The 4-Hour Workweek Approach to Employee Healthcare 

“The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss has spent years on the New York Times bestseller list by selling a provocative idea—maybe we’re all working too hard? 

One of the most intriguing concepts covered by Ferris in the book is the effectiveness of combining the Pareto principle with Parkinson’s law.  

You probably already know the Pareto principle as the 80/20 rule. In other words, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In healthcare, we often think of this in terms of 20% of the patients consuming 80% of the dollars.  

Parkinson’s law—work expands to fill the time available for its completion—was more unknown to me in name. I think we all understand this in practice, though. Parkinson’s law speaks to the power of a deadline. Distant deadline, little urgency. Near deadline, great urgency.  

Bringing this together, to be ultra-efficient, do high-leverage work (Pareto) with urgency (Parkinson’s).  

What does this mean in employee healthcare? 

Let’s look to a Workforce Magazine article entitled, “4 Myths of Health Care Cost Reduction”. From CEO and author Leslie Michelson: 

“If you want to address the cost bar, what  you need to do is sweep in a supportive way to help people who are going to become expensive cases, identify the top experts for their care, educate them about the treatment options available, and provide a coordinated, integrated support system to channel them to the best doctors and to ensure they’re getting the care they need.” 

Clearly, Mr. Michelson understands what we’re talking about here.  

So what should you do if you’re looking to try a new program with your employees for 2020 (or recommend one to a client)? Your options: 

  • Target short-term impact, focused population (e.g., programs for coordinated, navigated care in high cost areas, such as surgery or cancer) 
  • Target short-term impact, broad population (e.g., traditional utilization management) 
  • Target long-term impact, focused population (e.g., traditional disease management) 
  • Target long-term impact, broad population (e.g., wellness programs) 

Pareto + Parkinson’s = Empower your employees to better navigate high cost, consequential times in their healthcare journey. Focus on areas like surgery. Monitor the short-term results, adjust where necessary and expand the principles to other high-leverage areas. 

Time to get back to work. There just might be less waiting for you than you thought.  

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