The Chief Wellness Officer’s Impact on Healthcare Companies

By Devin Partida, Editor-in-Chief,
LinkedIn: Devin Partida
X: @rehackmagazine

Many perceive healthcare workers as heroes without capes — selfless specialists who have devoted their lives to caring for others. However, they also need and deserve special care to manage their physical, mental and emotional well-being. Chief wellness officers (CWOs) are gaining prominence among healthcare companies, improving employee well-being through wellness initiatives, mentorship and consulting. Here’s how this position positively impacts healthcare organizations.

The Role of the Chief Wellness Officer

A CWO creates a healthier, happier workplace for healthcare professionals. They prioritize and support employee well-being on an individual, team and systemwide level consistent with human resources. In 2017, Stanford Medicine was the first large-scale organization to hire a CWO. Another 20 healthcare companies followed suit in the years after. Employee well-being is critical in healthcare, especially since COVID-19. Leaders have recognized their moral responsibility in caring for workers while boosting their company’s reputation. Likewise, employee burnout significantly impacts the level of care provided to patients. CWOs ensure teams are well-tended for optimal job performance, retention and engagement.

Burnout in the Medical Field After COVID-19

Although burnout was common before the pandemic, COVID-19 was the last straw for many healthcare workers. According to one study, the COVID-19 burnout rate was 44% — the highest among physicians and nurses at 35.2% and 25.7%, respectively. The work overload left 41% of nurses planning to exit — a whopping 28.7% of healthcare employees overall.

Employees at healthcare organizations faced many strains during the pandemic. They risked their own lives to treat patients, combatted misinformation and eroding trust in medical science, endured hostility and threats from angry patients, and put off receiving care themselves for two years. The impacts were so dire experts anticipate a shortage of 3 million low-wage healthcare workers in the next three years. This segment earned only $13.56 per hour in 2020, with an annual income of $20,200. About 50% of Black and Hispanic female workers made less than $15. Many healthcare workers must live below their means to get by and cover the essentials, while some must rely on financial assistance. The fear of being in financial straits has placed additional undue stress on them.

Benefits of Having a Chief Wellness Officer

Companies in the healthcare industry should consider appointing a CWO if they have not done so already. Here are four benefits of hiring a CWO to care for employees’ physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Create Health and Welfare Programs for Employees

CWOs develop various health and welfare initiatives for employees to participate in. For example, Stanford Medicine’s CWO, Dr. Tait Shanefelt, concentrates on creating programs for distressed employees, recognizing the importance of viewing physicians as human beings rather than heroes.

Deliver Mental Health Support

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22% of healthcare workers experience depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. CWOs offer mental health support to ensure employees are of sound mind to perform their work. They might also utilize remote mental health counseling technologies to improve accessibility to therapy and treatment.

Provide Mentorship and Leadership

A CWO will work alongside employees to ensure they have the appropriate tools and resources to care for themselves. However, they also take on leadership roles. CWOs pass along employees’ health concerns and needs to organizational leadership, strategize actions to improve the system and help drive results.

Enhance Diversity, Equality and Inclusion

Healthcare companies have seen improvements in diversity — for instance, there’s been a 20% increase in racial and ethnic groups in nursing. However, the number is still well behind the 37% of the racially diverse U.S. population. CWOs align their well-being efforts with a company’s diversity, equality and inclusion policy, ensuring everyone has equal access to wellness resources.

Improve Employee Well-Being With a Chief Wellness Officer

Healthcare companies must prioritize their employees’ wellness. A CWO will implement employee wellness programs and initiatives, ultimately reducing burnout and improving job performance and retention. As such, opening a CWO position would be in an organization’s best interest.