Firms with healthier cultures reap the rewards.
This essay appears in today’s edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Health Daily. Get it delivered straight to your inbox.
Consider what your company does for a moment. Does it make or sell something, or provide a service, that promotes health, safety, better nutrition, or wellness in its users? Feel free to think broadly here: Your company doesn’t have to manufacture meds or sell organic yams to qualify. If it makes comfy mattresses that help people sleep better, for instance—or builds software that keeps trains running on time, and therefore lowers commuter stress—consider it a yes.
Next, does it put a premium on its employees’ well-being? Here, think about not just the health plan it offers, but also the general work practices and culture at your job. Question 3: Does your company make a point (or seem to, anyway) of contributing to the broader community’s health? In this case, consider not so much the products or services it sells as the other ways it participates in the neighborhood and world around it. And finally, does it seem to pay attention to its affect on the environment, and try to lessen any negative impact?
Those four questions are at the core of a fascinating (and slim) new book, Building a Culture of Health: A New Imperative for Business, by John Quelch and Emily Boudreau—which grew out of a conference of the same name held in April at Harvard Business School and supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The stronger the “yeses” are to those questions—that is to say, the more they reflect your company’s engagement in the wellness of others—the more robust your company’s “culture of health.” And, importantly, companies with robustly healthful cultures reap other, more quantifiable benefits, too. A raft of evidence—which Quelch, who holds dual professorships at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, and Boudreau, an HBS researcher, helpfully compile and aggressively footnote—suggests that they may have lower healthcare costs overall, less absenteeism, better employee retention, fewer workplace injuries, stronger growth, improved corporate reputations, and even mightier stock performance.
Take the last of these. Earlier this year, researchers published an academic study examining the long-term stock performance of companies that had won the Corporate Health Achievement Award, an annual prize that the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has bestowed since 1996. In every scenario they back-tested, various portfolios of CHAA–winning companies substantially outperformed the returns of the S&P from 2001 to 2014—often by 200 percentage points or more.
Chief financial officers, take note.