Workplace Tenets to Implementation of a Successful Health and Productivity Strategy

September 14, 20168:41 am933 views

Employees all over the world are beginning to see the connection between a healthy and engaged workforce and better organisational productivity and financial performance. It is a connection, our research has been demonstrating for decades.

As the most recent Willis Towers Watson 2015/16 Staying@Work survey – Asia Pacific indicates, a healthy workforce means fewer missed work days and more engaged employees. It comes as no surprise then that 90% of organisations in Asia Pacific that responded, say improving their workforce health and productivity (H&P) is a core component of their health strategy. Nearly all (99%) organizations said they were committed to improving H&P in the years ahead.

Organisations that have effective H&P programmes not only have a healthier and happier workforce, it makes financial sense, too. Employees are twice as likely to outperform their peers financially, they are 50% more likely than their competitors to report lower turnover rates, and the revenue per employee is 50% higher.

Employers understand that their H&P strategies can achieve a lot. The survey showed that in Asia Pacific, the top priorities of an organisation’s H&P strategy were broad:

  • Improve productivity (70%)
  • Improve safety (69%)
  • Develop a workplace culture of health (63%)
  • Improve health and risk awareness (62%)
  • Improve physical health (59%)

The Unhealthy Gap

Despite such a strong case for H&P goals, many organisations are unsuccessful in achieving them. The desire and commitment is there, yet they falter. Lack of employee engagement in programmes, inadequate budgets, and lack of metrics are hindering programme effectiveness and, in some areas, rates of programme adoption.

This is because commitment and implementation of a successful strategy are very different things.Over half (57%) of Asia Pacific employers have no articulated H&P strategy. Most offer a ragtag of various health and wellness programmes, and do not understand what their employees need.

It’s clear that there’s a gap between employer and employee perceptions. For instance, while the employer considers lack of work-life balance as the primary source of stress, employees point out three very different areas – adequate pay, right resources to do their work and a clear understanding of priorities as well as a work environment that allows them to be effective.

Perhaps in part due to this gap, only 36% of employees credited their employers for helping them lead a healthy lifestyle. While almost three in four employees prefer to manage their own health, there still maybe role for employers to play. As 71% employees believe, employers should play an active role in encouraging their employees to live healthy lifestyles.

See: How to Create Healthy Workplaces of Tomorrow?


The Four-Pronged Approach

From Willis Towers Watson’s experience, a core reason why H&P initiatives are not effective is because of lack of an overall strategy. Successful organisations have learnt several lessons in developing a healthy and engaged staff.

Employers can build a strong foundation on which to launch their H&P efforts — and bridge the employer/employee perception gap. This can be done by first involving the workforce in an assessment of population-specific health-related needs and preferences.

This information will help employers to direct limited H&P resources to address the identified needs of local offices, regions and various workforce segments, rather than use a potentially more expensive, and less effective, one-size-fits-all approach.

High-effectiveness organisations take a holistic view of H&P and primarily focus on four vital elements:

  • Prevention: Keep employees healthy
  • Personal support: Address specific employee health needs
  • Organisational support: Build a healthy workplace culture
  • Programme and delivery: Design a strategy aligned to the Employee Value Proposition (EVP), and deliver using technology and targeted communications.

Another core quality of an effective H&P strategy is to offer a range of programme choices, that are regularly evaluated for their effectiveness. The employers’ focus should be on involving the entire organisation by linking H&P to the EVP, and involving leaders and managers in encouraging engagement.

Addressing the individual in a holistic way to include physical, emotional and financial health is needed, too.

Promoting a Culture of Health

To conclude, employers need to go beyond merely designing and implementing H&P strategies. They are required to encourage, build and reassert the importance of a culture of health at work. This can be done in a number of ways:

  • Strong foundation: To build a strong foundation, organisations need not only link their health-related programmes to business priorities and EVP, but also to other corporate priorities such as safety, corporate social responsibility, diversity and inclusion, and sustainability.
  • Focus on the environment: For nearly two-thirds of employers in Asia Pacific, building an organisational culture of health is their primary strategy for promoting healthy employee behaviours in 2016. For this, every aspect of workplace needs to be considered – from cafeteria food and snack machines, to workplace stress.
  • A range of programmes: To increase employee participation and to help them access the right type of care at the right time, offer a range of programmes to address physical exercise, stress, healthy eating and lifestyle, onsite immunisations, and so on.
  • Tech talk: Capitalise on technology by reaching out to employees through apps, mails, telemedicine, and you could also refer them to good health websites.
  • Make it personal: It becomes easier to get employee participation once an employer manages to convince the employees about the programme been designed with them in mind. Dedicated portals, targeted communication campaigns, and specialised programmes are some examples to attract employee participation.
  • Go Glocal: MNCs need to capitalise on global drivers but should seek local management of the same. It is crucial to keep local culture and tradition in mind, while trying to implement a global H&P initiative.
  • Numbers knowledge: Measuring programme effectiveness is not only a way to measure its return on investment, but also helps you make relevant changes.

Instilling a culture of health at work won’t happen overnight. However, this long-term strategy will make it easier to identify high-impact programmes, increase their effectiveness and, ultimately improve business performance.

Dr Rajeshree Parekh, Director of Health and Corporate Wellness for Asia and Australasia, Willis Towers Watson

Author credits: Dr Rajeshree Parekh, Director of Health and Corporate Wellness for Asia and Australasia, Willis Towers Watson

Also read: Fluff vs. Reality – Challenges to Establishing Healthy Workplace Culture in APAC: Exclusive learnings from Steve Melhuish

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