by Dean Witherspoon   Dean's profile on LinkedIn  

Dee Edington, PhD is Founder and Chairman of Edington Associates, Founder of the University of Michigan Health Management Research Center, and author/coauthor of more than 1000 articles, presentations, and several books. He’s just published (with coauthor Jennifer Pitts) Shared Values — Shared Results: Positive Organizational Health as a Win-Win Philosophy. The following Q&A was originally published in Well-Being Practitioner.

Well-Being Practitioner: The introduction to your and Jennifer’s new book notes that it’s about committed, engaged, and visionary leadership. After nearly 40 years as a torchbearer for our industry, why did you feel compelled to write a book about leadership?

Edington: First of all, thanks for the kind words. As a field, I feel we’ve been missing the voice of employees and in some cases even the voice of senior leaders. Visionary leadership comes only when everyone in the organization is encouraged to participate in the conversation as a respected and valued leader: senior leaders and self-leaders. The strength of a vision comes when leaders elevate health and wellness to a higher level in the workplace and workforce. The vision of shared values and shared results between employer and employee is the first step in creating committed, engaged stakeholders. Engagement leads to positive organizational leadership and a win-win philosophy.

Well-Being Practitioner: Chapter 1 includes a Quick Assessment that asks readers to score their organization on leadership, culture, motivation, measurement, and communication. Out of a possible 100, where do you think most organizations land and where should we be aiming to achieve the win-win you talk about in the book?

Edington: Our first objective and purpose of the Quick Assessment is to awaken and encourage readers to think along with us about key questions to evaluate their organization’s or work unit’s strengths, as well as their thoughts about themselves. We suggest readers assess their responses in each area (pillar) somewhat independently of other areas. When we calculate a total score, it ranges from 50 to 80. However, we discourage anyone hanging their hat on the total score since it often hides the strength of individual pillars, which is what we want readers thinking about: Leverage your strengths. A second objective is to encourage readers to consider how their organization demonstrates strengths, so all stakeholders or even individuals outside the organization recognize their commitment and engagement. This self-analysis leads the reader into an open mind about concepts in the book.

Well-Being Practitioner: Toward the end of the book you introduce Value of Caring (VOC). Why do you think VOC will replace the historic emphasis on ROI and the more recent move toward VOI (Value of Investment) in wellness?

Edington: Assuming an organization can calculate valid ROIs and VOIs, there will always be a place for those metrics. We don’t object to the indicators if the calculations are valid. A common question on satisfaction or engagement surveys is “Do you think your organization cares about you?” The response, combined with like-minded questions, is often used to indicate future retention of key employees. In addition to this question, we ask about the reverse direction of caring: “Do you feel this organization is a best place to work?” and “Do you feel working for this organization is good for your health and wellness?” We also assess the senior leaders’ view by asking, “Do employees care about the organization?” Surveys are typically the method of choice although we recommend supplementing them with employee discussion groups. Surveys ask what the author is interested in, while discussion groups allow participants to drive the conversation.

VOC could be considered a humanistic measure of the workplace and workforce. Would it not be great if the annual report stated a company’s financial status immediately followed by a section on people status — elevating the concern for employees to the level of financial metrics?

Well-Being Practitioner: You’ve probably logged more miles in the air and spent more time in airports than anyone in wellness. How do you keep yourself healthy with all of that travel?

Edington: When the door shuts on the aircraft, I feel a sense of relaxation… sort of like the Willie Nelson song On the Road Again. Much of the world will be shut out for hours (unless I’m next to an overly friendly, talkative passenger, which is when the ear phones come out). During flights I often get up and walk the aisles, and in meetings I’ll walk to or stand in the back of the room. I always do stretches early each morning and go for a walk sometime during the day. I practice portion control. And I give full concentration and focus during others’ talks. Taking advantage of breaks in the agenda to network with colleagues helps me see every person as a learning opportunity. Although I’m physically tired upon arriving home, I find myself rejuvenated and as healthy as or even healthier than when I left.

Well-Being Practitioner: How would your advice in terms of coursework to a college freshman interested in worksite wellness differ today from say 1990?

Edington: First, let me talk about our history. The early founders projected a holistic view of health and wellness. However, in the late ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s the wellness programs were captured, challenged, and eventually focused on chronic disease prevention including precursors to heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions. In addition, the rapid escalation in healthcare costs brought organizations into the mix to prevent disease and moderate costs. We were great soldiers and diverted from our holistic goal to meet the country’s critical needs. We met the challenges by implementing behavioral change programs related to the Framingham risk factors (primarily discovered in the ’50s).

In that environment of the ’90s I recommended human behavior courses — psychology, kinesiology, sociology, communication, impact of behaviors on individual health, and others applicable for a general liberal arts education. The objective was to prepare them to understand the why, what, and how of behavior change strategy.

In 2016, I believe the field is returning to our core roots of wellness and providing holistic wellness programs, which could include some of the defined well-being programs. So today I’d recommend freshmen to prepare for a fast changing, continuous learning society by acquiring curiosity about organizational and positive psychology, kinesiology, organizational behavior in business schools, sociology, cooperative and collaborative decision making, and the professional development courses we recommended in the ’90s. The world is getting more complex, and we must view it from many perspectives.

Well-Being Practitioner: We’re fond of saying “Dee Edington is the closest thing we have to a rock star in health promotion.” After almost 4 decades in the field, what do you still want to accomplish, and is Shared Values Shared Results your version of a greatest hits album?

Edington: I believe in the total scope of health and that health and wellness are yet to be fully discovered. I consider Zero Trends my capstone book in relation to the financial business case and identifying workplace and workforce levers that allow wellness programs to be successful. Now, 7 years later, I consider Shared Values — Shared Results the foundational book to bring wellness back to its holistic roots by levering the functions of pillars in building a strategic, systematic, systemic, and sustainable wellness initiative. In 2016 the expanded initiative needs wellness programs and several well-being programs to implement positive organization health as a win-win philosophy.

We are learning more about health, illness, and wellness nearly every day. In the 20th century illness received the most attention, especially from the medical field. As the concept of prevention grew, it provided the transition to the wellness side. Prevention and risk reduction are the parts of wellness that received the most attention during the past 40 years. Once we recognize the contribution of ancient philosophers plus early 21st century discoveries in wellness, psychology, business, kinesiology, sociology, architecture, and other disciplines, we get a more complete picture of human and organization potential.

I have 2 more “songs” to add to the 2009 and 2016 greatest hits, and I expect the final capstone album to be out by 2023.


# Rick Dielman 2016-03-15 21:36
Dr. Eddington,

It was an honor to have worked with you in the early 2000s on the integration of EAP & wellness initiatives into an innovative HRA that also measured psychological dimensions and employer culture and climate. I'm delighted to read this article to see you are continuing your great work, and look forward to reading your book.


Rick Dielman
Alliance Work Partners
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