To pamper, or not to pamper? Is this really the question business leaders and human resources professionals should ask themselves when deciding whether or not to implement or even downsize existing health management efforts within their organisations? Or, in other words, is there money to be made by being - not green in this case - but psychologically and health-conscious? 86% of EU residents rate being in good health primordial to their quality of life, but only 21% actually enjoys good health.
Throughout Europe we observe significant increases in chronic diseases such as obesity, depression, alzheimer, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular illness, and stress/burnout. Stress is actually the second most reported work-related health problem, affecting 22% of EU workers (2005). Besides ill-health and health related lifestyle issues, we observe that the average effective retirement age has gone up from 59 to 64 over the last 3 years. The percentage of 65+ employees increased from 13% in 1965 to 20.3% in 2004 and it continues to rise.
The fact that we live longer, but not necessarily healthier, and that we need to work longer than before, makes makes for a far less sustainably productive workforce in the long run. Yes, and quoting John M. Keynes, in the long run we are all dead. The real question to be asked, however, is whether an organisation can make it in good (read: financial) health without too much suffering. Therefore, these health, retirement and lifestyle issues must be seen not only as challenges that transcend the workplace but also intrinsically related to the workplace. (Sources: Eurostat, osha.europa.eu, Gallup and ESS & nef)
Workplace health development is undeniably an essential part of business today. As with any strategic objective it depends on a crucial set of conditions in order to make it pay off for you as an organisation. Its success is usually measured by the level of utilisation of health initiatives and their sustainability over time. In turn, these critical success factors largely depend on their availability, the level of acceptance by the workforce, integration in terms of company policy and values, and top down support in promoting, and continuously improving and developing health initiatives. This will make your company partake in a new wave of awareness in Europe on the financial importance of workplace health. You will not only be considered an employer of choice but at the same time you will be perceived as socially responsible towards society in terms of managing the overall health cost. Thus, improving your brand image.
Employees are the forerunners in realising added value and meeting strategic needs. They are therefore your most precious capital. But pampering them? Please do not! Empowerment is the means to an end. It is the basic concept of providing employees with the skills, resources, authority, opportunity, motivation, as well as holding them responsible and accountable for the outcomes of their behaviour. Preventative health management services and ditto tools are designed to do just that. They foster engagement and workability; making it the extra leverage you need to reach your objectives, and thus of strategic importance to your company and its bottom line.
So how much is there to be gained? A recent study by the World Economic Forum analysed the effect of workplace wellness programmes and concluded that they can achieve a 25–30% reduction in medical and absenteeism costs, resulting in increased productivity and lower recruitment and training costs as fewer workers retire or leave for health reasons. companies in Europe that target employee behaviour linked to chronic disease risk factors can save an average of up to € 400 per employee each year in healthcare costs and productivity. In Asia the average potential saving is much lower but the proportional impact of a workplace preventative health programme on company performance is equally crucial. Findings show that organisations are seen as 2.5 times more likely to be a best performer. They are 4 times less likely to lose talent within the next year. They are 3.5 times more likely to encourage creativity and innovation and 8 times more likely to be engaged in the work they do. To keep things in perspective one should not forget that stress for example accounts for 50% to 60% of all lost working days. This represents an estimated annual economic cost in the EU of 20 billion EURO (2002). Source: osha.europa.eu
Different companies show different maturity levels in their health management efforts. In concordance with research conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, I was able to distinguish several maturity levels regarding the level of strategic importance of workplace health management. Unless firmly considered, duly implemented and integrated throughout an organisation, the initial investment will pay itself off and will prove to be of considerable benefit to one’s competitive position in the market.
Selecting, implementing and integrating preventative health measures is by no means an easy task given the pitfalls and issues that come with it. The following graph clearly shows why industries in Europe either fail or remain reluctant to adapt policy and invest is such programs. From the graph below one can clearly observe a considerable preoccupation with short term objectives and the lack of incentive to free up budget for such efforts. We also see that there is a substantial lack of awareness about the potential benefits and the overall long term importance of the matter. Source: Iga Actuell 1/2010.
Change, investment and a long term strategic vision is indeed required. Against the backdrop of the current economic climate, this is psychologically perhaps not an easy step to make. However, we do see market recovery and therefore considerably more room to start debating and preparing the road ahead. Implementation and integration take time. However, the time to prepare for later is now. Success will be for those who are both leaders in innovation and implementation.