New Manager

Health is wealth

Amrita Nair Ghaswalla Mumbai | Updated on January 23, 2018



Smart firms invest in employee wellness because it makes sound business sense

Employee wellness is an important part of a successful workplace. When the staff is unhappy, they are less effective, less efficient and more likely to squander work hours or quit. Though stress affects morale, human resource experts say it also upsets a company’s bottom line.

Health and productivity are inextricably linked to one another, according to Ninad Karpe, CEO at Aptech Ltd, a global education and training company. “It is no secret that if employees are physically healthy and have a happy frame of mind, their efficiency, productivity and willingness to take initiative increases manifold. It also reduces the number of absenteeism, loss of productivity and workers medical compensation,” he adds.

Concurring with the view, Parag Pande, Managing Director, Human Resources at Accenture, a management consulting and technology services company, says engaged employees help bolster the bottom line of a company, by “building the reputation and brand of the organisation, as they stay longer and strive harder to perform.”

Gaurav Bahadur, Senior Director-Human Resources at Sanofi, a multinational pharmaceutical company, maintains that though there are some obvious benefits of establishing a healthy work environment, “a focus on social aspects of work-life also ensure positive interactions, better team work and a more integrated approach towards achieving business goals.”

The hectic pace of work “that one witnessed across companies during the 1990s owing to a globalised economy has begun to undergo a gradual shift towards a more balanced view of work-life balance,” says Bahadur. Both employees and employers “are becoming more aware of employee health as a contributor, not just to productivity and efficiency, but also to the overall culture of any organisation,” he adds.

Mental agility

Accenture’s Pande insists there is a measureable impact of an employee’s positive or negative attachment to their job, “which profoundly influences their willingness to perform and stretch at work.” He notes that attracting the best talent and retention of employees are the key reasons for companies to create and retain a healthy work environment.

Julie Billingsley, Principal-HR at ZS, a sales and marketing consultancy, insists that workplace health is directly proportional to the effect of work on the employees of the organisation.

“Most employees spend one-third of their day at work and have the right to work in an environment that protects their health and wellbeing. Workplace wellness needs to be well-integrated in a business strategy and leadership is key to make that happen,” she points out.

Stating that a healthy work environment comes with improvement in employee productivity, dip in the number of annual leaves and hike in employee morale, she adds it all leads to a low rate of attrition in the long run. While a sound wellness strategy can keep employees motivated and engaged, Billingsley adds a well-thought of wellness strategy can also reduce health care costs of a company. “There is enough research that points to how basic fitness can serve a better mental outcome as well. Mental fitness leads to creativity, and allows new ideas to seep in without biases.”

“Research also points that during prolonged and intense workloads, people with better physical conditioning cope better as their mental agility and ability to flex their minds is a shade better.”

Attracting talent

Agreeing with the theory, Nitya Nivali, HR Director at Progress, a global software company, says employers have to take a proactive stance when it comes to the health and well-being of their employees. “Apart from the obvious benefits, taking a genuine interest in the well-being of your employees can translate into a powerful competitive advantage.”

A healthy workplace supports an individual’s pursuits of both personal and professional excellence, and means more than just warding off colds and the flu. It is more holistic and takes into account the physical, spiritual, environmental, intellectual, emotional, occupational and mental health of employees.

After all, it matters to the employees and it results in productivity. “Employees recognise the effect their work environment has on their health and well-being, and most employees also view workplace health and wellness initiatives as an appropriate demonstration of employers’ interest in employee welfare,” adds Nivali.

