Maintaining a strong and stable workforce is fast becoming one of the prime concerns of companies, and HR practitioners are seeking better ways of encouraging employees to adopt healthy lifestyles. Susheela Menon reports
How healthy is your workforce?
Absenteeism at work also means someone else has to cover for those who are absent, thus bringing morale down.
As local companies strive to hold their own in this competitive market, their HR teams need to put in effort to ensure that their employees stay healthy and productive.
Singapore’s second Integrated Resort, Resorts World at Sentosa, has its HR team already working on healthcare policies that will apply from 2009 onwards when the bulk of employment commences, leading up to its hiring of 10,000 staff in 2010. It has in place its own gym and wellness centre, complete with massage chairs, massage apparatus, a television set and even an X-Box for staff to relax in.
Gym subsidies and health talks are slowly becoming the order of the day, and more companies are coming up with novel ways to stay ahead in this race to provide the best healthcare programmes for its staff. Singapore’s workforce needs to relax and companies are slowly waking up to the fact that a tired worker spells doom for the business. Besides, healthcare programmes are also seen as ways to attract and retain the best in the market.
How important is it to maintain a physically strong workforce?
“As the saying goes, health is wealth, and that truly applies to a business with a healthy workforce,” Peggy Leong, director, corporate HR, Siemens, says. “An unhealthy workforce often means high absenteeism, which results in not only high medical expenses but also decreased productivity and customer satisfaction that will ultimately affect the bottom line of any business.” She adds that a happy and healthy workforce is best, as staff become more engaged in their work, and will often go the extra mile in their roles, achieving a “positive bottom line effect”.
Great Eastern Life Assurance’s managing director, Chiang Boon Kong, says an unhealthy workforce will affect productivity in a negative way. “Absenteeism at work also means someone else has to cover for those who are absent, thus bringing morale down.”
Leong says though HR teams can try their best in implementing programmes that encourage a healthy lifestyle in the workplace, it is ultimately the employees themselves who need to be receptive to these programmes and actively participate in them for the programmes to succeed. “At Siemens, every effort is made to develop a culture of healthy lifestyle, such as by reaching out to each and every employee via different communication channels to promote awareness on healthier ways to live.
To help achieve this lifestyle, Siemens organises specific programmes and practices that are easily available to its employees. Staying healthy is in the interest of all individuals and Siemens is always keen to support this.”
Chiang points out that the direct supervisor is always a partner to HR in most matters and health is no different. He feels that the heads of staff play a very important role too in ensuring that their people are motivated to be healthy. HR could provide the environment but supervisors must also put in equal effort. “Ultimately, it’s the individual who has to look after himself as HR cannot monitor and control an employee’s life, for instance, what an employee eats after office hours, etc. HR can only educate and provide an environment that encourages a healthy lifestyle.”
Timothy Cheong, head of HR (South East Asia), Lend Lease Asia Holdings, says that HR team functions have to facilitate the execution of work health initiative. He suggests HR teams be judged more for execution rather than the overall strategy.
Motivating employees to stay fit
The fact that there is a committee in Siemens that actively encouraging physical health amongst employees indicates the company’s concern for the health of its workforce. Leong says that The Siemens Workplace Health Committee is dedicated to help employees stay fit and healthy and has adopted a variety of approaches to help employees achieve this
• In-house gymnasium
• Regular exercise classes that include
kick-boxing, yoga and belly-dancing
• Outings and special activities that
include rock climbing and dragon boating
• Educational health talks with topics such as Workplace Ergonomics, Hepatitis B, etc.
• Healthy Food Making Demos
• Dieticians who work with the in-house cafeteria for healthier preparation of food
• Complimentary health screenings
• Benefit points for employees to exchange for health supplements, health screening, fitness equipment, sportswear and
alternative medical treatment
Leong adds that Siemens’ senior management strongly supports these activities by participating in them so that they lead by example.
Chiang says that Great Eastern has regular health talks for employees on issues ranging from correct posture to dietary habits and stress management. “We also subsidise gym memberships.” He says educating employees and creating the right environment and incentive for them to maintain their health is probably the best strategy of all. He also says that the company has seen its rate of absenteeism go down and its employees generally feel good about being healthy. “Our lunch-time talks are well attended and our employees are happy about the strategies we have adopted to encourage them to maintain their health.”
