Blog Post

Interview with AT&T—Pledging a commitment to employee health

Interview with AT&T—Pledging a commitment to employee health

November 2, 2017 – Author: Ben Jackson: Assistant Vice-President Benefits, AT&T

In January 2017, AT&T signed the 80% by 2018 pledge, becoming one of the largest organizations to make a commitment to advancing our shared goal to regularly screen 80% of adults 50 or over by 2018. Read on to learn more about what AT&T is doing to support the health of its employees.

Ben Jackson AT&T

Ben Jackson delivers leading edge healthcare experiences and operations for almost one million active and retired employees and their family members.

Previously, Ben was Director of Savings Plan Operations overseeing the day-to-day operations of the company’s 401(k) plans and the $36B of plan assets. Ben introduced Your Money Matters, a communication program focused on improving the financial skills of AT&T employees. 

He holds a bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems from the University of Georgia. In 2015, Ben was recognized as a Workforce Game Changer by Human Capital Media.

Ben lives in Dallas, TX with his wife Sarah and their son. He is actively involved with the Boys and Girls Club of Dallas where he serves on the Board of Directors.

Hi, Ben! We’re excited to talk with you about AT&T’s colorectal cancer screening efforts on the 80% by 2018 Blog. Can you tell us a little about AT&T?

AT&T is the world’s largest communications company by revenue and one of the world’s largest providers of pay TV. Our mission is to connect people with their world everywhere they live, work and play – and do it better than anyone else!

AT&T provides access to healthcare to almost one million employees, retirees and their family members. Your Health Matters is the name of AT&T’s health and well-being program. We want to empower our employees to take ownership of their personal pursuit toward total well-being. Nothing matters more than our health, and we place a special emphasis on giving our employees tools to look after theirs.

In alignment with 80% by 2018 as a nationwide initiative, our focus for increasing colorectal cancer screening rates is US based, but we plan to evaluate ways to expand efforts globally in the coming years.

Screening for colon cancer is an important topic for us as approximately 33% of our U.S. based workforce is 50 years or older. When considering spouses of employees, the opportunity to create awareness about screening is even greater.

When and why did AT&T decide to focus on increasing colorectal cancer screening among employees?

Preventive care is a key population health category for us. We promote the importance of annual preventive care visits and encourage employees to know their numbers by obtaining baseline biometric values, such as blood pressure and cholesterol, and completing a health questionnaire. We also routinely post preventive care blogs on “Your Health Matters” tSpace, our internal wellness social media site, about the importance of preventive screenings and annual wellness visits.

We’ve found that real stories about real employees resonate with colleagues. In 2014, we produced and internally distributed a short cancer awareness video featuring several AT&T employees who shared their personal stories as a cancer survivor or as a caretaker of a family member with cancer. Various forms of cancer were highlighted including the colon cancer survivor story of one of AT&T’s former senior leaders, Chief Diversity Officer Cynthia (Cynt) Marshall, who retired earlier this year.

Blogs and videos can be effective, but we are continually looking for innovative ways to expand our reach, engagement and impact.

In early 2016, our benefits team was approached by one of AT&T’s Employee Resource Groups, “Professionals 50 & Forward” suggesting a partnership initiative to help educate employees about colon cancer awareness and screening. Members of the Dallas office of the American Cancer Society (ACS) had recently hosted an information session for various AT&T employee resource group leaders regarding volunteer opportunities and ACS had also met with our benefits team to overview available cancer workplace solutions. All three entities decided to join forces to plan a live, one-hour webcast dedicated to educating and informing employees about the importance of colon cancer screening. Because screening not only detects cancer early, but can also prevent it, we wanted to motivate employees to be proactive. Our goal was to discuss the topic in a transparent and approachable manner, empowering employees to understand the facts and take action for themselves or a family member.

What role did leadership play in making this initiative a priority?

Our leadership have been very supportive of our efforts to educate employees about colon cancer screening, including AT&T joining 80% by 2018.

As we were developing the format for the 2016 webcast, we decided on a moderated panel discussion featuring three unique perspectives. We proactively selected panelists who also held leadership roles in their respective areas. We included a survivor (Cynt Marshall, then-SVP HR and Chief Diversity Officer for AT&T) and a health expert (Richard Wender, MD, NCCRT Chair and Chief Cancer Control Officer, ACS). I rounded out the panel as our benefits and company representative. Charles Bassett, our moderator, is a public relations manager in our corporate communications group and is recognized internally from his role co-hosting, “Around the Globe”, a weekly AT&T internal news broadcast. During the webcast, Charles publicly shared that he would soon be age-eligible for screening.  In a show of accountability, Charles committed to getting his screening done.

Were you able to establish a baseline screening rate of your employees?

For evaluation of our screening rate, we are focusing on all age-eligible employees and spouses (50-75 years). For our communications campaigns that promote screening, we will continue to message all employees. Although many of our employees are not yet age-eligible for screening, we hope they will share information with family members and friends who need to get screened.

The baseline screening rate is very important as it’s an historical representation for the path forward, but establishing the rate can be very challenging. Understanding which data to include and which repositories to leverage is important as well as defining the right population and the right approach. Third party sources to consider include medical carriers, your eligibility and enrollment provider and, if available, a data warehouse.

