AI, Tunneling, and Mt. Kilimanjaro: A Report from the HERO Forum 

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Nov 08 2018

If you’d like to get in on the latest thinking in workforce well-being, here’s my highly compact take on this year’s HERO Forum, an international gathering of employers, well-being practitioners, vendors, and well-being thought leaders. It was an exhilarating and invigorating experience, beginning with a keynote in which Jack Groppel and Jennifer Bruno of Johnson & Johnson shared the self-discovery journeys they and their families experienced while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and asking the audience, “What’s your mountain”?

The theme of the conference was “From the C-Suite to the Shop Floor: Making the Workplace Work Well for Everyone.” Speakers took on the topics of engagement, mindfulness and purpose, measurement and evaluation – including a panel discussion with a co-author of the controversial report on the year-one results of the University of Illinois wellness program (you can read a separate post on that here).

Preparing for the impacts on the future workplace as influenced by AI, robotics and technology was addressed by Vic Stecher, founder of a company that helps people and companies identify their purpose, and Kate O’Neill, a technology humanist and futurist. Workers of the future will need to co-exist with technology, and it’s important that they view technology as an enhancer-facilitator of their work if they are to continue to find meaning in the workplace of the future.

Social determinants of health and well-being was another hot topic. Bruce Sherman of Case Western Reserve University shared results of his research that are aligned with the phenomenon of “tunneling” explored by Eldar Shafir and Sendhil Mullainathan in their 2013 book, Scarcity. Tunneling describes how people who experience some form of scarcity, such as financial scarcity associated with low wages, are often so narrowly focused on their basic needs – think of Maslow’s hierarchy – that they ignore and don’t engage in actions that address their health and well-being. As well, low wage workers have lower compliance with preventive care, and avoid participating in well-being activities even when substantial financial incentives are offered.

Employers are always interested in measuring health and well-being initiative success. Mercer’s Dr. Kristin Parker and Mercer client Merck provided examples of executive dashboards to assess and report on the Value on Investment (VOI) of Merck’s well-being initiative, which included metrics on employee engagement in well-being, impact on disability costs, and associations with business success metrics. I also did a presentation with our client Accenture, on an analysis of persistent engagement in the Accenture Active program.

By now, you’re probably wishing you would have been at the Forum yourself. Good news, the presentation slides and session recordings are available for a fee through a vendor arranged by HERO ( It’s the next best thing to being there!

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