Article: Managing health risks in a customised way

Strategic HR

Managing health risks in a customised way

The health and wellness programmes of firms should have a ROI in terms of improved well-being and reduced hospitalisation
Managing health risks in a customised way

The health and wellness programmes of many organisations are related to employee engagement, but it needs to be more than that


What makes the human capital a challenging resource is the ‘human’ element. Companies in India are increasingly accepting that performance of employees is related to their wellbeing. Employee health is a real substantial budget item, a tangible cost that must be monitored and controlled.

Many organisations focus on having an effective health and wellness programme, but more often such programmes are related to employee engagement. The fact is it needs to be more than just a tool to engage employees. This should translate into: improved wellbeing, reduced hospitalisation and claim costs.

Organisations often go for programmes which offer similar set of services to each employee. The truth is that everyone in the organisation doesn’t need to be counseled against similar risks. Moreover, the claims data highlight the health risk of only 3-5 per cent of the population that has undergone a hospitalisation, which isn’t representative of the entire organisation at all. Hence it is important to conduct health risk assessments, where findings suggest that 30-40 per cent of the population faces some health risks, and 3-5 per cent would already have a condition, this is where the need to look towards customised programme arises. 1

Problem areas

While a lot is said about absenteeism, another side of the coin is ‘presenteism’ which indicates productivity loss due to health ailments even when employees come to office. Presenteeism is associated with poor health behaviours, elevated health risks and presence of chronic diseases like arthritis, hypertension, diabetes, etc. It is estimated that costs associated with presenteeism due to poor employee health is at least two to three times greater than direct healthcare expenses.2

In order to reduce losses due to presenteeism, there is a need to focus on helping individuals deal with these health risks.

Health & Wellness: Evidence Based Approach

• Management of behavioural risks: This is a more broad-based approach targeting 30-40 per cent population at risk. It focuses on unhealthy lifestyle choices i.e. smoking, dietary habits, high BMI & lack of exercise and includes individual lifestyle counselling and workshops.

• Management of specific conditions: This is for the 3-5 per cent of the high-risk individuals. A programme is developed to tackle conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, helping individuals reduce risk factors and manage the condition better.

In both instances, a regular employee health assessment (including Biometrics) can greatly inform individuals and the employer about risks to health.

What these programmes offer

Employees who run a risk of such chronic conditions need coordinated care, while most of the healthcare system in India is organised to provide episodic care. Also, often service providers are not resourced for coordinated care of chronic diseases. Specialised programmes, offered through a health coach, help individuals manage risks by carefully coordinating the delivery of high-quality care to employees. The programmes are supposed to enhance employees’ health, reduce hospitalisation rates, and lower treatment costs. But, it is yet to gain momentum in India.

How to go about it

A customised programme should start with health risk assessments and then move on to programmes that are more specific to risks identified. All these risks need lifestyle management. Employee attitudes and behaviors must be changed. Employees must assume personal responsibility for their health, which will influence lifestyle choices.

Interventions on ongoing care for chronic conditions have long-term benefits in terms of healthcare costs. Non-smoking, non-obese, non-sleep deprived, non-sedentary employees will need fewer healthcare and as a result, will need to contribute less in total health-related treatments. In a win-win scenario, the employers are appreciating the reality that a healthier population is more productive and curtails costs in the long run.


  1. Data on file
  2. Burton W, Morrison A, Wertheimer A. Pharmaceuticals and worker productivity loss: a critical review of the literature. J Occup Environ Med. 2003; 45(6):610-21.

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Topics: Strategic HR, Employee Engagement

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