Monthly Archives: April 2016

Perspective on Wellness Programs

In recent years, an increasing number of companies have begun to offer their employees a corporate wellness program — an employer-funded initiative designed to provide the type of preventive care and screening that can both ward off employees’ future health problems and improve their current fitness levels. Indeed, 98 percent of firms with more than 200 employees that responded to a Kaiser Family Foundationsurvey in 2014 offered their employees some form of wellness program. And PwC’s 2016 Health and Well-Being Touchstone Survey found that 76 percent of the companies it surveyed offered such programs. By implementing preventive programs, companies can try to keep their employees in fine fettle and reduce their future insurance outlays by having a healthier workforce.

But these programs, although seemingly well intentioned, must avoid violating any federal employment laws against discrimination. Specifically, companies walk a fine line when negotiating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which mandates that firms avoid any type of disability discrimination toward their employees. For example, wellness programs often emphasize the importance of exercise, but in certain cases, people with disabilities can struggle with physical movement.

To provide companies with some legal perspective, the authors of a new studyanalyzed several recent ADA-related court challenges to corporate wellness programs filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). For example, Orion Energy Systems offered to pay its employees’ health insurance premiums if they signed up for its wellness program — which required participants to get blood tests and divulge their medical history — but charged them the full premium if they declined. One employee who refused to participate was fired two months later. This caused an EEOC attorney to contend that the voluntary wellness program wasn’t exactly voluntary and that it violated the law because “having to choose between responding to medical exams and inquiries — which are not job-related — in a wellness program, on the one hand, or being fired, on the other hand, is no choice at all.” The case is still pending as of August 2016.

Flambeau Inc., a plastics manufacturer, was also challenged by the EEOC over its wellness program, which required employees to complete biometric testing and fill out health-risk surveys; if they did not, they would lose their medical insurance. However, a judge ruled in the company’s favor, holding that the wellness program’s provisions fell under the ADA’s “safe harbor” exception, which stipulates that the ADA cannot prohibit or restrict an employer from implementing an insurance plan that is based on underwriting or classifying risks.

Another case involved Honeywell International Inc., which asked employees and their spouses to submit to tests of their blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index, and nicotine levels. Employees who refused to participate were assessed surcharges on their medical plan and lost certain company contributions to their health savings accounts. A judge ruled against the EEOC’s request for a preliminary injunction, while admitting, “There are a number of fascinating issues for debate at a later time.”

After reviewing the legal landscape, the researchers came up with a set of guidelines to help firms stay out of the courtroom. The authors suggest that companies:

• Seek to improve employees’ health. The best way to avoid a legal challenge is to demonstrate that a wellness initiative has a realistic possibility of increasing workers’ fitness and helping them avoid disease. The use of periodic test screenings or health questionnaires can meet this standard, but firms should always emphasize a plan’s intended potential benefits to its employees.

• Ensure that voluntary programs are truly voluntary. According to the EEOC, when it comes to voluntary wellness programs, employees can’t be forced to participate; denied coverage if they don’t join in; or be fired, demoted, or arbitrarily transferred for refusing to take part. The EEOC also states that incentives for participation can’t exceed 30 percent of the cost of the employee’s healthcare.

• Handle mandatory programs carefully. Companies that still believe they should implement mandatory wellness initiatives should at least comply with the ADA’s safe harbor rule. This means companies should make their mandatory wellness initiatives a part of their sponsored health plans and insurance risk assessments.

• Be prudent about dependents. The EEOC hasn’t made clear how it will evaluate firms’ requests for the health histories of an employee’s spouse or child. For now, companies should probably hold off on extending wellness programs to dependents.

• Accommodate employees with disabilities. This accommodation can take many forms in addition to making allowances for physical conditions. The authors cite the example of a firm hosting a smoking cessation seminar and hiring a sign language interpreter to aid hearing-impaired employees at the seminar.

• Spell things out. The EEOC requires employers to provide a written description of their wellness program. This should exist as its own separate document, and not simply be folded into other healthcare material, and it should outline what type of medical information will be assessed, who sees the data, how the information will be used, and how it will be safeguarded.

• Protect employees’ privacy. The confidentiality of medical records is a key legal issue, and the authors suggest that companies store information in aggregate to avoid identifying specific employees. Medical files must remain separate from personnel records and cannot be used by managers to make staffing decisions.

Know the business story of you

We all spend a good deal of time polishing our public personas. We pour our professional accomplishments into LinkedIn profiles. Facebook has become a channel for sharing events both momentous and meaningless — a new job, a family vacation, what we had for breakfast. Twitter allows us to engage in stream-of-consciousness commentary on almost anything.

None of these, separately or together, fully tell the important and compelling story of you. Something is missing.

Knowing your story — understanding what makes you you — is essential, and part of who you are is your setbacks and failures. Acknowledging your own missteps, struggles, and pain is necessary to acquire the emotional intelligence central to leadership effectiveness. In particular, empathy for others comes from admitting mistakes. Receiving a promotion may be testament to your talent and hard work, but getting laid off presents a test of your character, adaptive capacity, and resilience. When life stops being easy, you have to dig deep to find your true passion. Executive coach Eddie Erlandson calls this discovering your genius zone, the work you’re so passionate about you’d do it for free — but which you figure out how to get paid for.

In their 2002 book Geeks and Geezers, Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas noted the ability to identify “crucible” moments as something that leaders have in common. These experiences ranged from mega-events such as serving in World War II to highly personal ones like a battle with a life-threatening disease. They identified the capacity for positive adaptation through adversity as the most important skill of the individuals they profiled.

