Saturday, February 26, 2011

When wellness goes corporate

Corporates are now accepting wellness programmes as an important part of employee welfare

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Times Wellness on Sunday, February 27, 2011

Long hours, demanding bosses, tight deadlines, irreverent subordinates, absent colleagues, sleepless nights – no corporate job is without stress. And with increasing number of employees complaining of aches, colds, sore backs, larger waistlines and weaker hearts, companies are now looking beyond gyms and retreats to ensure better employee health and productivity.

Wooing employees with wellness
From full medical checks, to one-on-one diet counselling, to discounts at spas, gyms, hospitals and pharmacies, to seminars on stress management, yoga and meditation, to tobacco cessation camps, companies are doling out incentives to make their employees slimmer, fitter and healthier.

“We take good health for granted. Our lifestyles are characterised by stress, lack of exercise and unhealthy diets. These lead to ‘lifestyle diseases’ such as hypertension, heart ailments, cancer, osteoporosis and diabetes, which progress silently. Through regular screenings, they can be detected early and managed through lifestyle and dietary changes and medication. Preventive health check-up, therefore, saves the body from further damage and reduces treatment costs,” says Manpreet Sohal, Director, Fortis Hiranandani Hospital at Vashi. Fortis Healthcare, along with Apollo hospitals, has re-defined corporate healthcare in India with customised health packages for clients depending on the age group of employees, stress levels and the industry they work in. So while they provide Pulmonary Function Testing (PFT) to employees in the chemical industry, they organise relaxation camps for top-level executives in Mauritius.

Good health means better productivity
While they help improve attendance rates and lower insurance costs, corporate wellness programmes have been shown to lead to higher levels of job satisfaction among employees. “Healthy people tend to be more productive and experience a better quality of life both at home and at work,” says Manoj Menon, senior vice president- operations of SunGard Global Services which has offices in Pune and Bangalore. Introduced four years ago, SunGard’s initiative, Wellness Works, has become a regular feature on the annual employee activities calendar. “It started with a simple thought - how can we can help employees stay healthy given the pressures of modern day life? Scattered efforts such as ergonomics camps, gymnasium tie-ups, etc followed and soon grew into an organisation-wide movement that garner the support of our high-level executives including Cris Conde (our group CEO) himself,” Menon explains, adding that the number of employees taking time off due to illness have reduced significantly. 

Finding time for health
With most corporate employees working 12-hour jobs, few are inclined to take up other activities alongside office hours. But many corporates have now made wellness a part of their employees’ schedule. Sohal notes, “Some corporates give a full day off to employees and they appreciate that. It is a nice gesture that your company thinks of you and gives you an off to take out time for your health and wellness.” Aniruddha Bose, CEO and director of the New Delhi-based Renova Health and Wellness, points out, “The average smoker spends 40 hours smoking over a two month period! Is that not a waste of time too? If spending five to six hours in wellness programmes over two months can help that employee quit smoking, or become more fit and productive, then isn’t it a good investment of time?”

Corporate wellness initiatives have resulted in greater awareness and participation among employees. “While we did have tie-ups with organisations for health check ups earlier, people were not availing these services citing time constraints among other reasons. By launching our health initiative, Sanjeevani in 2006, we brought wellness to the employees’ doorsteps while aligning ourselves to the corporate Health Safety Environment (HSE) standards,” notes Pradeep Vaishnav, senior director, Human Resources - India and South Asia, Sanofi-Aventis Group. The last complete medical check-up conducted under the programme saw an employee turnout of 96 per cent. Vaishnav remembers a case where, “An employee took the risk posed by his high BMI very seriously and entered into a conscious exercise and diet control plan and reduced his body weight by 28 kg!”

A win-win for all
The initiation of corporate wellness programmes has resulted in an increasing number of health service providers who want to enter into this sphere. Bose explains, “Service providers can execute deals on a mass scale rather than acquiring customers from retail, which can be expensive, frustrating and time-consuming as it requires a very significant branding effort. A two-month wellness program for a 300 employee worksite can cost anything from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 10 lakh. Though the profit ‘per unit’ is lower in corporate deals, the volume profits can be significant if the projects are managed and executed smartly and efficiently. As for the client, the benefits include improved productivity, better employee morale, lower attrition, better talent attraction, CSR benefits, lowered healthcare costs, lower sick days, and better senior management productivity.”

The competition is fierce but fitness providers remain unfazed. Says Nicholas Kraal, senior business development manager at the Mumbai-based lifestyle club, True Fitness, “We’ve seen a steady increase in the number of people who want to lose and maintain their way. There’s a demand for fitness and so it’s good that many service providers are coming into the market. More players mean good competition and competition will make us better.”

Health versus Cost to company
Wellness does not come cheap. Deepika Muthreja of BFY Sports and Fitness mentions that a one-day wellness programme can cost the company anywhere between Rs 30,000-50,000 while regular one-hour sessions for the workforce, three days a week for six weeks can cost anywhere between Rs 750-1200 per head. That may sound a little steep for companies to consider. Bose notes, “Many companies do not have (or are unwilling to allocate) adequate wellness budgets, or are relying on ‘freebies’ provided by independent wellness professionals – which are really just marketing activities in disguise. 90 per cent of Indian companies are still unwilling to accept the fact that spending on employee wellness actually improves their bottom line over the long term, and neglecting employee wellness increases costs heavily over the long term. In fact, a recent study has indicated that every rupee spent on corporate wellness returns Rs 3 over a three to five year period. That’s a return of over 200 per cent!”

As Dr Rajesh Mahadevan, COO of the Bangalore-based Alpha Medical Services sums up, “Gone are the days when people would read brochures for awareness. They just don’t have the time now. They need seminars, workshops and health camps to enable them to ask questions and clear their doubts. Healthier employees mean better bottom lines!”

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