Here are some of the compelling facts from WHO. (1) By 2020, “lifestyle diseases” are likely to claim 7.6 million lives in India as compared to the statistic of 3.78m by 1990; (2) India leads the graph in the number of diabetics in the world, and by 2020, diabetes will affect 30 million in the country; (3) Diabetes, along with cardiac ailments and cancer are expected to cost income losses of over $236 million dollars in India. All these numbers talk for themselves but still corporates continue to see wellness as merely a “nice-to-have” or a cost reduction effort.
The People Matters and Truworth Wellness Study, released at the Total Rewards Conclave last February revealed the gap between what companies think they should be focusing on and what they are actually doing or initiating. 90% of the respondents to the study agreed that investing in wellness has an impact on productivity and engagement but at the same time, they also mention the top 2 challenges encountered access to funds from top management and the ability to measure ROI.
Leaders need to crack the code on truly leveraging the power that wellbeing can bring to organizations. Here are some steps that can be followed for this:
Integrated wellness that is aligned to the business strategy – Wellness needs to be linked to work, and work productivity. It is not a separate initiative; it is core to the business. Driven from the CEO, where management walks the talk, it should not be seen as a cost but as a way of life at work. There is enough evidence that healthy employees (holistic health - physical, emotional, spiritual, social wellbeing) are more aware, productive and engaged. Organizations today have started to focus on increasing employee wellbeing holistically, for example Schneider runs the project called ‘Energy’ to increase energy levels among employees. Google runs a project called “Search inside Yourself” to enhance awareness and strength from within.
A joint responsibility: Practitioners across industries agree that for wellness programs to be sustainable, the responsibility should be owned jointly by the employer and the employee. A major challenge is to engage the population below 30 years-old (as this segment is the most difficult to engage in taking responsibility) and it requires a different approach of engagement that involves technology, gamification and competition. Overall, to make wellness programs sustainable, participation should be made easy and accessible to employees by conducting most of the programs in the office premises. Another way to enhance participation is to recognize behaviors - in some companies it even links to promotion and pay raises. In Mindtree, for example, employees can set up their own wellness challenges in a mobile app and get points to be given away to an NGO as cash donations. Don’t make it prescriptive but create a bouquet of options for employees and families some companies even include alumni (even after leaving the organization, Infosys employees retain some of these wellness benefits for them and their families). Another way to increase shared responsibility is for both employer and employee to contribute this not only increases ownership and commitment but also helps the employer to compensate for the increasing costs of healthcare.
Wellness is the key: Go beyond activities or campaigns to an integrated approach. From the low hanging fruits like vaccinations (IBM uses Sanofi Pasteur for vaccination of flu & Influenza to employees and families) and health camps, there are myriad opportunities to enhance wellness at many touch points, but avoid one-off and tick-in-the box, involve dependents and make it a way of life at home and at work. Many organizations provide health advisory services that are open to family members like the provision of subsidized rates for services and also services like “elderly care” – one of IBM’s initiative supports the parents of employees living in a different city so their elders can be accompanied for tests or doctor appointment.
Measuring Impact: Progressive organizations understand that wellness is not a cost but an investment. For companies starting the journey of wellness should not expect any measurable ROI in the first 12 to 18 months of starting any program. Post that period, some of the indicators that will start to move are: reduced injuries, decreased absenteeism and presentism, and reduction in the cost of insurance (relative to peers, as medical inflation continues to rise). Many companies like Infosys, Microland and others do not have wellness as part of CTC – they do not include it as a measurable monetary benefit but as a non-monetary one.
Reflecting on these points, internalizing wellbeing is not a program but a way of ‘operating’ for organization, that allows business and HR leaders to look at wellbeing in a different light. Every situation, decision can become an opportunity to contribute to employee’s wellbeing – that is the level of integration that a wellness program should have with the business strategy, culture and leadership.