In an exclusive interview with People Matters, Dr Sathya Sriram, CEO – Preventive Health, Apollo shares insights into addressing the critical gap in health coverage for India's workforce.
From enhancing employee engagement in wellness programs to identifying early signs of health struggles, Dr Sathya sheds light on the evolving landscape of corporate well-being.
According to Redseer's report 2021, only 15% of India’s workforce is covered by health and wellness programs. How can organisations step up to fill this gap to cover a wide range of the workforce under corporate wellness programs?
Corporate India is quite unhealthy today. We see a much higher prevalence of non-communicable or lifestyle diseases (such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiac events) at much younger ages than ever before. Organisations offer various health and well-being programs today, ranging from preventive health checks, access to health professionals (doctors, nutritionists, counsellors, etc.), on-site occupational centres, gym memberships, weight loss programs, as well as organising occasional wellness-inspiring activities (sports days, zumba dancing, yoga sessions, webinars). Much of this is left to the discretion of the organisation’s willingness and ability to spend from their already stretched budgets. However, the biggest challenge continues to be employees taking advantage of what is offered – largely due to the relative prioritisation of staying healthy versus other more immediate & pressing demands on their time and mindshare. Organisations need to help employees make healthy choices, where little to no effort is needed. Did you know that, while many organisations offer employees free annual health checks, less than 30% of their workforce utilises this? So, for starters, if organisations can help their employees understand and accept the importance of health checks and early diagnosis, young India as a whole will benefit greatly. In addition to this, we need to create opportunities for moving naturally more often through the workday. For example, spaces for standing meetings, letting people walk to get their coffee or to the cafeteria, or walking from parking lots to their work spaces. We can also manage access to healthier diet choices at the work place. Cutting the sugar in tea and coffee served by half is a great way to start!
How do leaders identify early signs that an employee is struggling and is not able to act in time to safeguard their well-being?
The challenge with many lifestyle diseases is that they are not tangible, hence they are also referred to as “silent killers”. These are not easy signs to pick up! Here are some of the more common signs though to help leaders nudge their colleagues –
- Weight around the waist – this must be addressed regardless of gender
- Breathlessness after walking up a flight of stairs
- Lack of focus and engagement during meetings
- Disturbed or insufficient sleep for prolonged periods
- Little / no social interactions (inside or outside the office)
Additionally, evolved health programs also provide a comprehensive analysis of the health status of an organisation as a whole, based on the annual health test results. This can further offer leaders primary data and insights into what interventions they need to make. E.g. we have worked with corporates, who on seeing a disproportionate increase of pre-diabetes among their employees, have designed several initiatives to eliminate processed sugars from food.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic changed the face of the corporate wellness program? Are these sufficient? Do you think companies need to do more?
The pandemic was a very challenging time for everyone. However, it helped organisations realise the value of helping employees become healthier. We now see more and more companies engaging with us to understand how they can make their wellness programs more meaningful to their employees. The pandemic has also shifted people’s mindsets towards preventive health in 3 ways:
A. Being fit is not the same as being healthy – while exercising regularly and eating healthy is important, it is not always sufficient to help us understand what is going on within our bodies.
B. No one size fits all in healthcare – each individual is unique, and so is our body composition and metabolism, as evidenced by the virus that affected similar people very differently.
C. Prediction can help nudge to action – the common non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease are also known as “silent killers”, for a reason. The early warning signs by our body are often easily missed and the damage done within gets harder and harder to reverse. If we can highlight these risks through a predictive engine, then they can be more watchful of the signs and catch them early
Conventional health checks and wellness programs are no longer sufficient and require us to get into the practice of early detection and screening to make appropriate timely interventions for saving precious and productive lives. An impactful program must be personalised to each individual and nudge them to proactively take charge of their health. This is where companies can come in to provide the right nudges and awareness for timely action that will have long-term benefits. Choosing the right health programs for their employees and then driving their adoption should be a part of their long-standing employee goals.
Employee well-being levels are strongly linked with higher organisational success. What are your thoughts on the changes?
There is enough evidence that employee well-being impacts productivity and contributes to the work environment, both of which are linked to higher organisational success. Organisations can create the right conditions to nurture well-being and drive better performance. And it starts at the top. When senior management is sincerely interested in employee well-being, it is one of the biggest drivers of loyalty to the company’s mission, as per a survey done by Towers Perrin of 90,000 employers in 18 countries. There is also proven economic benefit to having a healthier, happier workforce – 40% less absenteeism and almost 20% increase in productivity, enabling the building of a high-performing organisation. I would encourage each leader to try making changes in your immediate team and see the positive impact it has on the overall productivity. Once you are convinced, you can lead the way and help other colleagues make the shift to building a healthier workforce.