Crucible moments are exactly the events and experiences that do not appear on our social media profiles, CVs, and the other instruments we use to present ourselves to the world. Yet they are the sources of the self-understanding and awareness central to your ability to connect with others — and to motivate them toward a shared goal, persevering to overcome obstacles along the way. The true story of you is the key to why you lead and informs why others are drawn to follow you.

One of the most effective and courageous exercises in exploring the fullness of a personal story that I have witnessed was demonstrated in an executive-education session by my colleague, retired Brig. Gen. Dana Born. Born, who had a successful career in the U.S. Air Force before coming to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, used a technique taught to her at the Authentic Leadership Institute, with which she is also affiliated. She first introduced herself with a recitation of the high points of her impressive background. Just when people were beginning to think that she was quite full of herself, she stopped. Born then began again, this time using the experiences one doesn’t usually share — the disappointments, failures, pain, and regrets of that career. When she paused, the room was silent. Her point was crystal clear. The true story of you has two equally important parts. Your essence is woven from your good and your bad experiences.

Know the Advantages of Continuing Education for Digital Leaders

Whether you’re a newly minted MBA or an experienced leader, you’re always honing your skills and navigating change. And technology is one discipline in which you really can’t afford to stagnate. With digital transformation so central to strategy for most companies, all executives — especially CEOs — must embrace a learning mind-set. Gone are the days you can delegate the job of keeping up with technology to the IT staff.

Chief information officers (CIOs), of course, should regularly brief the management team and the board on new developments, demoing exciting new technology, bringing in external speakers and vendors, and using other tactics that promote tech learning and engagement. But keeping up on technology trends is also the responsibility of every executive. And while that can be daunting given the vast tech landscape and seemingly limitless avenues for learning, it’s also incredibly exciting.

So, if your job title doesn’t include the words information, technology, ordigital, how do you stay current? And how do you ensure your organization isn’t falling behind? Consulting digitally literate kids, grandkids, or Millennial staff for help, as many chief executives tell us they do, won’t cut it. Here are three easy ways to begin boosting your digital acumen:

1. Get hands-on with new technology. Firsthand experience is a great way to better understand how your organization can apply technology to improve processes, better engage with customers, or create new lines of business.Personal exploration with emerging technologies not only adds to your knowledge base, it also puts you in the shoes of customers and employees. This forces you to think about the human experience, which is often ignored as companies think primarily about the strategic or technological implications of their digital projects.

So go ahead: Play Pokémon Go with your kids. Download an AI assistant app. Take a VR walk-through of your kitchen remodeling project at the home improvement store. Or tinker with Internet of Things devices for your home like smart locks or automation hubs. What you learn in the process may surprise you.

2. Become a maker or a mentor. Take the hands-on approach one step further by mimicking makers, those intrepid do-it-yourselfers who play, experiment, and build tech-based projects. Attend a local Maker Faire, design a stapler, jar handle, or other household gadget on a 3D printer at your local library, join a makerspace in your community, and get inspired.

Even if you’re not inclined to roll up your sleeves in the workshop, you can still get involved — and get smarter in the process. I recently had the opportunity to serve as a mentor for my son’s high school robotics team. Now, in my role as PwC’s chief technologist, I am immersed in technology innovation on a daily basis and need only pop into our Emerging Technology Lab or visit one of ourExperience Center digital hubs to see the art of the possible. Yet even I learned a lot from the experience of guiding a group of smart and enthusiastic teens as they envisioned, prototyped, tested, and competed with their robots. In particular, I came away with insight into effective innovation practices that all enterprises would do well to emulate.

3. Get schooled online. Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have grown in popularity. Learning platforms like Coursera, edX, and Udacity allow people to sample courses from leading universities. Indeed, the art of continuous learning itself may be the most sought-after skill for tomorrow’s workforce as well as the key to solving tomorrow’s problems. Explore the catalog of courses on any of these platforms to find the fields of study you’d like an introduction to, including design thinking, machine learning, and cybersecurity. In fact, at PwC we’re so bullish about the concept, we’ve recently rolled out a data analytics specialization on Coursera that’s available to everyone, not just our own people.

Can’t commit to a MOOC? Become a regular downloader of tech-focused podcasts, such as those produced by 99% Invisible, A16Z, and Freakonomics Radio. And don’t discount the many TED talks, blogs, and newsletters that highlight tech developments, deals, and industry happenings. The trick is to take a disciplined approach, devoting as little as 15 minutes a day to as much as several hours a week.

What about your company’s Digital IQ?

Now that you’ve charted your own personal digital learning path, take a look at what your organization is doing. Has it been successful in raising its collective Digital IQ?

At PwC, we’ve been studying how companies turn technology investments into competitive advantage for nearly a decade — well before digital was a regular part of the corporate lexicon. In February 2017, we’ll publish our 10th anniversary Digital IQ study, which will focus on digital’s evolving definition, its leadership challenges, and the growing role of emerging technology. In addition to our analysis of data from more than 2,000 companies around the world, we’ll also identify those practices most highly correlated with better performance.

What’s driving your company’s digital strategy? How are your leaders meeting its challenges? Which technologies are you betting on? How much have things changed over the last decade? Pleaseclick here to share your insights and reserve a free copy of the report as well as a one-year digital subscription to strategy+business magazine.