CDC Interview: Making the Case for Corporate Wellness

Catherine Baase, M.D., FAAFP, FACOEM, is the Global Director of Health Services for The Dow Chemical Company, with direct responsibility for leadership and management of all Occupational Health, Epidemiology, and Health Promotion programs and staff around the world.  In addition to these roles, Dr. Baase drives the Dow Health Strategy for employees, retirees, and their families.  She is also involved with health policy and issues management.   Previously, Dr. Baase served as director of Health Care Strategic Planning with direct responsibility for Dow's U.S. health benefit plans.

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Q:  How do you convince company leadership that investing in the health and well-being of employees is good for business?
Dr. Baase:  Convincing company leadership to invest in the health and well-being of employees needs to be based on a business case. The business case and rationale should clearly illustrate how investing in health delivers favorable economic impact and is aligned to overall corporate strategy, which can deliver results against the opportunity described in the business case analysis. 

Q:  What are the key steps to making a business case to company leadership?
Dr. Baase:  Developing a business case must begin with a review of the health situation and the total economic impact and health of employees. Someone charged with developing this business case would need to look at the available data that could help construct the analysis. If there is not sufficient information available internally, then it is possible to use external data and model the business case using an example from a similar company. You can also use available modeling templates where you input basic information such as demographics and are provided with a profile of the most likely situation using average industry data— one such tool is the "Blueprint for Health."  If you can access internal data, try to establish a summary of the current total direct and indirect costs associated with employees' health. Then, propose a set of outcomes of interest such as health, value for the investment spent, and participants' satisfaction. You would then identify the main areas where some actions can be taken to improve the outcomes, and some macro strategy elements for driving change. You will also need to establish metrics for determining progress.

Q:  What information should be included in a business case to company leadership?
Dr. Baase:  Business cases can be highly varied in sophistication and detail. Generally, an organization may start with something quite basic and evolve to more complex and detailed business analysis over time as the richness of their data changes. Initial business case efforts may use assumptions and estimates for many values and mature to precise metrics later. Conversely, an organization may feel that using publicly available, average figures and estimates is all they need, because they don't have the capacity or desire to invest in the data systems to collect their own data. 

At the highest level, the business case defines the total economic impact related to health. It puts this in perspective to other organizational expenses or investments in terms of total magnitude and relative value such as cents per share. The general scope of information considered in a business case around investments in health and health care includes determining the total economic impact related to health starting with direct dollars spent, such as health care benefits, workers compensation, long-term disability, Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and internal health program budgets. It would further incorporate the indirect costs such as absenteeism and days present.   

The business case would further establish areas of potential improvement and the estimated ability to change the current scenario if needed. The business case would conclude with a conceptual strategy to create an improved outcome.

Q:  What tools or resources can be leveraged to demonstrate the value of worksite wellness programs?
Dr. Baase:  Company self assessment instruments are available from several organizations to assist in evaluating status against best practice models and approaches. There are also—

  • Algorithms that link improvements in health risk status to direct and indirect dollars spent.
  • Assessments of the prevalence of chronic conditions and the overall impact per each condition by direct and indirect costs. 

Q:  How do you align prevention and health promotion with corporate strategy and priorities?
Dr. Baase:  You need to examine company strategy and look for connections between health and economic impact to the components of the strategy. You should illustrate the connections and document how the investments in health and achievement of the health strategy contribute and are essential to achieving the company strategy core elements.

Q:  What are some examples of successful leadership engagement? 
Dr. Baase: 

  • Creating a company health message map, which is used in speeches and messaging of company executives
  • Integrating health business case information and content into general leadership training of the company.
  • Using a company health environment and health culture index.
  • Adhering to tobacco policy.
  • Providing access to healthy foods.
  • Providing access to physical activity.
  • Promoting leadership advocacy for participating in health programs.
  • Providing personal examples of desired health engagement by leaders.

Q:  What are some examples of how company leaders reach out to employees to show their support of the wellness program?
Dr. Baase:

  • Incorporating statements of support into internal and external speaking engagements.
  • Emphasizing the business value of health in department and staff meetings.
  • Encouraging employee participation in company sponsored health programs and services.
  • Sharing their own struggles to be healthy and urging employees to really support each other in healthy lifestyles.
  • Acknowledging the importance of health to our individual and company success.
  • Being a role model and personally leading health efforts.
  • Incorporating healthy culture and healthy environment goals into the site goals and using the healthy work site index.

Q:  How can a company support employees who are champions of work site wellness?
Dr. Baase:  Using recognition programs are very useful, such as establishing a Making the Difference award program. The award is given out annually, and nominees include employees in and out of the health services organization. In addition to this and other special recognition programs,  use the company's general recognition system to applaud and reinforce champions. To nurture support it is also important to create roles for employees to be healthy culture advocates within peer groups and work sites.

Q:  How do you maintain involvement in and support of company wellness programs once these programs are underway?
Dr. Baase:

  • Have an established strategy with performance metrics.
  • Ensure delivery on strategy and plans. 
  • Document progress and regularly communicate with management regarding achievements and remaining opportunities.
  • Ensure employee engagement by establishing trust.  
  • Ensure the program is designed and implemented to always serve the best interests of the health of the people.  
  • Carefully guard and value the relationships and genuinely care for people.  

Q:  What are some of the challenges you face in engaging company leadership and how did you overcome those challenges?
Dr. Baase:  Initially, there is the challenge of needing a business case, then establish the business case and companion strategy. There are many other learning experiences. A few examples include the following:

  • Have leadership advocate for the company health strategy and investments in health.  Create message points and proof points for leadership and their public affairs support staff to use in speaking engagements. The information should be reviewed and shared to ensure that it was understood and supported. 
  • Have site leadership support healthy environment and healthy culture priorities at their locations.  Develop a healthy work site index and a set of metrics and scores to illustrate sequential improvements in each area.  A model language should be established to use for site goals and improvement. 
  • Get leadership involved. Gain leadership involvement by making the process simple, clear and turn-key.  Integrate the health strategy into leadership training, give them specific actions/ behaviors, provide resources and tools to help leaders get involved, measure results and give leaders feedback on the success of the program, recognize outstanding health strategy leaders.

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The opinions expressed in these interviews are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), or the U.S. Government.  The placement of these interviews on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's website does not imply the endorsement of one particular organization, author, product, or service over another.