Companies are launching efforts to ensure their employees feel good at work and home so that they give their best.

Taking time off on his official visit to Kanyakumari, Saravanan* had gone to Muttom beach a few months ago. As he was playing near the water, he was engulfed by a huge wave that drew him into the sea.

Saravanan, an executive at a Chennai-based conglomerate, thought his final moments had come. Suddenly, he remembered his fitness trainer's words: “Tuck in your tummy, breathe out.” He blindly started breathing out, pulling in his navel. Within seconds, Saravanan found himself floating in the water.

Back in Chennai, he profusely thanked his trainer, assigned to his company by a health and wellness firm.

Saravanan's story may be an exception. But today, India Inc is taking the physical and mental fitness of its employees seriously. It is now chanting the Corporate Wellness mantra.

This programme is to ensure the good health of employees, which in turn can contribute to higher profits. “The problem with most corporate employees is that many of them are not even exposed to sunlight, for days together, as they work in an air-conditioned environment for the major part of the day. And, by the time they turn 40, most of them complain of spondylitis, arthritis or such related problems,” says Dr Kannan Pugazhenthi, whose SPARRC Institute deals with fitness and rehabilitation issues.

“India is the only country where even people under 30 suffer from cardiac problems. This is where corporate wellness programmes come into play,” he adds. “As techies we end up working extended hours due to project deadlines and customers in multiple time zones. In the hullabaloo, we tend to ignore our health. Aches and a disrupted biological clock become a way of life,” says Balasundaram, a consultant employed with UST Global, a multinational with headquarters in California.

“Only healthy and happy associates (employees) can deliver the best with improved productivity,” says Shankar Srinivasan, Chief People Office of Cognizant Technologies.

“Our company aims at promoting an environment of emotional, physical and mental well-being for our employees,” says Ritu Anand, Deputy Head and Vice-President of Human Resources, TCS. The company says it has a strong strategy in place to encourage its employees to maintain a balanced lifestyle.

UST Global has a wellness calendar specific to regions it operates in.

“We face a lot of challenge in our work places due to stress. The Corporate Wellness programme has helped us raise productivity but, more importantly, the morale of our employees,” says Barry Newton, Vice-President, Marketing and Chief Wellness Officer, at the company. For employees of TCS, the inspiration is their CEO, N. Chandrasekaran. “Since our CEO is a marathon runner, most of our employees have taken to long-distance running,” says Ritu.

TCS had the second largest contingent at the Mumbai Marathon with 2,000 employees taking part in it. “We provide training in marathon and other sports,” she says.

Most of the corporates now have fitness centres in the form of in-house gymnasia and even tie-ups with centres such as SPARRC Institute for exercises or yoga. They also have other sports activities such as cricket, hockey and football. Some even have laughter clubs.

“Among our various initiatives, dancercise and workplace yoga are very popular,” says Cognizant's Srinivasan.

“Our laughter club appeals to me the most. I am able to see the benefits of our laughter sessions in everyday life. It has helped me develop a more positive, happy outlook. I am now motivated to try out some of the other wellness programmes, such as yoga, tai chi, walking and trekking that Cognizant encourages us to take up,” says Bangalore-based Milind Kulabkar, Associate Director-Finance, Cognizant.

“We have adopted something called Waste to Wellness, incorporating nutrition, physical fitness, stress reduction and work-family balance,” says UST Global's Newton. It also comes out with a daily newsletter that has wellness components. “Our wellness initiatives have helped me get a reality check of my own health. Another advantage for a cricket lover like me and many others are events such as the UST Cricket League that are held during weekends. We also have net practice during the weekend which makes us to work out . Now there is no choice for me, but to stay fit,” says UST's Balasundaram.

The wellness initiative is crucial for the functioning of most IT companies as a majority of their workforce is GeneratioNext that tends to be lax about its health. For example, the average age of TCS employees is 27.

Cognizant – in order to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) standard – identifies, controls and sets right occupational health and safety-related risks. “A dedicated programme manager, supported by a cross-functional team, drives the initiative,” says Srinivasan.

TCS also follows OHSAS and has adopted management systems for this. The employees are also made aware of safety guidelines while travelling.

UST Global has devised a hotel room workout for its employees who don't have time to hit the gymnasium. “Employees can also access personal trainer videos,” says Newton. The company has provisions for voluntary disclosure of medical profiles with software that creates a dossier and points out areas of improvement. It also keeps tab on the progress, while protecting the employee's privacy.

While these organisations' initiatives on the well-being of their employees may not be lagging, what is the response?

Usually, employees take part in these initiatives only because of their bosses' interest, says Dr Pugazhenthi. But Cognisant's Srinivasan says the wellness initiatives are a huge hit with the employees. “It has enabled better bonding between the employees and the organisation,” he says.

Agrees Ritu: “There is a high level of interest in the wellness programme because there is something for everyone,” she says.

Companies are also reaping the benefits of launching such programmes as they have more physically fit and active employees on their rolls.

“There has been a 25 per cent drop in employees reporting sick since 2008 when we launched this programme,” says Newton.

*Name changed.

(This article was published on May 10, 2012)
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