Diagnosing the challenges in today’s healthcare landscape, Nicole Chew finds out how HR leaders from T-Systems, Bose, and more, are reaping the benefits of a holistic and proactive approach to employee health and wellness.
Designing an effective employee healthcare benefits programme is high on the to-do list of an increasing number of progressive employers in Asia. A recent Willis Towers Watson survey showed that 61% of employers in Singapore view health and productivity issues as a priority for adopting a health and wellbeing strategy, and they plan to increase their focus on this for the next three years. At the forefront of this conversation is the rising costs of healthcare.
According to the firm’s Global Medical Trends Survey 2018, Singapore’s medical inflation has increased from 7.6% in the past two years to 9.2% in 2018. Audrey Tan, the head of health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson in Singapore, explains to Human Resources: “Increases in chronic diseases are a key factor in contributing to the rising cost trend.”
In Malaysia, an average of 67 days is lost because of absence and presenteeism per employee per year, and the cost of health-related absence and presenteeism per organisation is estimated to average RM2.7 million per year, according to Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace by AIA Vitality Survey 2017.
It is then no wonder employee healthcare strategies have taken a turn towards empowering employees to take charge of their own health through preventative initiatives that encourage healthy living. “We believe that wellness programmes aimed towards managing lifestyle and chronic care will be key in easing the cost burden over the longer run in the coming years,” Tan says.
We believe that wellness programmes aimed towards managing lifestyle and chronic care will be key in easing the cost burden over the longer run in the coming years.
- Audrey Tan, head of health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson in Singapore
Furthermore, it is becoming evident that such health and wellness programmes not only serve as a means of lowering medical costs. Adopting the perspective that a healthy and engaged workforce often translates into a productive one, HR leaders today are frequently finding ways to invest in the wellbeing of their staff.
Human Resources takes a look at how companies across Singapore and Malaysia are implementing holistic programmes for employees that foster a culture of health and wellbeing in the work environments of their staff.
Employee healthcare and wellness trends in 2018
The scope of employee health and wellbeing has notably expanded beyond physical health to include mental health, nutrition options and stress management, among others. Sulaxmi Prasad, head of performance, rewards and analytics at Digi Telecommunications in Malaysia, predicts an increase in the popularity of wellness programmes that don’t stop at providing gym subscriptions. She notes: “Smart employers will soon promote good eating habits through onsite nudges to eat healthy and also provide subsidised support for nutrition consulting.”
Second, by offering personalised healthcare packages that are tailored to individual employees, companies are able to see a higher employee engagement rate that results in lower healthcare costs. Schneider Electric has sought to provide more personalised healthcare packages to its staff and has since seen a strong correlation between health screen participation and lower hospitalisation rates. Linda Lim, the company’s director of rewards solutions, notes: “We have observed a significant dip in healthcare claims since the implementation of flexible benefits where employees are encouraged and empowered to take charge of their health and wellbeing.”
In addition, more employers will be implementing healthcare and wellness strategies into the employee experience as a whole. For example, office designs have become adapted towards a culture of healthy living, introducing elements such as standing desks, on-site gyms and recreation programmes.
Derrick Lim, training and employee engagement lead at HP Inc Singapore, calls this the “feel-good factor”. He believes that having employees who feel good about the company they work in will ultimately be beneficial for the health and performance of the company. “The more you understand the factors that affect employees’ happiness index, whether it is their health, mental wellbeing or the food quality that is available in the office canteen, the better you will be able to gauge the contribution, or at least reduce the tendency for an employee to look for better employment benefits elsewhere,” he says. “Companies are more likely to retain employees if their ‘feel-good factor’ is high.”
Last, businesses are placing an importance on controlling healthcare expenses, while at the same time providing care services that are accessible and that encourage participation among employees. Janice Ong, pension and benefits director at ABB Singapore, shares how the company is tackling rising costs: “We are driving a more proactive long-term approach on managing these challenges by working closely with our vendors to track risks and exposures, review our insurance programme funding strategy and continuing to drive the implementation of our global health strategy.”
Companies are more likely to retain employees if their ‘feel-good factor’ is high.