Stating that every person has some sort of health risk to varying degrees, whether it’s unhealthy eating, lack of exercise or sleep, unhealthy lifestyle habits or something genetic, Progress’ Nivali says there is a clear shift in criteria to attract and retain talented employees, “as expectations are changing to include more than just financial aspects.” HR experts contend that it is also a key driver in attracting talent. “In markets like ours where attracting the right talent is a strategic imperative, the work environment is a key differentiator for discerning employees,” notes Sanofi’s Bahadur. “A healthy work environment is one that is perceived as being engaging, challenging and has the right policies to always attract and sustain an agile and positive workforce with healthy attitudes and youthful spirit. For a progressive employer, employee wellbeing is a key component of a robust business strategy,” he adds. Stating that it is important for companies to have a healthy work environment at the workplace, Aptech’s Karpe says that companies that take care of employees are “sought after these days by young professionals that are new to the work force. The youth are more health conscious than previous generations and thus are driven toward companies that are tolerant towards a work-life balance.” With gyms in the office, swimming pool memberships, yoga classes and a good health insurance policy, some corporates are using these to lure talent. “Effective in-house strategies will ensure that employees maintain a certain standard of living that is crucial to attract talent into a company,” insists Karpe.

Balancing the stress

Parties and activities across most corporates are a common way for staff to bond outside of their comfortable roles and duties, and such events allow time for some fun. ZS, a global sales and marketing consulting firm, has a young workforce. Billingsley states that many of its employees have won intercorporate tournaments, as well as participated in marathons across India and abroad. ZS has a gym at its Gurgaon office, while the Pune office has a tie up with Gold’s Gym, whereby ZS reimburses 50 per cent of the annual membership fees. The company recently launched a fun fitness competition called the ‘Fitness for Impact Challenge’ at its Pune office. Under this, an outsourced gym team takes the baseline fitness measurements of employees, and folks that are competing undergo a ‘surprise fitness test’ at the end of three months. Aptech’s Karpe insists that with the advent of technology, the need for physical exertion has greatly reduced at the work place, and that sedentary work-life has led to a rising number of bad lifestyle choices. Companies are attempting to counter these poor health choices in a number of ways: be it a well-equipped gymnasium, canteen, counseling programmes, a game room, or other initiatives like regular free health checkups, fitness and wellness rooms, dedicated sports areas to induce physical activity, sensitisation drives and feel-good programmes, some of which are common across corporates. Committees to the fore More and more organisations are also creating Health and Welfare Committees who are responsible for recognising health and safety concerns and identifying solutions. At Sanofi, the Sanofi Health, Safety and Environment Committee ensures the implementation of measures to limit the risk of disease and injury. Occupational health issues at Sanofi are addressed though medical checkups for employees, and vaccinations for employees and their families.

At Aptech, a 16-hour canteen ensures a nutritious diet, while the Aptech Cafe not only provides food and beverages, but also a space to rest and rejuvenate oneself, since it is equipped with a TV where employees can occasionally enjoy a cricket match. At IT firm Progress, daily yoga sessions greet employees, as do nutrition talks, stress management workshops, massage chairs, etc. As Nivali points out, work is not just about deliverables, “but on how we work and in the environment we work to make those deliverables.” Diversity plays a part With increasingly demanding schedules and high stress levels at most corporates, acceptance of diversity at the workplace is also playing an important role in ensuring a healthy work environment. Accenture has increased maternity leave benefits for its full-time and part-time women employees in India to 22 weeks of paid leave, up significantly from the current statutory requirement of 12 weeks. Employees can also take an additional four weeks of paid leave if there is an illness directly related to the mother’s pregnancy. As Pande points out, work environments play an indispensable role in attracting new talent into the organisation. “Pay, career development, recognition and new opportunities are parameters that any potential employee uses to evaluate one’s consideration set. It is critical to bring together highly talented people in a creative and collaborative work environment to ensure a constantly motivated workforce,” he adds. Healthy employees tend to work to the best of their potential and have a more positive and committed attitude, “elevating the value proposition of the organisation in the market, which in turn brings in a bigger chunk from the talent pool,” notes ZS’ Billingsley. While a healthy environment at work makes daily challenges enjoyable and rewarding, it also attracts top talent, and helps retain the current A-players on the squad.

Published on May 12, 2015

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