose to work with Kin because they genuinely want their employees to feel better, happier and be healthier. They also understand that this is the only way to change the otherwise inevitable course towards increased costs related to sickness, absence and lost productivity. (Lost productivity alone was recently estimated at £57 billion in the UK and about $260 billion in the United States.)

At Kin we use advanced technology in an intelligent and conscious way to help each individual on their wellness journey, as well to create a healthy team dynamic to engage and make it more fun. We are certainly using data to help us improve our products, run the business in a better manner and support the individual in a very personalised way. We are not using data to punish individuals, and any companies considering that approach should also consider their values and what the effect would be on their workforce, with regards to motivation and stress.

Behavioural change isn’t a quick fix. As much as we do see immediate effects when we roll out our services, we’re very much focused on a long-term improvement in culture in terms of lifestyle and wellbeing, and how to create a persistent change in behaviour. Incentives and competition are part of it, but we’re looking beyond that, as we know that these are short-lived motivators. Creating an ecosystem that supports the longevity of someone’s wellness efforts long enough for them to recognise the real value of the changes they are making, is key to those changes becoming permanent. I am incredibly encouraged and excited about the impact we’re having on many thousands of lives – that makes all the hard work worth it.

Even internally, our new employees go through a healthy metamorphosis and we continue to move forward on this journey together. You would think that everyone at a company like Kin would already have these behaviours, but, as we’ve rolled out the services internally over the last year since I took over and strongly invested in our own culture, we have changed our own patterns to great benefit of us all. What this shows is that the mere availability of information isn’t enough – all the employees had access to the content the entire time! It was the practical engagement that our programme offers, that made the difference. And, to state the obvious, as the CEO I also have to look at myself and my behaviours and be aware that how I show up is very important to the internal culture.

So of course I participate; I can’t make excuses not to exercise or walk or cycle into work. It’s not enough to visually appear to practise what I preach – the benefits are real.

Exercising 150 minutes every week has an incredible effect on reducing the risks of so many conditions:

up to a 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke up to a 50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes up to a 50% lower risk of colon cancer up to a 20% lower risk of breast cancer a 30% lower risk of early death up to an 83% lower risk of osteoarthritis up to a 68% lower risk of hip fracture a 30% lower risk of falls (among older adults) up to a 30% lower risk of depression up to a 30% lower risk of dementia

With the very fast moving environment we have at Kin, we must look after ourselves to manage both the pressure and the pace, so that we can help as many other people as possible towards happier lives, as well as healthier bottom lines for businesses. In today’s world of rapid change and sometimes challenging economies, we can all benefit from being more resilient on both individual and organisational levels. And if only 2.7% of us are living healthy, balanced lives? We have an incredible opportunity – and duty – to be change makers.

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