In the ever-evolving global business landscape, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of the severe impact of mental health challenges on the workforce. With a staggering annual loss of 12 billion working days attributed to depression and anxiety, the cost of the lost productivity amounts to a colossal $1 trillion, and underscores the compelling need for organisations to prioritise their employees' well-being.
Amidst the ongoing transformations fuelled by digital evolution and flexible work dynamics, employers are increasingly recognising that employee wellbeing is a critical component of business success and are actively reshaping their strategies to place growing emphasis on fostering their health and vitality.
The pursuit of holistic well-being is emerging as a central theme in priorities as organisations find themselves at a pivotal juncture. While they recognise that action on these issues contributes to a more resilient workforce and also substantially enhances overall productivity, there remains much work to be done.
Industry visionaries and thought leaders convened at the 11th edition of the Healthy Workplace Conference & Awards 2023, hosted by Arogya World, a non-profit organisation committed to preventing diabetes and other non-communicable diseases, to delve on the theme of "Wellness to Vitality @ Workplace: Future of Workplace Health in the Challenging Business Landscape."
Discussions explored a multifaceted approach to workplace wellness, covering topics ranging from artificial intelligence (AI) integration and mental health support to ESG investing and the silent epidemic of obesity.
Despite challenges, the overarching goal was clear: nurturing a resilient and healthy workforce, well-equipped to navigate the uncertainties of the future.
Nalini Saligram, the founder of Arogya World, said: "We came up with our healthy workplace programme because workplaces are where we find people who are younger than 30 years old, where we can change the health trajectory of their lives."
She emphasised the importance of preventive measures, including proper nutrition, exercise, and tobacco avoidance, while highlighting workplaces as crucial arenas for influencing lives due to the significant time individuals spend in these environments.
Underscoring the often-overlooked social responsibility aspect, Saligram called for integrating health and wellness into Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) considerations in businesses.
"It's heartening to see that the business world is starting to think about the environment, but the social part they are leaving out - health and wellness is not often talked about."
According to Saligram, establishing a health index and ranking companies could raise awareness and contribute not only to improved bottom lines but also to India achieving Sustainable Development Goals.
In this journey toward a healthier future, the intersection of corporate responsibility, employee well-being, and sustainable practices was deemed a key focus for organisations worldwide.
Unlocking Workplace Wellness for Sustainable ESG Impact
The panel discussion explored the intersection of work, workplace, and workforce in creating comprehensive wellness programmes, and the importance of a holistic approach from evolving wellness metrics and financial well-being to the role of leadership in driving health initiatives.
"Evolve wellness programmes over time and measure outcomes," said Karan Verma: CEO Bridge Health Medical and Digital Solutions advocating for a corporate dashboard and population health matrix.
"Financial well-being is linked to mental well-being. Organisations need to focus on financial education to prevent future crises for the youngsters," added Anderson Philips, Head of Site GSC Kolkata and GSC India CAO at HSBC Electronic Data Processing India Private Limited.
He suggested the need for a hybrid workplace for a balance of social connection and flexibility.
Saurabh Jain, Vice President of Global Delivery Centers, Enterprise Contact Center and Corporate CSR Initiatives, Indegene identified work, workplace, and workforce as the three pillars of workplace health as he called for streamlining work, creating a conducive workplace, and focussing on mental well-being.
The industry experts also discussed the importance of leadership involvement in championing health initiatives. "Health initiatives should start from the top and involve employees, creating a culture of health in the workplace," said Jain.
Philips also advocated Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to plan health campaigns and provide feedback and the role of leaders in teaching the next level of leadership teams how to prioritise well-being.
AI's Transformative Role in Workplace Wellness
In a session on the revolutionary impact of AI on workplace wellness, Dr Geetha Manjunath, CEO and Founder of Niramai Health Analytix, dwelt on how integration of AI is revolutionising the process with "multifaceted applications in workplace health, from productivity tools to stress detection and health monitoring" contributing to a more efficient, informed, and healthier workforce.
The use of wearables and predictive health care further emphasises the role of AI in early intervention, leading to overall improvements in employee health. AI-enabled tests provide insights into current health risks, allowing for timely interventions, while AI and ML can analyse data to predict potential health risks even when a person is well.
On the economic benefits of early intervention, Manjunath said: "The most expensive room is not of a five-star hotel but an ICU."
