The pandemic has led to an undeniable awareness of the need for a new C-suite leader, the CHO or the Chief Health Officer. This has been driven by the recognition of the importance of employee health for engagement, productivity, and risk management, along with lowering healthcare insurance costs. At the same time, more and more employees are reporting growing mental and physical health challenges in these troubled times.
In the race to keep employees safe while keeping productivity and morale up, organizations are realizing that simply offering yoga and other wellness programs through Employee Assistance Programs won’t cut it. This awareness ushered in the need for a top executive whose sole focus is on optimizing employee health, 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. The CHO is in charge of dealing with the health of employees, both physical and mental.
The Need for a CHO Is at the Heart of Pandemic-Stricken Organizations
The emergence of the CHO is a response to the pressing need to address gaps in companies’ health management. While it is true that there has been a rise in workers’ mental and physical health issues in recent years, it is the pandemic that made chief health officers essential.
Although the pandemic has pushed the need for CHOs front and center, the role isn’t completely a new one. In fact, U of Michigan has had a CHO since 2017 while Google hired one in 2019. However, most companies were prompted by the pandemic to establish a CHO, such as Delta Airlines, Goodyear, and many others. Moreover, communities of CHOs 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 that this is a new office. They have started sourcing for candidates for companies keen on hiring a CHO, particularly in the tech, financial, and manufacturing industries.
The Primacy of Health
The development of the role is a very concrete way of codifying and embodying the importance of health. Some use the term chief medical officer for the same role, although chief health officer is the main one being used for health.
The CHO puts a true focus on health as a basis for productivity, retention, recruitment, and risk management, the latter most strongly embodied by using 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 seek to adjust to the changes it brings 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 will also encompass 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 driving 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 companies finally starting to give mental and physical health the priority it deserves. Now, the question is how many resources will the CHO be able to command to help companies gain a competitive advantage in their most important resource: their people.
The pandemic has forced organizations to reconcile with the need for taking major steps towards 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 the HR and other senior executives ensuring all policies prioritize the mental and physical wellbeing of employees.
Written by Dr. Gleb Tsipursky.
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