Employers are in the business of supporting employee health. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2022 Employer Benefits Survey, nearly half of employers consider wellness benefits a significantly important offering.
But striking the balance between helping employees without overreaching into employee privacy can be tricky. HR Dive spoke with Steven Goldberg, MD, MBA, vice president and chief health officer, employee and population health, at Quest Diagnostics about how the company has managed efforts directed at employee health — while also respecting worker privacy.
Editor’s note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
INDUSTRY DIVE: Why do you think it’s important for employers to be involved in employee health?
STEVEN GOLDBERG: The first [reason] is cultural. Employees want their company to convey care for them, and health and health benefits and related offerings are a high priority for employees in terms of total rewards. So to message and offer a good portfolio of benefits is important for retention, especially in the setting of the Great Resignation and what people have called the Great Rethink.
Companies that invest in health and well-being also have better performance in terms of income. Studies show a high level of correlation between healthy employees and healthy corporate performance. And in the long term, companies will be affected by people’s health and well-being impacting their health costs, especially large employers that are self-insured.
How does a company identify the appropriate level of involvement in employee health?
We ask our employees what they want from a total rewards perspective, and we also check in with our employees on a quarterly basis, not only on that but a broad range of issues. In terms of what you can or cannot do in general, you can offer a wide range of offerings but there’s a certain threshold in the amount of incentive that can be offered to employees or disincentive for not participating. We operate within guidelines from ERISA and the Department of Labor.
How do you address concerns from employees if they feel their bosses might access sensitive health information, or that they’re being targeted with messaging about diet and weight loss?
There are multiple levels of things we have to do. The first is all our communications have to be HIPAA appropriate and that is not negotiable. Second, you want to think about the language, the tone and the characterizations of health improvement opportunities. You want to be very sensitive because people process words differently based on economic backgrounds, social determinates of health and culture. We really put our communications through a lot of vetting.
A third thing is, in general, you can’t reach out to employees based on particular health features, so we have to do general communications and general descriptions of offerings. Also, people have to opt in rather than opt out.
Some national companies have pledged transportation benefits to employees who need to travel for abortion access. How has Quest addressed this issue?
We want to be culturally sensitive to the fact that our employee pool likely has a broad range of perspectives on the topic. We also want to make sure we’re complying with federal and state laws. We want to make sure that if, on the assumption we’re complying with federal law and on the assumption we’re compliant with state law, that there is a benefit opportunity for us to make sure people will have access.
Those are decisions we have [to make] in our benefits committee. Like other large employers, we did a review of transportation benefits. If we want to do something different with our transportation benefits, how do we do so in a way that doesn’t make it about a particular service but more thematically — in that it confirms that we are driving access and equity? We don’t want people to have barriers to any service that’s available according to state and federal law, whether it’s for reproductive rights or access to diabetes care.
That’s how we think about it in a general perspective. The Supreme Court decision prompted us to look at our equity strategy, so we went ahead and did some revising to our travel benefits.
What advice do you have for other companies, especially smaller ones, that want to make sure they’re doing the right thing when it comes to employee health?
A key strategic intent of Quest is to contribute to a healthier world. It creates certain obligations on the part of our leadership team. We envision a healthier world and therefore our employee health program mission is to do well by our employees.
Companies also need to engage their employees on what they need to make healthy the easier choice. Our workforce is 70% female, and many of our jobs are first jobs for folks. Employers needs to think about age, gender and socioeconomic status and therefore the needs of the employee pool. What challenges do they confront? We have our own data and analytics platform where we look at our claims. It’s a way to look for patterns at a population level, not ever at an individual level. That informs our strategy.