The Well-Being Journal

Quantifying Well-Being: A Big Idea for 2016

Cameron Bowman

In his contribution to LinkedIn’s #BigIdeas2016 series, Deepak Chopra, world renowned author and speaker, shared his view on the increased importance of well-being transparency and assessment as we move further into an age where health can be quantified and bolstered by technology.

For some, well-being may be an ambiguous concept that holds little importance to the material world. However, through research conducted by Gallup and Healthways, well-being is no longer a misunderstood idea nor an intangible notion - it can be definitively measured and interpreted.

Since 2008, Gallup and Healthways have partnered to understand the well-being of both individuals and populations. Together, we measure and study well-being so we can act efficiently and effectively to improve it. We have made it easier for business leaders and government officials to make informed decisions by helping them understand and quantify well-being through two key initiatives.

The first, a scientific survey instrument and reporting experience called the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being 5™, is used to give each participant a “single number that informs you of your total state of wellbeing,” as Dr. Chopra says of the ideal quantification, “evaluating not just the body's vital signs but the mind-body connection as well.” It measures the five interrelated elements that research has shown to have the greatest impact on an individual’s well-being: purpose, social, financial, community and physical. Insights gained through this assessment help individuals take the first steps on their journey to living better.

Our second initiative, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index®, takes the concept of quantifying well-being at an individual level and expands it to include communities, states and nations. The Gallup-Healthways Global Well-Being Index uses self-reported data from individuals across the planet to create a unique view of global states of mind and societies’ progress on the elements that matter most to well-being. Globally, higher well-being has been associated with outcomes indicative of stability and resilience — for example, healthcare utilization, intent to migrate, trust in elections and local institutions, lowered daily stress, food/shelter security, volunteerism, and willingness to help others. Understanding these relationships allows world leaders insight into their populations that might not be otherwise transparent.

In his post, Dr. Chopra states “in short, wellness is about to become much more transparent as technology quantifies all the factors that contribute to wellbeing.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Topics: Well-Being Index Gallup

New Study Links Purpose to Lower Risk of Death & Disease

Cameron Bowman

Do you have a firm sense of purpose for your life? If not, you aren’t alone. Based on data measured by the Gallup-Healthways Global Well-Being Index, only 18% of the world’s population has a thriving sense of purpose, which includes liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals. Direction and purpose can help you lead a fulfilled existence but new research also suggests that a sense of purpose can have a positive impact on your long-term health.

According to a new report published in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, the official journal of the American Psychosomatic Society, those with a higher sense of purpose in life are at lower risk of death and cardiovascular disease. The report analyzed and aggregated data from ten peer-reviewed studies to find association between a measurement of purpose in life and mortality and/or cardiovascular episodes. The analysis found a substantive correlation between a higher sense of life purpose and a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, even when adjusted for additional factors. It also found that a high sense of purpose resulted in a significantly lower overall risk of death.

For our national population and economy, this information is especially relevant. Those with a firm sense of purpose in their lives tend to be highly engaged in their work. They are invested in what they do and focus on maximizing the value of their efforts. When people are unable to find fulfillment or achieve personal success and well-being with respect to their purpose, it can impact areas beyond the individual, including society as a whole.

Notably, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index ranks the United States only 22nd in the world in terms of purpose well-being. Addressing the profound lack of purpose not only within the workplace but in our communities is of strategic concern for government leaders, health plans and providers, employers, and educators.

To see what communities nationwide are doing to promote purpose and greater well-being, click here.

To learn more about how you can create a culture of purpose and well-being within your organization, click here.

Topics: Purpose Well-Being

Four Strategies for Supporting Caregivers in Your Population

Madison Agee

Employers should definitely be paying attention to the issue of caregiving, as it has important implications for the presence of chronic conditions, the propensity for risky lifestyle behaviors, increased presenteeism, lower workplace performance, and higher rates of absenteeism. While the reasons for supporting caregivers are clear, the path to actually doing it may be less so. In a recent webinar, Jim Purvis, vice president for well-being improvement design at Healthways, provided employers with four strategies that they can use to better support caregivers in their population.

These four strategies act as “pillars” to create a strong approach for caregiver support. They are:

  • Determine how caregiving is affecting your organization. The impact of caregiving can manifest in different ways within different populations. That’s why it’s so important to have good data and insights that are specific to your population. Employers may want to consider using the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being 5™, a precise survey instrument that measures, reports and tracks an individual’s well-being. It’s the only population health survey instrument that contains a specific question on caregiving that can help employers understand caregiving’s impact on their organization.

