The closing reception of last year's Fortune Brainstorm Health Conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif. This year's conference reflects a dialogue on the change in our definition of health, writes Arianna Huffington.
Stuart Isett—Fortune
By Arianna Huffington
April 2, 2019

At the very heart of this year’s Fortune Brainstorm Health conference that’s starting today in San Diego is the stress and burnout epidemic that’s eating up our health care system, forcing businesses to redefine how they think about employee well-being, and driving innovation to help people manage their own health. The evidence of the epidemic is all around us: About 90% of health care costs are related to preventable chronic diseases and mental health conditions and our life expectancy has fallen three years in a row.

According to a Gallup study, 87% of employees worldwide aren’t engaged at work. A survey by Harvard Medical School found that 96% of senior leaders reported feeling burned out. And stress is costing the U.S. economy $300 billion annually in sick time, disability, and job turnover.

Fortunately, this is changing. The workplace is in a state of profound transition right now. It’s not just about A.I. and automation but about rethinking how we work and the fundamental relationship between companies and their employees. More and more businesses are realizing that what is missing in the narrow and flawed definition of success is people and the very experiences that shape their lives—both at work and at home.

We’re seeing more companies giving back, improving their cultures, and answering a growing demand—especially by millennials and younger workers—for a more meaningful way of working.

While more companies are joining the conversation about putting people first, there’s a big difference between talking about well-being and being able to connect people’s actual experiences to the success of the company.

Right now, the way we think about health is at an inflection point. Consumers have an enormous amount of health data available to them. But that’s not enough: The question is what to do with it. So we’re seeing increasingly more companies devoted to helping consumers not just track and measure their lives but change their lives. Drawing on cutting-edge neuroscience, A.I., and behavioral science, companies are developing new technology to empower people to increase habit change compliance.

It’s about helping people make small changes that will not only transform our health care system in a big picture sense, but empower individuals to build lasting, life-changing habits.

That means going upstream to address the root causes of the lifestyle conditions that are driving our health care crisis. And business leaders, more than ever before, are positioned to lead this conversation and bring upstream solutions to their employee populations.

During our “Going Upstream: Changing Behavior for Healthier Lives” panel, I’ll be speaking with Sleep Number CEO Shelly Ibach, P&G Development and Innovation Officer Kathleen B. Fish, and Evidation Health CEO Dr. Deborah Kilpatrick about how their companies are harnessing technology and data to deliver consumers products and experiences that drive meaningful behavior change and build habits to fuel a thriving life.

Since I founded Thrive Global in 2016 to end the epidemic of stress and burnout, it’s become ever more apparent that this epidemic is directly connected to a global mental well-being crisis. For more and more people, living a life of well-being, purpose, and meaningful connections is harder than ever before.

Against this backdrop, in our “Where Mental Health Meets Technology” panel, I’ll be speaking with Dr. Leanne Williams, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University; Catherine Price, author of How to Break Up With Your Phone; and Diesel Peltz, founder and CEO of Twenty, an app that encourages offline, real-world interactions with the people who matter to you most. Every one of us has a relationship with technology, which impacts every aspect of our lives, from our relationships to our sleep. When we’re intentional about how we use technology, we’re able to harness its incredible power for good—including by boosting our mental well-being.

As more companies join the conversation about well-being, important questions arise. What exactly is employee well-being? How does it translate to business performance? What does a metric of success based on employee well-being look like? Why are we focusing on it and to what end? In our “Corporate Makeovers: Reimagining Employee Health” panel, I’ll pose these questions to some of our most forward-thinking business and policy leaders: Jennifer Morgan, SAP executive board member and president of SAP Americas and Asia Pacific Japan; Marcie Frost, CEO of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System; Qualtrics co-founder Jared Smith; and Marvelle Sullivan Berchtold, who was instrumental in the JPMorgan Chase, Berkshire Hathaway, and Amazon health care joint venture to bring about fundamental changes in their employees’ health care.

And we’ll introduce the Thrive XM Index, a new project from SAP, Qualtrics, and Thrive Global enabling companies to unlock the actionable data that connects the people experience to business performance, and gain unprecedented insight into the experiences that actually shape employees’ lives.

This focus on experiences is a deeply human approach to business but it’s also deeply practical. It acknowledges and honors the fullness of our lives and taps into the bedrock of our shared experience, whether we’re CEOs or entry-level employees. Because no matter where we are in our careers, our lives have chapters and turns—some expected, some not. Life is not lived at one speed. In certain chapters we accelerate. In others we shift gears, guided by events and new perspectives.

Taken together, these conversations and many others during this very rich two-day program reflect a fundamental shift—and a giant leap forward—in our current definition of health. When we bring together the latest science and the accumulated wisdom of some of today’s most pioneering thinkers and leaders, we have an incredible opportunity to unlock our collective potential, lead healthier, more productive lives, and create a better world.

Arianna Huffington is the founder and CEO of Thrive Global.

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