The Rise of the Chief Wellness Officer

IRI Podcast episode on the The Rise of the Chief Wellness Officer

After the last few years, the importance of employee wellbeing— along with a deeper understanding of the need for resilience and empathy in our workplaces – are factors that are appreciated and valued more today than they may have been before. As a result, some larger companies are now proving their commitment to wellness by establishing a new role within their organizations – the role of Chief Wellness Officer. Today we are once again joined by Kathryn Mayer, formerly the Senior Benefits Editor and Health & Benefits Conference Chair at Human Resource Executive, currently the Benefits and Compensation Editor for SHRM. Here, she explains:

  • What's led to the growing interest in the Chief Wellness Officer role;
  • Why a Chief Wellness Officer can be an important part of a company's return-to-work strategy;
  • How to track employee wellbeing; and
  • How the presence of a Chief Wellness Officer impacts recruitment!

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The Rise of the Chief Wellness Officer

  • There has been an increase in Chief Wellness Officer positions over the last two years, particularly in healthcare organizations who have been facing employee burnout. 
    • Universities and higher education institutions have created similar roles, as notoriously forward-thinking employers when it comes to positions and benefits.
    • In the past six months to a year, Chief Wellness Officer positions have flourished across many different industries.
  • While some Chief Wellness Officer positions were developed prior to the pandemic, many of them have been created as a result of the pandemic.
    • A company’s return to office strategy has also sparked the need for a Chief Wellness Officer.
    • Wellbeing has become a point of conversation, and contention, within workplace leaders. Many employees were forced to adjust to remote work, got used to that and experiencing the benefits of that, and are now transitioning back into a hybrid or in-person work model.
      • The return to work has been known to raise stress for employees.
    • Companies are thinking about how to ease the transition to returning to the office and focusing on employee wellness, by creating a role to oversee that can make a difference.


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The Role of the Chief Wellness Officer

  • Chief Wellness Officers, along with wellness teams, in some cases, work with leadership teams to focus on employee wellbeing, employee needs, and what tools can help employees in the workplace.
  • A common thread among chief wellness officers is they are trying to figure out how employees are feeling, and measure well being components, and figure out how workers cope with stress and change.
    • Breaking down how employees are doing, and stress factors for employees is an important first step in being able to actually help them.
    • Changes are already in place to help employees at companies with wellness teams, rolling out benefits, creating a healthy culture, tweaking existing wellness programs, and seeing what works and does not work for their organization. 
  • In most cases, especially with larger companies, the role of a Chief Wellness Officer works in tandem with HR departments.
    • The partnership between the two teams can be a great asset to an organization because wellness is a large HR responsibility, now more than ever.
    • Largely speaking, HR teams are already overworked and juggling many tasks, so creating a designated team to work on the physical, mental, and social health of employees can alleviate some of that stress from HR departments. 
    • It is important to keep the wellbeing of employees a top priority during this very fragile time.
  • For people who are excited about wellness – and many people in HR are – looking into Chief Wellness Officer positions could be a great next step.
    • This could be a great fit for HR specialists who are hired internally in the wellness capacity because they know the people and the needs of the organization.

Wellness and C-Suites

  • Massive HR firms and companies have begun utilizing Chief Wellness Officers to maintain the health of their staff.
    • Anytime a large organization is participating in any kind of a movement, it catches attention, and often becomes a trend because other organizations are watching. 
    • When large HR firms with employers, they may be swaying those organizations to not only focus on wellness, but add a Chief Wellness Officer position. This could have an impact on the role wellness plays in the workplace in the long term.
  • When hiring for a Chief Wellness Officer, they need to have a real calling to help employees, be empathetic, and be in touch with the real challenges that employees are facing, as well as potential stressors that employees can face in the future..
    • They should also have an understanding of varying experiences and feelings of employees, and not one size fits all when it comes to wellness.
    • Candidates should have a strong understanding of employee benefits, be aware of trends in wellness, and have a sense of the wellness components that make up wellbeing.