- Derrick Lim, training and employee engagement lead at HP Inc Singapore
Programming healthcare for long-term results: T-Systems Malaysia
“A holistic approach to wellbeing and the active strategic support of top management.” This, according to Cyberjaya-based vice-president of human resources at T-Systems Malaysia, Vaclav Koranda, is the key to maintaining a workforce that is healthy and engaged at work. The global IT services and consulting company recently embarked on a healthcare and wellness programme in Malaysia with the goals of increasing employee engagement, productivity, stress management and reducing absenteeism. Aware of the biggest challenges in designing effective healthcare strategies, T-Systems focuses on cost control by continually analysing the main cost drivers and finding innovative solutions around the issue, such as implementing awareness campaigns that promote wellbeing as a personal responsibility.
A holistic approach to wellbeing and the active strategic support of top management.
- Vaclav Koranda, vice-president of human resources at T-Systems Malaysia
Koranda adds that a low awareness of healthy lifestyle practices and the consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle are additional challenges faced by many employers. T-System combats this by placing a large emphasis on awareness among its people, particularly in fostering a culture that promotes wellbeing as a personal responsibility. This campaign is carried out through various mediums such as emails, personalised motivational cards and posters displayed on notice boards, elevators and TV screens.
The company also makes information about health and wellbeing easily accessible to staff by setting up wellbeing booths with informational leaflets on upcoming health-centred Q&As and events. In addition, it utilises gamification to promote healthy living among employees, with plans to organise health-based competitions focused on various aspects of improving health, such as weight loss. He notes that another hurdle for employers is the inflexibility of insurers and insurance policies chosen by the company.
To overcome this, he says it is important to establish and nurture a partnership relationship with insurers and healthcare providers. With every people initiative, it is crucial to measure the programme’s impact on the business on a long-term basis. T-Systems plans to evaluate the results periodically every three months over the course of a year.
“We have a corporate-wide survey that is run twice a year, a part of which focuses on employee health. In addition, we will also take into account the number of sick leaves taken by employees over the year and the total yearly cost for the company’s medical plan.” In the near future, he sees more companies adopting strategies similar to T-Systems in terms of healthcare and wellness by expanding their programmes to account for mental, emotional and social needs.
Turning up the volume on health awareness: Bose Singapore
Audio equipment and accessories developer and retailer Bose has always been in the business of people, be it the customers it invents new technologies for, or the employees it helps grow and develop. While the team at Bose makes sure to provide employees with access to health screening and annual health checks, and a competitive risk and medical insurance coverage, the company believes in going beyond by investing in engaging and creative programmes that promote a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
Last year, the company launched the Bose Global Step Challenge, a 21-day programme where employees, individually or in teams, clocked the number of steps they walked using the app Stridekick. “The purpose of this challenge was to encourage walking as it helps to increase energy levels, burn calories and relieve stress,” says Bose Singapore’s compensation and benefits manager for APAC, Shirley Tan.
“It is also a good alternative for those who do not exercise as walking is something that everyone of all fitness levels can do.” Teams and individuals who clocked the most steps were rewarded with points which could be redeemed for prizes. Besides promoting exercise, Bose recognises the value of promoting awareness surrounding health risks and disease.
Early last year, the Bose Global Wear Red campaign was organised where employees were encouraged to wear red for a week, as a means of raising awareness for cardiovascular disease and the ways to reduce its risks. Integrating social technology into the programme, a photo contest was also held as part of the campaign where employees could take photos of themselves wearing red and post them up on the company’s wellness Yammer page.
According to Tan, the company has also acted on recent studies that have showed the correlation between sitting for long periods of time and obesity, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Bose encourages its employees towards more physical activity not only through these campaigns, but it has also incorporated it through the very design of its offices.
Ergonomic, motorised and height-adjustable standing desks have recently been installed in the offices. Tan commented: “The standing desks will give the employees the option to stand at work which helps to improve their energy levels, productivity, and posture as well as reduce weight gain and back pain. So why sit when we can stand?” Bose has seen an overall decrease in attrition rates by 11.4% in the APAC region partly as a result of these health and wellness initiatives.
“Listening to what the employees need will also allow us to come up with programmes that are of interest to the employees,” she revealed. “Investing in a wellness programme can benefit the companies in a multitude of ways as healthy employees are more likely to work harder and add positive value to the workplace.”
With the trend of rising healthcare costs showing no signs of slowing down, a holistic strategy that enables employees to lead healthier lives can act as an effective countermeasure. From awareness campaigns and exercise challenges, to health-friendly additions to the workplace, opportunities to develop a healthy and productive workforce abound in 2018.
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