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Gleb Tsipursky

Health Care

For Your Health: Say Hello to the CHO

Chief health officers focus companies on health as a basis for productivity, retention, recruitment, risk management

Published: Monday, July 18, 2022 - 12:03

The pandemic has made organizations aware of the need for a new C-suite leader, the CHO, or chief health officer. This has been driven by recognizing the importance of employee health for engagement, productivity, and risk management, along with lowering healthcare insurance costs. At the same time, more employees report mental and physical health challenges.

To keep employees safe, and productivity and morale up, organizations realize that simply offering yoga and other wellness programs through employee assistance programs won’t cut it. This awareness helped create a top executive whose sole focus is on optimizing employee health, both physical and mental, for the sake of company bottom lines.

Thus, say hello to the chief health officer, the new C-suite leader who is both captain and curator of an organization’s health policies, and deals with the employees’ health on all levels.

The need for a CHO

The emergence of the CHO is a response to the pressing need to address gaps in companies’ health management. Although it’s true that there has been a rise in workers’ mental and physical health issues recently, it’s the pandemic that has made CHOs essential.

Although the pandemic has pushed the need for CHOs front and center, the role isn’t completely new. In fact, University of Michigan has had a CHO since 2017, while Google hired one in 2019. However, most companies, including Delta Airlines, Goodyear, and many others, were prompted by the pandemic to establish a CHO. Moreover, CHO communities are being established at the highest level, such as a new cross-industry community at the World Economic Forum.

Meanwhile, executive search firms are noticing this new position. They are sourcing candidates for companies keen on hiring a CHO, particularly in the tech, financial, and manufacturing industries.

The primacy of health

The CHO’s role is a concrete way of codifying and embodying the importance of health. Some companies use the term chief medical officer for the same role, although chief health officer is most often used for health.

The CHO focuses on health as a basis for productivity, retention, recruitment, and risk management, the latter most strongly embodied in best practices for a safe office return. Reporting directly to the CEO, CHOs work with other senior executives to develop and implement strategic policies that take care of employees’ overall health, as well as remote work guidelines and in-office safety. They’re also the executive in charge of mental well-being and helping employees avoid burnout.

As businesses continue to grapple with pandemic-driven challenges and adjust to the changes they bring to the workplace, the CHO’s role will continue to evolve. Aside from focusing on basic health policies for workers—including safety measures such as improving air quality—the CHO’s domain also encompasses building a resilient workforce. This means holistically targeting recurring pain points such as stress, work-life imbalance, and mental well-being.

Organizations can also expect CHOs to do a deep dive on issues that drive mental health problems. These include racism and gender discrimination—fundamentally harmful to employees, and equally bad for business. The CHO will collaborate with the HR department in all of these pursuits.

We should celebrate that companies finally are starting to give mental and physical health the priority they deserve. Now, the question is how many resources the CHO will be able to command to help companies gain a competitive advantage in their most important resource: their people.

Conclusion

The pandemic has forced organizations to reconcile with the need for taking major steps toward employee health and satisfaction. As organizations settle into the new normal of remote work, many have started hiring a new C-suite leader—the chief health officer. The CHO works alongside HR and senior executives to ensure all policies prioritize employees’ mental and physical well-being.

Questions to consider
In the comments section below, please share your answers to the following questions:
• How can your company benefit from hiring a CHO?
• What measures did you take during the pandemic to ensure the health and well-being of your remote working employees?
• What resources will you equip your CHO with to maximize gains?

Discuss

About The Author

Gleb Tsipursky’s picture

Gleb Tsipursky

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky helps quality professionals make the wisest decisions on the future of work as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. He is the best-selling author of seven books, including Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage. His cutting-edge thought leadership has been featured in more than 650 articles in prominent publications such as Harvard Business Review, Fortune, and USA Today. His expertise comes from more than 20 years of consulting for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox and more than 15 years in academia as a cognitive scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill and Ohio State. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, Twitter@gleb_tsipursky, Instagram@dr_gleb_tsipurskyLinkedIn, and register for his Wise Decision Maker Course.

Comments

CHO for Better Health or Less Disease??? Where is joy?

It sounds like CHO is to get the most they can out of the people rather than making work a better experience that also enables higher productivity. As W. Edwards Deming emphasizesd, "People are entitled to joy in work." He also made clear, people should be able to take pride in their work. Instead of promoting these ideas, as the article stated, "The CHO focuses on health as a basis for productivity, retention, recruitment, and risk management, the latter most strongly embodied in best practices for a safe office return"

In other words, how can we get more out of people - what about purpose, meaning and a better experience? People don't just want a safe return - they want a work environment that helps them become better versions of themselves. That better version of themself will also help the organization - make people want to stay and do good work, attract top level workers and make it a good steward for society.

So much of health has been about avoiding, treating or preventing bad things. The medical system is designed to treat disease and infirmity, acutely or for the short term. Health improvement is for the long-term. Treating or avoiding problems does not cause health, health is the presence of physical, mental and social well-being. Health must be enabled by increasing capacity and potential. Prevention cannot do this, environments must be designed for success not just to avoid failure. 

Much of the article suggested higher productivity from less bad health. Less bad health would only achieve what they should be achieving without problems, not more good - only less bad. That aim is far too low, better health should be enabled by increasing skills, abilities and connnections which will automatically increase productivity as it improves health. Also, this better health will be an example that will demonstrate a great offense is the best defense against problems. Also when uncontrolled and unexpected bad things  happen, such as COVID, they will be better prepared to deal due to higher levels of health and well-being.

We must focus on health improvement beyond the absence of disease.

BeWell'r,

Craig M. Becker, PhD

BeWell'r, LLC