She also cited breast cancer in women, emphasising the importance of early detection.
Blueprint for Impactful Employee Well-being Practices
A blueprint for impactful employee well-being practices, presented by Ashwani Prashara, Chief Human Resource Officer at Reliance Industries Limited, outlined the need for a mindset shift, from traditional perks to purpose-driven approaches, where well-being initiatives can be aligned with the evolving paradigms of flexible workplaces, digital transformation, and equity focus.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has acted as a tsunami of disruption, necessitating a shift in focus from traditional physical health to holistic well-being. The landscape now delves into work-life integration instead of work life balance, moving beyond reactive measures to proactive strategies. Besides diversity and inclusion a significant shift is observed in the emphasis on equity, transcending equal opportunities to ensure every individual competes on a level playing ground.”
Ashwani highlighted the importance of understanding the mindset shift required in this new era, where well-being practices extend beyond individuals and teams to include the well-being of family and friends, creating a comprehensive ecosystem.
Positive energy, adaptability, and a willingness to learn, unlearn, and relearn are essential elements in this approach, he said.
The Crucial Role of Measuring Outcomes in Building Healthy Workplaces
Moderated by Mohana M D, Chief People & Culture Officer at BetterPlace, the panel discussion provided insights into the evolving paradigms of institutional policies, micropractices, stakeholder engagement, and the critical role of well-being officers.
The discussion collectively emphasised the necessity of measuring outcomes to gauge the success and impact of well-being initiatives.
Salil Lal, Chief Human Resources Officer at Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, said: "The first and primary motive of an organisation is to become stronger, which means the bottom line has to do better. People's productivity and efficiency have to increase."
KS Harish, Country Group HR Head at Bayer Group, stressed the importance of micropractices. "What is important today is micropractices, something you can do on a daily basis in meetings. Focus less on measure but more on the measure."
Suma PN, Director - Human Resources at Otis India, delved into stakeholder roles, as well as the importance of defining a well-being culture.
"How are we able to bring all the stakeholders on board, starting with people managers? How, as colleagues, can we take care of each other? The shift is happening in the insurance sector, with Mediclaim companies making a shift from just delivering a policy to partnering in prevention."
R Rajesh, Group Head - Medical Services at Reliance Industries Limited, said: "Post-Covid, it is compulsory for each organisation to have a well-being policy" and also outlined the leading and lagging indicators, including health checkup compliance, health scores, and programme participation."
Salil Lal also highlighted the intrinsic connection between mental toughness and overall well-being.
Rahul Kalia, Head - Health, Wellness & Medical Services at Bosch Limited, provided a dual perspective, examining the organisational and employee standpoints. He advocated targeted programmes based on organisational vision, emphasizing the shift from Return on Investment (ROI) to Value on Investment (VOI). On the employee side, he acknowledged the existing confusion and the challenge of balancing needs and wants.
ESG Investing: A Gateway to Nutrition Security and Health
ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investing emerges as a strategic tool for organisations to drive positive change in nutrition security and health.
Greg S Garrett, Executive Director of the Access to Nutrition Initiative, underlined the critical importance of nutritious diets in combating global diseases and explored challenges and opportunities in processed foods and advocates for responsible investing to encourage businesses to prioritise healthier product portfolios. He cited findings of the India Index 2023 product profile assessment, revealing that 76% of sales in India are derived from less healthy products and the significant opportunities this indicated.
Navigating Happiness, Work, and Society
In a thought-provoking fireside chat, Ashwin Naik, Founder of Mannah Wellness, and Dr Shyam K Bhat, Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist & Integrative Medicine Specialist, delved into the challenges of achieving happiness in a world driven by materialism and constant pursuit of success.
Dr Bhat explored the profound question of why humans, unlike other species, suffer from mental health issues, attributing this to the evolution of the human mind, which, while providing the capacity for complex thoughts and communication, also leads to suffering by pulling individuals away from the present.
The conversation then shifted to the power of autonomy in making choices and navigating the complexities of work and life.
Recognising that the primary goal of any organisation is to strengthen its foundations, reflected in an improved bottom line and this necessitates an enhancement in individual productivity and efficiency, Dr Bhat said that for this, "each individual within the organisation must consciously differentiate between work-related happenings and expectations" and "embark on a profound exploration of their personal journey, understanding what aligns with their values and what doesn't".
