Article: Working towards a fitter workforce

Employee Engagement

Working towards a fitter workforce

The right service provider can help a firm turnaround its productivity by implementing its health programme rigorously
Working towards a fitter workforce

Health and wellness is a continuous exercise and its effect doesn’t show RoI before two or three years


A healthy workplace is a productive workplace. So when a large number of your employees suffer from health problems such as obesity, depression, fatigue and sleeping disorders, companies started introducing detailed healthcare and wellness programmes to make sure employee health did not get affected.

The Global Workplace Health and Wellness Report 2013 paints a bright picture in terms of the objective of employee health and wellness initiatives. According to this GCC report, employee health (69 per cent) and engagement and morale (68 per cent) are the key wellness objectives for organisations worldwide. Many companies that are active in this sphere are working towards devising a sustainable strategy, which looks at lower health costs and absenteeism etc as by-products of an effective and successful health and wellness initiative.

However, despite the increasing number of companies giving importance to employee health and wellness initiatives, the gap between the goals and actual execution is huge. The report underlines that less than a quarter of organisations have fully implemented their health and wellness strategies. Though 99 per cent of the organisations want to do this, only 22 per cent have been successful in fully implementing their health and wellness strategies. In the case of Indian companies, the road is far and long though there has been an increased awareness about such initiatives, service providers who were interviewed for this story said.

Healthcare costs in India have seen a dramatic increase over the past several years. The burden of chronic lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart problems, to which Indians are prone genetically, is a major threat for the Indian workforce. This makes it imperative for the organisations to have a holistic outlook towards health and wellness otherwise they lose productivity due to absenteeism and presenteeism (where employees do come to office but see less productivity due to physical ailments), increased healthcare costs etc.

Productivity loss due to presenteeism is associated with poor health behaviours, elevated health risks and presence of chronic diseases. Anupa Naik, Vice President, Employee Health & Benefits, Marsh India Insurance Brokers Private Ltd. says, “The cost associated with presenteeism due to poor employee health is at least two to three times greater than direct health care expenses.”

Highlighting the magnitude of this problem, a World Health Organization report points out that the full income loss that India is seeing will be almost $350 billion in 2015. Worksites offer an ideal setting for lifestyle related guidance, which may reduce the risk of chronic diseases faced by individuals.

What needs to be addressed?

One problem lies with the way health and wellness programmes are planned in many Indian companies. Mukul Bagga, Managing Director, Quest Diagnostics India, points out a basic flaw in the approach towards employee health and wellness. He says, “Organising health check-ups or/and fragmented counselling sessions is all that many organisations do in the name of employee wellness. Annual check-ups without a follow up strategy will do nothing other than providing a snapshot of the organisation’s health profile rather illness profile.” Without doubt preventive healthcare check-ups should be looked at as the foundation stone of an effective health and wellness strategy. But this alone may not derive results. The ingredients for a comprehensive health and wellness package are:

  1. Comprehensive preventive health check-up using quality diagnostics.
  2. Comprehensive reports and clarity on future course of action for employees.
  3. Focus on management of behavioural risks and specific diseases.
  4. Follow up events and programmes, focus on creating the buzz around the event.
  5. Facilitating employees by creating suitable culture and infrastructure.

Health and wellness is a continuous exercise and its effect doesn’t show Return of Investment (RoI) before two or three years. However, continuous interventions can show results in terms of employee engagement within a few months. An ideal health and wellness initiative will focus on not only illness and physical problems but also mental wellbeing. Infosys’ initiative HALE (Health Assessment Lifestyle Enrichment), and Wipro’s Fit For Life Wellness Programme are examples of this approach. Weight loss programmes, wellness week, programmes such as ‘Parents to be’ which offers parental support services to their employees are some of the other great initiatives taken by the company.

Focus on customised programmes

For long Indian companies have been adopting mass packages as a solution to health problems among employees. Most of the times, these packages include health check-ups or a few counselling sessions etc which aren’t targeted at a specific audience. One heartening trend is the urge to launch programmes that work for employees. This has led more and more companies to resort to customised programmes, which work according to the requirements of the target group. The basic step for such programmes is Health Risk Assessment, which gives a clear picture of health status of an employee and the real ‘health profile’ of an organisation. A lot of emphasis is laid on interacting with employees and collecting the right data. This gives clarity on what problems the organisation needs to address and thus helps them prepare an effective health and wellness strategy.

Disease Management Programmes or DMPs are targeted at high risk individuals. Usually population above 45 (which is also the most experienced population in an organisation) is prone to chronic diseases more than anyone else. Such programmes are based on the results of HRA and provide ongoing care to such high risk population. Use of efficient methods is what makes DMPs or health coach successful. Instead of offering mass programmes to everyone (which do not have much value because the requirements and risks within a company differ according to factors like age, sex, lifestyle etc), they identify high risk candidates through assessments and provide required guidance to different groups.

Looking at health and wellness as a mandatory exercise which is to be organized for the sake of it won’t yield results. Utilising new modes of communication, incentivizing, motivating and facilitating healthy behaviours boosts employee participation. Around the world, companies with better employee engagement on this front are the ones which make a conscious effort towards it.

Questions HR should ask before selecting a vendor

It is essential for a company to have clarity about its health and wellness objective and what it wants to achieve after a certain period of time. Selecting the right service provider is imperative for a company to be able to achieve this.

1. Does the health product (or plan) address your employees’ needs?

Know the details of the product per se. Will the vendor do any additional partnerships for some of the programmes? A generic programme that doesn’t take into consideration the risks faced by Indian population and the region the company is operating in won’t be very beneficial for you.

2. Is the vendor experienced enough?

A reference check on the vendor’s services and the kind of results it has delivered is recommended. Experience with peer companies, outcomes of its services, information about their client base should be sought.

3. Does your vendor have the required IT infrastructure?

Information like IT infrastructure, how sound its servers are etc is essential to ensure data confidentiality and the quality of services you are offering to your employees. It is also essential to analyse this from the point of view of employee safety. Details about their offsite and onsite tools are recommended.

4. Credentials of its team of experts?

It is essential to collect information about its experts and their credentials and qualifications. Pay attention to how often they interact with the employees.

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Topics: Employee Engagement, Employee Relations, Culture

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