How Aetna's Bertolini embraces mindfulness to improve company culture

Aetna CEO Mark BertoliniSince Mark Bertolini became CEO of Aetna in 2010, he has made several unconventional moves, offering free yoga and meditation classes and raising the incomes of Aetna's lowest-paid employees by as much as 33 percent. The changes have transformed Aetna into one of the country's most progressive companies, with employees who are less stressed and more productive--all while increasing the company's stock threefold, the New York Times reported.

More than 13,000 of Aetna's 50,000 employees have participated in the yoga and meditation classes. Those employees have reported an average 28 percent reduction in stress, a 20 percent improvement in sleep quality and a 19 percent decrease in pain. Plus, they're more effective at work, gaining an average of 62 minutes per week of productivity. That's worth about $3,000 per employee per year.

"We have this groundswell inside the company of people wanting to take the classes," Bertolini said. "It's been pretty magical."

What's more, Aetna's healthcare costs decreased in 2012 after it implemented the yoga and meditation classes. Paid medical claims per employee dropped by more than 7 percent, which saved the company about $9 million.

Although healthcare costs increased by almost 6 percent in 2013, they have stayed about 3 percent lower than they were before Bertolini introduced the yoga and meditation classes.

Bertolini doesn't think yoga and meditation alone have decreased Aetna's healthcare costs, since Aetna was simultaneously ramping up other wellness initiatives, including weight loss programs and new health screenings. But he still thinks yoga and meditation have been impactful.

"It was a culmination of a set of programs that led to a steady decrease in healthcare costs," Bertolini said. "I wouldn't say it's all just yoga and mindfulness, but they helped."

Bertolini's interest in yoga and meditation is personal in nature, but also reflects a growing nationwide interest. More than 21 million people now practice yoga, up from 10.5 million 10 years ago. Almost as many people also meditate, the Times noted.

Bertolini is also leading Aetna in taking an "infrastructure investment in the quality of our employees" to help existing workers increase their performance and skills, Bertolini said when talking about his salary increase announcement, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the New York Times article