We are delighted to be partnering with Peppy for our Wellbeing at Work US Summit on March 7 – March 9. We caught up with their Director of Growth, Michael Swenson to find out why he is so passionate about wellbeing at work and why he’s looking forward to the Summit.
We are thrilled to be working together at our Wellbeing at US Summit in March. Our first question is how are you doing today?:
I could not be better. It’s an honor having the opportunity to speak at the Wellbeing at Work US Summit, and I’ve just gotten off an amazing call with an employer who reached out to Peppy because one of their employees specifically asked for more support for her colleagues going through menopause. It’s so exciting to see that more employees are talking about their personal health and wellness and are
proactively asking their employers to give them more support. Even better, it’s incredible to see that the employer listened to that feedback and took the steps to start a conversation with us to provide additional support to their employees.
What are the main challenges you are facing when it comes to employee wellbeing?
I personally find awareness to be one of the biggest challenges when it comes to employee wellbeing. Not just awareness of what is going on with your own health, but awareness of what support is available to you, and what steps you can take to advocate for your personal wellbeing.
One of the most common responses I get when speaking about women’s health issues like Menopause or Endometriosis is that an employer’s health plan covers them. While that is true to some extent, most employers aren’t aware that the OBGYN their health plan refers their employees to has likely only received 1 hour of training on menopause in their entire career, and that was usually 15-20 years ago.
This means your employees are going to need to get extremely lucky to end up in the office of a doctor who is passionate enough about these topics to have done their own additional training and research on Menopause treatment.
What strategies have you seen developing in the region over the past 6-12 months to address health and wellbeing in the workplace?
Being more proactive and addressing health/wellbeing upstream. Rather than tackling onset diabetes, more and more people are taking steps years earlier to prevent it from happening altogether.
For example, most people don’t know that 50% of women with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) will develop diabetes. Given that 1 in 10 women have PCOS, that’s 5% of the US population that will develop diabetes as a result of their PCOS. Further, women with PCOS are 10 times more likely to be infertile and will face incredibly expensive fertility treatments in order to conceive.
By being more proactive to ensure that these women receive the proper treatment to manage their PCOS, we can dramatically reduce the cost of fertility and diabetes related treatments.
Why is employee wellbeing so important to you personally?
I was fortunate enough to meet the most incredible woman alive back in July of 2015. We got married in 2018 and are fast approaching our 5-year wedding anniversary.
My wife has both Endometriosis and PCOS, but we faced a ridiculously uphill battle for a doctor to diagnose her and provide treatment to actually help her manage symptoms. Those symptoms included debilitating pain, weight control troubles, impossible-to-manage acne, hair loss on her head, and hair growth on her face, among other things. She had to see 5 different doctors who all told her some version of “There is nothing wrong here; this is normal.just take some Advil.”
My wife also happens to be a Pediatric Nurse and moved to a new hospital a couple of years ago. By sheer happenstance, she became friends with one of the doctors at this hospital who went through the exact same things as my wife. She didn’t accept that there was “nothing wrong” and eventually found a doctor who specializes in women’s health, and sent my wife to her knowing exactly what to say.
As a result of that friendship, my wife has been able to manage her Endometriosis and PCOS through the proper hormone treatment. That was, at least, until we switched health insurance and that hormone is no longer covered by insurance. Now, the alternative prescription has seen the return of pain, acne, and unwanted hair growth.
My common sense says that this is absolutely ridiculous for anyone to experience. It is even more ridiculous that millions of women experience this or something even worse.
It should not be this hard for someone to have a conversation about their health with a specialized practitioner. Fortunately, we’re on a mission to make that as easy as texting or facetiming your best friend (you know, if your best friend happened to be a highly qualified medical professional).
What are you most looking forward to about the Summit in March?
I always look forward to meeting new people and listening to what is on the top of their mind. It’s so easy to get tunnel vision and fall into the trap of focusing only on the things you’re doing every day. If you do that, you’re likely to miss out on finding a new passion, finding an alternative solution for the problem you can’t solve, or providing someone else with a solution to the problems they are struggling with.
I can’t wait to hear what everyone is going through and hopefully be able to offer up an idea to help even just one other attendee.
Tell us, what is your vision for the workplace of the future, in terms of employee engagement, health and wellbeing?
At the risk of sounding ridiculously cheesy and utopian, I’d really just like to get to a place where employees feel comfortable enough to talk about anything they’re going through. There are way too many taboo topics in the workplace and way too much judgement that gets thrown around for things people have no control over.
For example, a huge reason that middle-age women aren’t advancing and taking that promotion is due to their Menopause symptoms like brain fog, hot flashes, and urinary incontinence. I don’t know a single person out there who would feel comfortable going up to their boss or a colleague and saying, “I’m not performing as well as I used to because I’m constantly tired, I struggle with my short-term memory, and I’m leaking urine uncontrollably.”
To put it in a more relatable manner, think about if you’ve ever had a new baby or puppy, and the impact the lack of sleep had on your day-to-day life. Now imagine that lasting for 3 to 7 years; would you be operating at your best in work every day? Take it a step further: would you go to your HR department and tell them you aren’t as productive as you used to be and need some help? Or would you, like most people are, be too worried that they would just assume you are lazy and unproductive?
If these things aren’t talked about openly and without judgement, no one will get the help they need to be at their best every day.
What areas do you think employers should be focused on over the next 12-18
Employers really need to create an environment where their employees can talk about their issues and feel comfortable asking for help.
Provide resources that encourage ongoing conversation with a medical professional about both physical and mental health. Don’t let men continue to brush health aside until something happens which requires medical intervention. Don’t let women continue to fall into the trap of speaking with doctors who don’t have ample training or don’t feel comfortable speaking about certain topics.
Furthermore, provide more personalized wellbeing strategies, as healthcare really isn’t one-size-fits-all. With Menopause, we see the full spectrum of symptom severity. As a result, we see a lot of cases where providers do not connect the dots between Menopausal symptoms and Menopause.
For example, there are a lot of providers who don’t know that when estrogen levels drop, it causes muscle and joint aches. They don’t ask about other menopausal symptoms, focus on the muscle and joint aches, and end up sending the patient off for an unnecessary MRI or referring them to an orthopedic surgeon or physical therapist. These are very expensive options that don’t get to the root cause of the issue, which likely could be resolved with alternative treatment plans including hormone treatment.
How has your organization been leading the way?
Peppy was founded on the idea that people go through a number of very challenging life stages, like Menopause for example. We always think about what people really need when they’re going through a major change like this.
We really believe that you need to be able to speak directly to an expert, who completely understands the lifestage you’re going through, and who will put in the time to help you get through it from start to finish.
A lot of healthcare is set up to just treat a symptom and call it a day. Or even worse, to try and sell you an expensive medication or procedure. This is great for everyone except the patient who is actually experiencing the issue.
So Peppy set up an app that allows everyone to have access to an expert Nurse Practitioner, who they can talk to on an ongoing basis via text message or video chat. We also have access to a huge suite of content to help them, and/or their spouse, understand every step of their health journey. Oh, and they don’t pay for any of this—their employer does —because we don’t think finances should stop people
from receiving the quality care they deserve.
At the end of the day, we don’t make money on selling drugs or procedures, so we can always give completely unbiased and personalized advice to every one of our users.
Menopause, PCOS. and Endometriosis are three areas of women’s health that have been underserved for way too long. We believe that in 2023, it’s about time employers support their employees by putting these health struggles at the top of their priority list.
Join Peppy at the Wellbeing at Work US Summit that takes place both live and in-person in New York and Silicon Valley and virtually for the wider region. Further details on the Summit can be found here.