"Despite challenges, many individuals may perceive their lives as devoid of choices. However, acknowledging that every situation is a result of choices, even challenging ones, becomes the first step in the process of self-examination or transformation. By recognising the choices made, one can embrace the current circumstances, fostering a mindset open to determining the next steps," he added.
Health Alert: Addressing the Silent Epidemic of Obesity in the Workplace
The panel, comprising Saligram along with Dr Divyang Doshi, Chief Medical Officer at Godrej Group and Dr Arun Kale, General Manager- Corporate health and wellness, Tata Motors addressed the rising issue of obesity in the workplace and discussed trends, economic impacts, occupational causes, and wellness strategies.
World Bank reports indicate 18% of adults in India are overweight, with 6% classified as obese. Dr Kale highlighted the economic impact, accounting for $17 per capita, constituting 0.8% of the Indian GDP, and the need for prevention through lifestyle changes.
Citing corporate reports Dr Doshi said 63% of corporate employees are overweight and noted variations in obesity trends among occupations, with IT and finance professionals more affected than those in manual labour. He identified eating patterns, lack of physical activity, and insufficient sleep as major contributors to obesity.
Admitting the challenge of generalising wellness sessions, he advocated an intensive programme involving health checkups, personalised guidance from health buddies, nutritionists, fitness experts, and continuous tracking.
The panel acknowledged that despite awareness, lifestyle choices are often influenced by emotions and the need for wellness programmes to address emotional connections to food.
It called for addressing obesity through proactive, personalised wellness strategies in the workplace, with a comprehensive approach that goes beyond general awareness to actively engage with individuals.
Recognising excellence and unwavering commitments to employee wellbeing
Arogya World also announced their 2023 Healthy Workplaces, recognising 36 companies for promoting physical health and mental well-being of employees and addressing NCD prevention at the workplace.
Bridge Health Medical & Digital Solutions Private Limited, Daimler Truck Innovation Center India, GAR Corporate Services Private Limited, Honeywell International India Private Limited, Maruti Suzuki India Limited, Otis Global Services Center Private Limited, Otis India, Petronet LNG Limited, Kochi Terminal, REA India Private Limited, ACG World (6 Entities), BetterPlace Safety Solutions Private Limited, Carelon Global Solutions India LLP, Conrad Bengaluru, DHL Express India Private Limited, EID Parry (India) Limited, MSN Laboratories Private Limited, Nayara Energy Limited, Poonawalla Fincorp Limited, Prestige Estates Projects Limited, Syenergy Environics Limited, Tata Motors Insurance Broking and Advisory Services Limited, VA Tech Wabag Limited, Ageas Federal Life Insurance Company Limited, Breakthrough Trust, Infallible Travel Concepts Private Limited, Media Mantra, National Commodity & Derivatives Exchange Limited, NCDEX eMarkets Limited and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited.
Healthy Workplaces that renewed their commitment to employee health this year include ABB India Limited, Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Limited, Amara Raja Batteries Limited, Chittoor, Bosch Limited, Wipro Limited, Mercedes-Benz Research and Development India and Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation.
Arogya World also recognised 7 exemplary Healthy Workplaces for attaining the platinum level namely Bayer, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited, HSBC Electronic Data Processing Private Limited, Jhajjar Power Limited, Nexus Select Trust, Optum Global Solutions India Private Limited and Tata Motors Limited.
It also acknowledged 7 Healthy Workplaces that renewed their commitment to Platinum level, namely Godrej Industries Limited & Associated Companies, Hero MotoCorp Limited, Indegene, MSD PHARMACEUTICALS PRIVATE LIMITED, NTPC Limited, Reliance Industries Limited and TVS Motor Company Limited.
Srabani Banerjee, Head of Healthy Workplace Programme, Arogya World, said: "Committed to holistic employee well-being, we at Arogya World empower organisations to embrace a data-driven culture of health and educate their teams about NCD prevention. It’s inspiring to witness the new age leadership prioritizing employee health and well-being, embedding it into business strategy and advancing sustainable and socially responsible practices."
The Healthy Workplace programme accreditation is a rigorous assessment where assessors evaluate and ascertain that the programmes and interventions implemented by the company meet Arogya World’s Healthy Workplace criteria.