How a Biking Accident Made Aetna President Karen Lynch Rethink Wellness

Aetna president Karen Lynch was biking in the Netherlands this summer when she got into an accident, breaking her hip, her hand, and suffering trauma to her ribs.

The accident made Lynch take stock of “life in general”—but also of the importance of health, wellness, and activity in her life.

“My recovery was pretty rapid because I was in good shape,” Lynch said at Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Tuesday. “It made me step back and realize the importance of staying healthy and being healthy in recovery.”

Lynch shared her recent setback at a breakfast discussion of wellness that also featured Thinx CEO Maria Molland, Beautycounter founder and CEO Gregg Renfrew, and Chobani senior vice president for people Grace Zuncic.

Lynch turned to yoga and meditation to get through her physical recovery this summer—activities that have grown in popularity as corporate wellness offerings. Chobani, Zuncic said, has started offering meditation and breathing coaching for its staff, and tries to offer the same wellness benefits to hourly workers on the manufacturing line as to corporate employees.

“Whether you’re a mid-sized or large company, you have to check the box—we’re doing telemedicine, we got flu shots, wellness subsidies,” Zuncic said. “You can also pick opportunities to find something new and see if that can be differentiating for your business.”

Beautycounter, a multi-level marketing brand focused on safety in beauty and skincare, emphasizes organic food and products for its employees, Renfrew said. The company also offered a nontraditional benefit: giving employees the day off to vote on Election Day.

Period underwear company Thinx went through a high-profile period of sexual harassment and workplace mistreatment allegations before Molland took over as CEO from founder Miki Agrawal. As a result, Molland says she thought carefully about making the office a safe place for employees to come forward with such claims and considers that to be a key part of workplace health. Thinx had also faced criticism over nonexistent maternity leave policies and its lack of a human resources department, so Molland said she made it a priority to improve Thinx’s traditional benefits, including paid leave and retirement benefits.

The panelists agreed that workplace wellness now means much more than yoga classes. It includes everything from financial opportunities, workplace safety, and civic engagement.

Still, traditional corporate wellness programs aren’t obsolete, Lynch says—they just face obstacles.

“For the targeted people that actually do use them, we see improved health and improved productivity,” Lynch said. “What is challenging are the engagement rates.”

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