By 2030, India is expected to lose17.9 million years of productivelives due to cardio-vascular diseasein the age group of 35 to 64 years
Health is not merely the prevention of disease but a holistic state of physical, mental, and spiritual well-being―World Health Organization.
People Matters, in collaboration with Quest Diagnostics, conducted a series of events in Gurgaon, Bangalore, and Mumbai to understand and share knowledge about corporate India's approach toward the topic of health and wellness. Participated by senior HR professionals in over 60 organizations, the knowledge sharing sessions threw some startling revelations on myths and misconceptions that shape common thinking and perceptions about organizational and individual health and wellness. The sessions were chaired by Dr. P.K. Menon, Senior Medical Director, at Quest Diagnostics and Ester Martinez, Founder and Managing Editor, at People Matters.
Employee health and wellness often falls off the grid of priorities in an organizational strategic plan. HR lacks demonstrable ROI to project the importance to the management while employees lack awareness around the potential health risks posed by their immediate external environment and their own internal genetic build, and ultimately the effects that absence of health can have on productivity, motivation, and engagement. Much like compensation, many remark that health and wellness are actually negative engagement drivers― employees are never happy with the amount of money that the organization invests on them. Most organizations grapple with the question of how, and to what extent, health and wellness affect employee productivity and efficiency metrics. Also, which metrics do investments in health and wellness really affect― attraction, engagement, retention, satisfaction, or productivity. Compounding the problem of ignorance, there are several myths and perceptions surrounding health and wellness. Some of the common myths include―
Cardio-vascular diseases and Diabetes only affect people in older age groups
Only men are at risk of chronic diseases like Diabetes and cardio-vascular disease
Absence of physical symptoms indicates absence of disease
Health check-ups are difficult and time consuming
Organizations and business leaders are unsure about the business impact of health and wellness on organizational cost and productivity. Quest Diagnostics conducted an analysis of health patterns among a sample size of 3500 people among 17 MNCs in 22 major cities in India and the results were no less striking than they were revealing. The analysis reveals that productivity losses cost 400% more than treating and managing chronic diseases and 2% of capital spent on workforce is lost to disability and absenteeism arising out of chronic diseases. As an indicator of how health and wellness will affect organizations in the future, the analysis presents a nerve-rattling statistic. By 2030, India is expected to lose 17.9 million years of productive lives due to cardio-vascular disease in the age group of 35 to 64 years. Chronic stress related diseases among the Indian corporate workforce are steadily on the rise. 80% of the Indian corporate workforce constitutes individuals below the age group of 40 who are unaware of the health risks associated with their occupation. A common myth stems from the natural predisposition to think that absence of symptoms indicates absence of disease. For example while there are no immediate physiological indicators of impending health risks, one in four individuals from among the Indian corporate workforce are at risk of developing diabetes, and while risk goes up significantly with age, almost one in five individuals below 30 are at risk. Almost 50% of the corporate population below 40 is at risk of developing diabetes and more than 66% is at risk of developing cardiac problems. Perhaps the most ironic finding from the study pertains to health risk perceptions about women. Classical wisdom suggests that women are not at risk of developing cardiac problems primarily due to their hormonal status. The analysis, however, reveals a worrisome fact― 56% of women in the workforce are at risk of developing cardiac problems.
These statistics mean that organizations can no longer disregard the importance of health and wellness. The premiums on health insurance are trending north and organizations have no hold on the existing risks. Namrata Gill, General Manager HR, at Mahindra & Mahindra, remarks, “Compared to most other HR initiatives, health and wellness is far more important than most other HR priorities. It is important for the workforce to know that the organization cares about their well-being.”
Many HR leaders believe that the responsibility of an organization extends beyond ensuring physical well-being, it is also equally important to ensure the mental well-being of the workforce. On the flip side, industry leaders believe that it is also an individual’s responsibility to partake a role in ensuring his/her physical and mental well-being. While the debate continues around how much of health and wellness is an organizational responsibility and how much an individual’s responsibility, there is no question about the fact that ignoring the risks will result in productivity losses, employer brand damage, and escalating workforce costs. It is hard to quantify the impact of health and wellness on attraction, retention, productivity, and engagement, but HR leaders do acknowledge that they have a significant impact on the workforce.
As organizations gradually realize the importance of health and wellness, they face certain psychological, demographic, and cultural challenges while rolling out health and wellness programs. Four key organizational challenges inhibit the adoption of health and wellness programs.
(1) Look up, I’m serious!!! As HR leaders remarked in the sessions, “it is extremely difficult to engage employees’ attention toward the topic of health and fitness.
(2) What I don’t know, doesn’t affect me. Most organizations and employees are completely oblivious of the health risks typically associated with corporate occupations.
(3) Damm! The genes are against me. Unfavorable genetic factors make it even more important for organizations and individuals in India to provision health and wellness as part of an organizational strategy.
(4) My health― whose job? Most health and wellness programs in organizations are driven by a management mandate and employees expect that the accountability lies with the employer.
If there is a problem, there is a solution
Many progressive organizations have, however, found great ways to drive health and wellness among the workforce. Four key behaviors that drive the workforce’s involvement in health and wellness are as follows.
Ah! There’s something in it for me. Organizations have realized that providing incentives is a great way to engrain a health culture inside the organization. Microland India Ltd. identified that employees react favorably to health and wellness initiatives through tactful and inventive positioning. As Anil Prem Dsouza, Head of Shared Services at Microland remarks, “When we rolled out health checks or education sessions in our organizations, we discovered that participation spikes favorably when employees have an actual and tangible physical output, such as a blood report, that they can take back to their desks.”
Boss, continue to inspire. As with most unprecedented initiatives, senior leadership drives inspiration and participation. Shreya Sinha, Manager C&B at Wipro recalled, “After a bout of illness, one of the senior leaders at Wipro managing a large team decided to take brisk afternoon walks. He encouraged his team to accompany him and over a period of time, the daily ‘Walkathon’ caught the fancy of others in the organization and we started noticing an exponential increase in participation from different teams, even different offices.”
Since it’s in the boardroom, it’s got to be important. Organizations that have support from the corporate center are more successful in propagating health and wellness within the organization. Pragya Agarwal, Human Resources Manager, at United Breweries highlights, “The President of our organization enrolled himself in the office gymnasium and started logging his attendance regularly. He started tracking participation trends and presenting reports in monthly management meetings with head of departments. As a consequence, the frequency of department heads having conversations about overall health increased significantly. Interesting to note is that, some HODs even started including health as a metric to measure overall department performance.”
We are Gen Y, listen to what we need: Almost 80% of the current workforce comprises Gen Y. Gen Y, owing to their young age are not inherently predisposed toward forward thinking on heath and long-term wellness. Organizations that account for factors that stimulate Gen Y realize greater acceptance of health and wellness programs. HCL recommends multiple ways to engage Gen Y. The company maintains an internal social networking portal called ‘Meme’ targeted for their Gen Y audience to promote their health and wellness program. According to a spokesperson at HCL, “As Gen Y was naturally inclined toward social networks, the ideas and promotional messages received greater acceptance as compared to earlier modes of e-mail and poster campaigns. We also started acupressure sessions as an interest stimulator for our larger health and wellness efforts. The acupressure sessions were just a way of adding flavor to the initiative. Although we were experimenting, we did not predict the amount of buzz it would generate among the employee base; it was phenomenal.”