  • Understand why well-being is so important. People with higher well-being are healthier, higher performing and less costly. We’ve shown this in studies that have proven when well-being is high, healthcare usage and risk factors are mitigated, costs go down and productivity improves.
  • Ensure your programs focus on well-being and not just physical health. All too often, modern wellness programs have a hyper-focus on physical health and usually ignore other key issues that caregivers experience, such as burnout, stress, financial worries, social isolation and lack of community involvement. These “root causes” can lead to behavior choices, like poor diet, that can create negative outcomes. Well-being improvement programs that address all five elements of well-being –purpose, social, financial, community and physical – can better tackle these root causes.

Let’s take financial well-being as an example. Data from the 2014 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index® reveals that it is in financial well-being that there is the largest gap between caregivers and non-caregivers. Adult caregivers younger than 44 have 17.5 percent lower financial well-being than their non-caregiving peers, while caregivers older than 45 have 9.7 percent lower financial well-being than non-caregivers in the same age band. By offering programs that include it, employers can target the element that caregivers struggle with most.

To learn more about supporting caregivers in your population, please view our recent webinar, The Costs of Caring: The Impact of Caregiving on your Population’s Well-Being.

Topics: Workplace Well-Being Caregiving Employers

Can an Employer Sidestep the Negative Impact of a Transition to a High-Deductible Health Plan? New Study Shows It’s Possible

Madison Agee

Over the 5-year period of the study, healthcare costs decreased 21.5% as well-being improved 13.5%.

Perhaps spurred by a desire to avoid the looming 40 percent excise tax on so-called “Cadillac health plans” that’s set to come into effect in 2018, more employers are offering or considering offering consumer-driven health plans (CDHP)—also known as high deductible health plans. According to 2014 research by Aon Hewitt, 60 percent of organizations currently offer a CDHP to their employees—a 4 percent increase from the previous year. Maybe even more telling of this industry-wide shift to CDHPs is that 42 percent of employers are considering offering one as its sole benefit option within the next three to five years, entirely phasing out alternate options such as preferred provider organizations (PPO).

Both employers and employees are unsure about the potential pitfalls of the higher employee cost-share that is the hallmark of a CDHP—which may include employees feeling less engaged at work, being more apt to leave for other organizations where their cost-share would be lower, and delaying or avoiding necessary healthcare such as office visits, testing or medication. A new study authored by the Healthways Center for Health Research, which was published last month in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, provides a case study in which an employer was able to sidestep these negative consequences and actually experience significant positive outcomes, even when executing an organization-wide transition to a CDHP.

The study, “The Value of a Well-Being Improvement Strategy: Longitudinal Success across Subjective and Objective Measures Observed in a Firm Adopting a Consumer-Driven Health Plan” makes a significant scientific contribution, as it’s one of the first longitudinal studies of the effect of a well-being improvement strategy on outcomes over an extended period of time—five years, in this case.

The linchpin of the employer’s strategy was twofold: 1) implement a robust well-being improvement program and 2) support the program by creating and sustaining a pervasive culture of well-being throughout the organization. The employer’s program included such rich offerings as company-sanctioned fitness activities, weight loss and tobacco cessation programs, online well-being improvement plans and resources, free membership at a national network of gyms, and health coaching. All of these offerings were underscored by a visible and purposeful organizational culture of well-being.

The study measured five key outcomes: healthcare costs (as measured by allowed amount per member per month and includes both the employee and the employer cost-share), smoking rates, obesity prevalence, job performance and absenteeism. Study outcomes include:

  • Average individual well-being statistically significantly trended upward by 9.8 points (or 13.5%) between 2009 and 2013 and remained stable in the last three years
  • Healthcare costs declined 21.5 percent, at an average annual rate of 5.2 percent, an important result given that inflation alone would have yielded an expected positive trend over the five-year period
  • Compared with 2009 when the CDHP was initiated, smoking and obesity prevalence rates in 2013 were 36 percent and 18 percent lower, respectively
  • Average self-reported job performance increased 2 percent (2010-2013)
  • Absence on average declined by 4 percent, or approximately six-tenths of one day per person per year (2010-2013)

This new study shows that a comprehensive, multi-year well-being improvement program can reduce healthcare costs and create a workforce that is healthier, has higher well-being, and is more productive. It also builds on earlier Healthways research that demonstrated the important role culture plays in supporting the success of a well-being improvement program.

Employers interested in better understanding how to create a roadmap for creating a strong culture of well-being (similar to the employer studied in this paper) will want to see our infographic, “Creating a Culture of Well-being: Five Steps to an Action Plan.” In it, we’ve collected five top characteristics of organizations that have achieved a culture of well-being. We’ve also identified key questions your planning team should ask to help benchmark your organization’s current position and help create a roadmap to your ultimate goal.

Topics: Well-Being Science and Research