Leong says that by incorporating a variety of programmes across a wide spectrum of activities, Siemens tries to cater to the needs and demands of as many employees as possible. “One fundamental programme that we have is the yearly health screening,” she says, adding that being similar to a school report card, health screenings will help employees ascertain the condition of their health, and take measures to address and improve it. She feels that the main benefit of hosting such programmes is the ability to attract and retain talent as a company committed to pro-moting a healthy lifestyle in the workplace. “Other key benefits include lower absentee rate and better productivity due to increased well-being of employees.” Leong says that through planned team activities, such as football matches and dragon boating, a spirit of teamwork and camaraderie is fostered amongst employees, strengthening relationships and enabling them to work better to-gether. She also says Siemens’ employees are appreciative of the multi-faceted programmes, benefits and facilities provided. “From what we observe, the gym is well utilised, especially during the mornings, before work, during lunch and after work.”
Cheong says that through the ‘Foundation’ arm of Lend Lease, the company has organised programmes like health checks, Pilates, yoga and elementary golf lessons for its employees to explore various ways to stay fit. Cheong says there are also fruits in the pantry in the middle of the week to help employees maintain a healthy diet. “We emphasise a culture of work-life balance in the office to allow employees to pursue their passion without interruptions from work after office hours. We do not engage in programmes that demand a higher critical mass participation than our 300 employees can afford to take up.”
Cheong says that in addition to normal medical insurance benefits, the company’s staff and their families are also given an annual allowance to go for preventive healthcare checks like health screening, prostrate cancer examination, mammogram, pap smear test, hepatitis jabs and other inoculations. “Our strategy is to give our employees sufficient choices and time to pursue healthy interests and benefit from preventive healthcare.”
Apart from major healthcare policies, HR teams are also looking into more creative ways of helping their employees stay fit by analysing the effectiveness of existing methods and getting feedback from the staff. Companies are also taking stock of the increase in costs that accompany healthcare plans, and whether the gains are worth the expense.
Chiang says that the costs the company incurs for educating its staff and subsidising gym memberships are negligible compared to the cost of absenteeism and low morale. He says that the company’s approach towards physical wellbeing of its employees has worked as feedback from staff and staff survey results on engagement, turnover rate and medical leave indicate. “We are looking for more creative ways to get people motivated in maintaining good health. Most people want to have a good lifestyle but they need someone to organise it for them and we are looking at this.” Chiang says that most people are not motivated or disciplined enough to sustain desirable levels of fitness. “The challenge is for HR to keep the momentum going and find different ways of getting the message across.”
Leong says that Siemens has redeployed its budget, which was previously planned for recreational activities, to focus on programmes that promote a healthy lifestyle. She adds that the company provides substantial subsidies for many healthcare programmes and activities, and that the current strategies have led to Siemens Singapore being presented the Gold Health Award by the Singapore Health Promotion Board for the last two consecutive years for its efforts in promoting workplace health.
Leong adds that the company measures the strength of its strategies through employee attendance/participation in the planned activities, absentee/sick leave rate, and regular surveys. “Also, the results of the yearly health screening are good indicators of the effectiveness of the strategies implemented.” She says that as part of an established process, the company is committed to continuously reviewing and enhancing its current programmes with feedback from its employees to cater to the changing needs of its employees and society.
Cheong says that his company reviews all its programmes annually to meet objectives, and it is the value of the programmes rather than the cost that comes under review. He adds that a balanced programme will give the staff a sense of belonging to the company without “molly-coddling” them with plans that do not meet their needs. The effectiveness of the company’s strategies is assessed by keeping track of sick leave taken and also by gauging employees’ “sense of belonging to the company”. Cheong adds that any further plans must relate to the demographic mix and needs of staff. “All programmes will be reviewed annually. As for strategy, we are happy to adopt the current fit-for-purpose stance, and not over-provide.” He believes the company’s employees feel that the company’s strategies are “sufficient” and “not overly generous”.
HR practitioners do their best to give their companies a fit and healthy staff, and are actually responsible only for employing and implementing the tactics needed to attain the company’s policies and goals. Though employee welfare is undoubtedly the domain of HR teams, most HR practitioners feel that it is up to the individual employee to utilise the options his or her company offers and lead a fuller, healthier life.
- Great Eastern Life Assurance
- Land Lease Retail Asia
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