Measuring Wellness and Success

  • Employers are starting to ask employees about how they are doing, and what their concerns are. In order to measure wellbeing, it is talking to workers all the time and checking in consistently.
    • Annual check-ins are not enough, and many factors can change monthly, weekly or even daily.
    • Surveying employees can measure employee wellness on a number of indications such as stress, depression, and mental health issues. 
    • There are also outside data points to consider, such as absenteeism, medical claims, productivity, and other indicators to measure worker success.
  • It is also important that managers know how to watch out for warning signs, and to be able to notice changes in individual and team wellbeing. 
  • Aon developed a human sustainability index, which is a performance tracker of corporate wellbeing. Through the index, organizations can measure wellbeing and resilience, as well as human sustainability, at an individual, team, and organizational level.
    • The tracker measures how resilient workers are and how they cope with stress, change, and mental health challenges.
    • Aon has made the index available for their clients to be able to measure their organization’s wellbeing. Based on the data collected by Aon, they will then come up with ideas on how to improve sustainability and wellbeing.
  • Every measure that organizations do in terms of wellbeing will ultimately create better, healthier workers. 
    • If workers are feeling strong and engaged, that will also help the company as a while
  • Wellness goes far beyond physical health. Everything from mental health, financial health, social health, professional development, and a sense of purpose are all considered under the umbrella of “wellness”
    • It is also important to recognize how connected all of these factors are. When someone feels weak in one category, that can add stressors to others as well and impact overall wellness.
    • The conversation around wellness has been underscored by the pandemic, as lives have become more fragile and stressful. By introducing Chief Wellness Officers, this can create a more positive conversation surrounding overall wellbeing in the workplace, and have a real impact on employees.

The Future of Wellness

  • Everyone’s lives were changed in some capacity as a result of the pandemic, and innovation was sped up because of these circumstances, such as remote work. Some of these changes are permanent now, both personally and the way we work.
    • The pandemic has also highlighted the need to talk about wellness, and is imperative to business. While this was always the case, wellness is so tied to aspects of everyone's lives. 
    • The need for Chief Wellness Officers may have primarily come about during the pandemic, but it was always a need for businesses, and will likely stick around, and even grow over time.
  • Showcasing Chief Wellness Officer positions to potential employees, especially in this job market, can have a tremendous impact on recruitment.
    • Highlighting the role of Chief Wellness Officer within an organization is extremely appealing to potential hires because it is a candidate's market.
    • Forward-thinking companies are going above and beyond to emphasize wellness, and data is now showing how much employees value that.
      • Wellness benefits are becoming increasingly important to employees, and it is also becoming a factor in which companies candidates are interested in.
  • Beyond retention recruitment, the goal is to make a difference in the lives of employees.
    • Employees who are prioritizing their wellness are happier, healthier, more financially confident, and have a better handle on coping with stress.
    • It can also make emploiyees feel more connected and better prepared to handle stress, and working with the company.
  • Right now, Chief Wellness Officers are more common in larger companies, but it is possible for smaller companies to hire them as well.
    • Large companies have more resources, and more money, to open up a position dedicated to wellness, and this is a primary reason for why these positions are mostly at large companies.
    • For smaller companies, there are more limited resources, but there could be a natural shift in HR to become more focused on wellness like it was with Chief Diversity Officers.

Kathryn Mayer Background

  • MLS, Creative Writing from The University of Denver
  • BA in Journalism, English from The University of Denver
  • Ms. Mayer began her career as a reporter with The Aurora Sentinel and the Denver Business Journal
  • She worked as Publications Editor for the University of Denver, and serves as Managing Editor for Summit Business Media and ALM Media, LLC
  • She served as Editor in Chief for Source Media, and as Senior Benefits Editor and Health & Benefits Chair, Human Resource Executive with LRP Media
  • She currently serves as the Benefits and Compensation Editor for SHRM.



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