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Cara Ang - AIA Singapore

3 tips to get started on the corporate health journey

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Cara Ang, chief human resources officer, AIA Singapore, shares how wellness programmes can help organisations acquire and retain top talent.

In a recent survey commissioned by specialised recruitment company Robert Half, it was found that talent management will top the agenda for 47% of Singapore businesses in 2020.

But when every other business is focusing its attention on talent management and is after the same crème de la crème of our talent pool, how can organisations stay ahead of the curve to acquire, retain and develop a strong workforce for continuous growth?

The increasing dominance of the health and well-balanced lifestyle conscious Millennial generation in the work force today is spurring a shift towards more companies to incorporate corporate wellness programmes into their human resource strategy. This win-win initiative for both companies and employees has given rise to much debate on a right formula for a sustainable successful corporate wellness programmes.

To start off, employees should be encouraged to take charge of their own health. This empowers them to create positive change in their everyday lives. Employees who lead an active, well-balanced lifestyle will find that they are more productive at work than their peers. Studies have shown that a healthy physical regimen is directly linked to prolonged mental stamina, improved concentration, and sharper memory, amongst other things. This also translates into increased productivity, decreased healthcare costs and increased profitability for businesses.

Secondly, wellness programmes are becoming increasingly important today with more employees attracted to work arrangements that help them strike a better work-life balance for themselves. In fact, wellness programmes offered by companies is one of the top three work-life design elements that professionals value, according to a recent survey.

Here is a simple practical guide to help organisations get started on the corporate health journey:

1. Know your health

“I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion.” – Billie Jean King, former world-leading professional tennis player.

The first step is understanding where you are, and where you want to go. In the realm of corporate health, businesses need to assess the state of their employees’ health, which can be done through simple health surveys.

For example, the established “Britain’s Healthiest Workplace” survey has helped over 400 organisations gain a deeper understanding of the health risks affecting their employees and their impact on other factors such as job and life satisfaction. Nomura International took the crown as “healthiest large workplace” in 2016, with offerings such as personal training in the company gym.

Closer to home, the inaugural “Singapore’s Healthiest Workplace by AIA Vitality” survey provides participating employers with an in-depth report of their organisation’s overall state of health and benchmarking information.

2. C-suite leadership and engagement

The next step is to ensure that your management team is on board with implementing a wellness programme. One in three attendees at the AIA Vitality Summit 2016 identified C-suite leadership and engagement as a critical driver for an effective workplace health programme.

Beyond signatory approvals and internal circulars, this entails the leadership team walking the talk, themselves engaging in the programme to emphasise the high priority of health in the organisation.

For example, when introducing regular company or department runs, senior management should not only join in, but also motivate the team to remain committed and remind employees of the importance of carving out time to strike a balance between work and wellness.

Real change begins with you.

3. Reward employees’ healthy behaviours 

Finally, incentivising employees for their healthy behaviours is particularly effective in encouraging them to lead healthy lifestyles.

Rewards tied to wellness programmes have been proven to increase activity level, improve food choices, and decrease healthcare costs, based on data from an established wellness programme that incentivises and rewards members for making healthy choices. For example, participants in one study nearly doubled their amount of physical activities from 6.9 to 13.4 activities per month.

Besides the usual fruits days or gym membership subsidies, consider setting health as a key performance indicator (KPI) and offering more direct financial rewards, which are more effective than other rewards for encouraging healthy behaviour change.

An unconventional approach, but making health a KPI was precisely what started the wave of wellness at United Test and Assembly Center (UTAC) in Singapore.

On noticing unhealthy weight gain within his team, UTAC’s chief human resources officer suggested setting ‘weight reduction’ as a KPI for his corporate HR team. This elevated ‘wellness programme’ to a greater priority within the team. It took shape quickly with several initiatives such as appointing a coach to make dietary recommendations and lead the team in cycling sessions, having weekly weight measurements, tracking health KPIs with scoring charts and taking before and after photos to document progress. Employees who achieve a successful health milestone are treated to special dinners.

The corporate HR team cycles 40km to 50km at least three times a week now, making tangible health improvements that have led them to be more productive at work. The team constantly encourages one another to make healthier lifestyle choices every day.

One team member, Alexander Yap who is the UTAC rewards director lost 16kg weight during the first five months of the cycling activity, similar weight loss results experienced by the other HR cycling team members became apparent with associates from other departments expressing interest in joining the group.

We are often pulled into a sedentary lifestyle when we join the workforce. Wellness programmes help individuals make personal health goals and meet them at their own pace with a little motivation from peers and employers. This way, they are able to make healthy lifestyle changes to lead better lives and bring more value to the organisation at the same time.

Some companies have also chosen to work with corporate health programme providers with proven track records, who have the expertise and experience to develop customised programmes that are effective and sustainable.

Creating change is never easy but it is a worthy investment because bringing health to your workplace will boost your company’s productivity and profitability in addition to helping you attract and retain the best talent.

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