Asia Pacific employers are committed to employee health and wellbeing but that’s not reflected in their actions, which are often undermined by a lack of strategy and a disconnect with employees, according to Willis Towers Watson’s new 2015/2016 Global Staying@Work survey, released recently.
Willis Towers Watson’s findings show that only one in three (33%) of Asia Pacific organisations have an articulated Health and Productivity (H&P) strategy. By 2018, more than three-quarters of companies (83%) plan to have a strategy, with a substantial portion (35%) that plan to differentiate their health and wellbeing programmes for critical segments of the workforce.
“Our research shows that employers in Asia have big aspirations,” said Dr. Rajeshree Parekh, Director of Health and Corporate Wellness for Asia and Australasia at Willis Towers Watson. “The journey to health and wellness is a long one. Building a health and productivity strategy takes considerable effort and organisational resolve. Setting objectives that resonate with employees and then delivering on the strategy’s promises is a journey, not a race.”
Barriers to success include inadequate budget and/or staff (41%), and insufficient evidence to build a case for the required investment (37%). Lack of actionable data and employee engagement were often cited as barriers too.
The building blocks for an effective H&P strategy
The survey shows that health and wellbeing programmes offered by employers in the region have progressed in terms of what they offer – from prevention programmes, such as biometric screenings, to lifestyle management, including weight management and stop-smoking programmes. Yet this commitment by employers does not necessarily translate into success.
“To increase a strategy’s chance of success, it is important to view it holistically and offer interconnected programmes, rather than offering individual programmes that don’t have the same overall goal,” said Dr. Parekh. “Implementing health and productivity programmes without having an overarching strategy will have limited success in changing employee behaviour in the long run.”
What are the Underlying Causes?
Lifestyle health risks include stress, lack of physical exercise, obesity, poor nutrition and tobacco use. Sedentary lifestyle is the top concern in Asia Pacific, with stress, insufficient physical activity, and lack of sleep ranking high in almost every market.
“It’s important for employers to recognise that many of these issues are inter-related. For example, research shows that insufficient physical activity, poor nutrition and inadequate sleep are strongly linked with obesity and stress,” said Dr. Parekh. “This linkage is another reason why employers’ efforts to address issues on an individual basis could fail to improve employees’ health and wellbeing.”
Bridging the Disconnect on Stress
According to Willis Towers Watson’s 2015/2016 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey employees’ top cause of stress is low pay, but employers consider low pay to be only number 10 on the list of workers’ stressors.
Conversely, employers incorrectly rank the lack of work/life balance as the leading source of workplace stress – employees say it is actually fourth on their list. Employers also under appreciate the stress caused by a poor company culture that lacks teamwork and accountability.
|Top 10 causes of stress cited by employers and employees Rank||Employers’ Perception||Employees’ Reality|
|1||Lack of work/life balance||Low Pay|
|2||Inadequate staffing||Inadequate staffing|
|3||Unclear or conflicting job expectations||Company culture|
|4||Technologies that expand work day||Lack of work/life balance|
|5||Lack of supervisor support||Lack of supervisor support|
|6||Low-control, high-demand jobs||Excessive amount of organisational change|
|7||Excessive amount of organisational change||Unclear or conflicting job expectations|
|8||Company culture||Concerns about benefit reduction/loss|
|9||Concerns about personal financial situation||Concerns about personal financial situation|
|10||Low pay||Low-control, high-demand jobs|
In Asia Pacific, employers use financial incentives but are achieving mixed success. Employees are willing to take on fairly simple activities, such as completing a health assessment, in exchange for incentives.
However, they are far less willing to participate in long-term activities, such as participating in a weight-reduction programme. As such, 50% of companies offering incentives plan to reassess their design in the next three years.