How Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini's science project reduces employee stress

Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, is transforming the culture of the Hartford, Conn.-based health insurance giant by offering yoga and meditation, according to an article in The New York Times, adapted from David Gelles' book "Mindful Work: How Mindful Meditation is Changing Business From the Inside Out."

After a severe skiing accident, yoga and meditation helped Mr. Bertolini get back to work. Impressed by the potential of mindfulness, he launched an experiment in 2012 in conjunction with Duke University's Integrative Medicine Program, according to the report.

A group of 239 volunteer employees were split into three groups: one that took yoga, one that took meditation classes and one control group. The employees who took yoga and meditation self-reported lower levels of stress and fewer issues sleeping. Researchers also reported decreased levels of heart rate variability and decreased levels of cortisol in the participants, according to the report.

Now Mr. Bertolini offers the classes — without incentives — to all employees and to company clients. The article highlights the following findings.

  • Roughly 25 percent of Aetna employees have participated in yoga classes.
  • Participants report a 28 percent reduction in stress on average.
  • Participants report 20 percent better sleep.
  • Participants report 19 percent less pain.
  • Participants gained 62 minutes of productivity a week, which Aetna says is the equivalent of $3,000 per year for the company.
  • Medical claims per employee went down 7.3 percent in 2012, when the experiment was first implemented.
  • Costs for medical care increased in 2013, but remained 3 percent below pre-yoga and meditation costs.

While the difference is not entirely attributable to yoga and meditation, Mr. Bertolini believes they are likely accountable for part of the change, according to the report.


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