For AT&T, we’ve established parameters based on covered screening methods and associated guidelines. Based on a five-year lookback rate, the colorectal cancer screening rate is defined as the number of individuals, 50 to 75 years, who completed an approved screening method, expressed as a percentage of the total number of individuals 50 to 75 years. Colorectal cancer screening tests include the following:

  • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) during the measurement year
  • Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) during the measurement year
  • Stool DNA test within the measurement year or previous two years
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy during the measurement year or within the previous four years
  • CT colonography during the measurement year or within the previous four years
  • Colonoscopy during the measurement year or within the previous nine years

While the guideline for screening by colonoscopy is every ten years, we are only looking back five years so our rate is not accounting for colonoscopies completed prior to the beginning of the analytic window which could potentially understate our overall screening rate. Our third party data warehouse has considered this and suggested that any understatement should be minimal.

When calculating the rate, the data warehouse excluded any data reflecting total colectomy or diagnosis of colorectal cancer any time prior to or during the measurement period as well as hospice services during the measurement year.

Comparing aggregate level screening rates from April 2016 to April 2017 we have observed an increase of six percentage points in our overall screening rate (from 43% to 49%). Looking specifically at our management population, the screening rate is slightly higher, 53% as of April 2017, up from 47% last year.

For future campaigns, in addition to communications targeting our general population, we also plan to take into consideration alternative tactics and channels for messaging employees to accommodate various job types and work environments.

Going forward, we plan to review the screening rate on a quarterly basis through 2018 looking for increased engagement that may correlate with semiannual communication campaigns.

What has been your approach to promoting colorectal cancer screening for employees? 

In November of 2016, in partnership with ACS and AT&T’s Professionals 50 & Forward Employee Resource Group, we hosted “Shining the Light: A Conversation about Colon Cancer” webcast and panel discussion broadcast live from our headquarters location in Dallas. Discussion topics included prevention guidelines, screening options, risk factors and common myths. We also included time for Q&A. The webcast was recorded and made available for replay.

Leading up to the webcast, there were two days of educational outreach at our headquarters location which enabled employees to visit an educational walk-through colon, and speak one-on-one with oncology nurses from UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and Moncrief Cancer Institute in Ft. Worth (Texas). Earlier this year, ACS produced a short video congratulating AT&T for joining 80% by 2018 which we shared with our employees in conjunction with National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March; we also socialized a link to the webcast replay to reinforce the importance of prevention and early detection through screening.

In addition to internal education efforts in March within the company, AT&T extended messaging to our local community as Cynt participated alongside Dr. Durado Brooks, ACS’s vice president of cancer control interventions, in a radio interview for I Heart Media’s public affairs program.  The topics were colorectal cancer awareness and workplace wellness. The 30-minute segment was broadcast multiple times across a handful of top-ranked radio stations across the Dallas/Ft. Worth metro area. While we are not able to quantify the impact of the radio interview in terms of people screened, we are confident the message resonated and inspired action.

Other than the impressive increase in your screening rates, have you seen other successes? How do you plan to measure success?

Including the attendees from the November broadcast and subsequent replays, 2,200 employees have viewed the panel discussion. More than 35 questions were submitted during the event that we were not able to address during the Q&A segment. We collaborated with our medical carriers and ACS to collect responses which we later posted to the Your Health Matters tSpace platform.

Numerous employees commented favorably about the webcast and many candidly shared their personal experience with colorectal cancer, encouraging others to make screening a priority.

To capture the attention of as many employees as possible, we deploy a multichannel communications strategy for all our health and well-being campaigns – things like elevator and digital signage, tSpace blogs and infographics, blurbs in our internal HR newsletter, “The Resource”, and a mention in the “Around the Globe” newscast.

During the March campaign to promote 80% by 2018, Charles (Bassett) announced during an “Around the Globe” newscast that he had followed through on his promise of getting screened. He shared highlights of “screening day” and directed employees to resources. More than 24,000 employees viewed the segment.

27,000 views/clicks, 420 likes and 80 comments were captured because of the March campaign. We are considering ways to highlight personal testimonials employees shared in response to last year’s webcast and in March during National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

Do you have any final tips for our readers that are working to achieve 80% by 2018 in the workplace?

Others who have joined 80% by 2018 would likely agree this is a bold mission that requires bold action!

We feel strongly that including an employee story in the message is a best practice. Universally, our health is one thing at work that all employees have in common. So, hearing the firsthand account of an employee’s direct experience with a health issue or condition can be both compelling and inspiring. Seeing someone you recognize as a leader or colleague at work brings the message to life.

Messaging impacts family members too – we want our employees to take the information they’ve learned home to share with family and friends.

In addition to leveraging Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March to promote screening, also consider rolling out a campaign during annual enrollment season. This is typically the time of year when many employees complete an annual wellness visit so it is a great time for employees to also consider age-eligible screenings.

Consider increased collaboration with medical carriers to align timing of educational and targeted outreach efforts.

Leverage all available channels for socializing your messaging, including internal ambassadors like employee resource groups and health champions. At AT&T, we are considering variations of all these tactics as we develop future communication campaigns.

We have significant opportunity to increase our screening rate, but we are committed to continuing the dialogue about this very important topic with our employees.

Thank you for sharing your story with us! We look forward to hearing more about AT&T’s progress in the future.


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