New Manager

Healthy employees are good for business

Chetna Mehra | Updated on July 02, 2014

Employee's health, company's wealth: From stress to weight management programmes — all are now essential elements of a good employer’s health and productivity strategy.


Why investing in employee health and wellbeing helps add to the bottomline

About 10 years ago, when one spoke of companies focusing on employee health and wellbeing, it usually meant the organisation’s health insurance plan or medical facility available to staffers if they were unwell.

Nowadays, any talk about employee health could mean a customised portfolio of services. From annual health risk assessment to biometric screening, and stress or weight management programmes to kicking the butt — all are now essential elements of a good employer’s health and productivity strategy.

“Today, Indian companies are focusing more on the health and wellness of employees than they did previously,” says Mary Thomas, Head, HR, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance. “Given the increasing competition and rapidly changing lifestyle, there is greater need for activities to maintain the good health of employees.” Bajaj Allianz has seen a growth of over 25 per cent since last year in its employee health insurance packages. About 96 per cent of companies in India feel health and productivity (H&P) play a moderate to essential role in their health strategy, according to a recent report called “Staying@Work” by Towers Watson. The report predicts that three out of four employers expect the focus on H&P to grow in the next few years.

New order

At Citibank, for instance, employees’ wellness is considered an important component of productivity. “We believe an employee’s health has an impact on motivation, delivery and innovation, which influences our end results,” says Anuranjita Kumar, Chief Human Resources Officer, Citi South Asia. “Thus, employee health and welfare are key management prerogatives, directly involving the chief executive officer, chief human resources officer, chief finance officer and business heads.”

Some of the often used corporate H&P programmes include biometric screenings, on-site health checks, exercise and diet consultation, counselling sessions and lifestyle and behaviour coaching initiatives.

For instance, Vodafone operates in all telecom circles in India and has provided its employees access to heath portals at all locations, with doctor visits once a week. The company also conducts yoga classes and provides gymnasium facilities. When most firms are trying to weave their H&P strategy into the employees’ day-to-day life at the workplace, some companies have come to celebrate employee health, linking it with benefits.

Citibank’s ‘Live Well @ Citi’ initiative focuses on employee wellbeing by promoting a culture of health through healthcare, wellness, diet and lifestyle. The firm believes in empowering its staff to strike a good work-life balance. Some of these initiatives include flexi-work hours; concierge services for payment of utility bills, banking, government office-related errands, library services and a corporate holiday experience programme. Despite an increased focus on employee health, around 59 per cent of companies, says the study, simply offer various programmes but don’t have an articulated H&P strategy.

Says ICICI Lombard GIC’s HR Head, Rajkamal Vempati: “Since, wellness is a long-term initiative, it is difficult to measure its effectiveness in a year or two. It is our endeavour to run these programmes continuously even as we attempt to gauge the benefits.”

However, the situation is poised to change soon. In the coming three years, around 54 per cent of companies are expected to devise a differentiated H&P strategy based on segment customisation and advanced analytics. Some of them are halfway there already. “We track our employee medical insurance claim ratios and trends monthly; this helps us plan our wellness initiatives,” says Kumar of Citibank. “Many wellness camps have been a result of the analysis of this information.”

Some of the factors that can be taken into account while analysing H&P related data include medical claims data, unplanned absence data, employee engagement, compensationand biometric information. Most H&P initiatives emphasise physical health; yet, mental stress has been recognised as a major health risk. Only a third of the companies cited focussed on improving the emotional/mental health of employees as a priority while developing a H&P plan. Also, just 32 per cent of employers in India currently offer programmes for stress or resilience management.

The Kerala-based Federal Bank recognises stress as a pain point. “Banking is a stressful job where you have to deal with target/client pressures. Financial risk is involved and you are accountable since you are dealing with public money. To ease stress at the workplace we have devised a number of measures,” says Thampy Kurian, HR Head. “Recently we have started recreation clubs that help employees pursue their personal passions.” Apart from paid vacations and engagement programmes, Federal Bank provides for a three-year sabbatical that gives employees the opportunity to pursue their creative interests and take care of family. “Our CSR activities also help people commit to a social/environmental cause,” adds Kurian.

The key reasons for work-related stress include unclear/conflicting job expectations, lack of work/life balance, inadequate staffing, organisational culture and technology that expands during non-working hours, such as mobiles and laptops, where work is carried home.

“Along with stagnant wages, an aging workforce raises the risk of financial difficulties due to illness: 42 per cent of HR professionals said that medical expenses are the most common personal financial challenge affecting employees,” says Kirat Dhillon, HR Business Partner (HR Director), SHRM India. “The good news is that more employers are understanding the link between stress, employee health and productivity, and are taking action. Moving forward, HR professionals will need to be at the centre of these strategic efforts in their organisations.”

Rewarding health

The Towers Watson report links an organisation’s health and productivity effectiveness to its financial success. According to the report, globally, companies with the most effective H&P programmes have 34 per cent higher revenue per employee. “It is encouraging that Indian companies are sharpening their focus on health and wellness. But to translate this into tangible improvement in employee wellbeing and, thereby, financial performance, companies must identify effective programmes rather than copy popular ones, according to Anuradha Sriram, Director, Benefits, Towers Watson, India.

The next wave in the H&P domain will be financial incentives. Currently, just two per cent of employers in India offer cash as a financial incentive to encourage H&P programme participation. Interestingly, 15 per cent of employers are considering the use of financial rewards from 2014 onwards.

Published on July 01, 2014

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