Companies that are highly effective in their health programs and workforce management are more likely to adopt a multi-faceted, holistic approach to health and productivity (H&P), according to the Towers Watson Staying@Work Survey. Such an approach would include a focus on data, the commitment and support of senior leadership, and effectively integrating technological tools.
“High-effectiveness organisations actively look into what drives employee health behaviour and risks,” said Dr. Rajeshree Parekh, Asia Pacific Director — Global Health and Group Benefits, Towers Watson. “This kind of approach is crucial to ensure employer and employee interests are aligned, and that employers have a long-term view to success. It’s particularly important in a year where stress is found to be the number-one workforce risk issue in Asia. The sources of what causes stress are historically tough for employers to nail down, and our research shows that employers are struggling to tackle it.”
Stress is ranked as the number-one lifestyle risk factor — ranking above physical inactivity and obesity — by employers in all countries in Asia Pacific, with the exception of China, where it is ranked second. However, when asked about which priorities were top of mind when developing their H&P programs, only a third (33%) cited improving the emotional/mental health of employees. In this regard they are ahead of some of their mature-market counterparts — for example, in the United States, only 15% cited this.
Additionally, only approximately one in four (26%) of employers in Asia currently offer a program on stress or resilience management.
“While stress can energise workers to meet challenging goals, it can also overwhelm them and interrupt business performance.” said Dr. Parekh. “Stress has a strong link to physical health, emotional health, personal purpose and community — all contributing factors to workplace performance. But when employers do not fully recognise what causes stress, they risk diverting time and resources to fixing the wrong problems and, at the same time, alienating employees.”
The top three actions taken by employers to tackle stress are: Education and awareness campaigns (implemented by 41% of employers), flexible working options (40%) and stress management interventions such as yoga and tai chi workshops (38%). However, many employers continue to take no action. Fourteen percent of Asia Pacific employers said they have implemented none of the programs suggested in our survey (this includes 22% of employers in China, 16% in Singapore, and 10% in India). Only 5% of employers in the United States said the same.
“This is not only a lack of action issue but also Asian employers have yet to go beyond low-cost/no-cost actions,” said Dr. Parekh. “The top three steps taken are all relatively low-investment, both in terms of time and resources. Employers would do well to look at longer-term options such as promoting an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which requires more planning and resources upfront, but would lead to a greater payoff in the long run.”
Solutions: Establishing a Holistic Workplace Culture of Health
Encouragingly, the top priority for employers when designing their H&P program is developing a workplace culture of health. A workplace culture of health involves one where employees are responsible for their own health and understand its importance. However, only high-effectiveness companies are taking concrete steps in this direction with approaches that embrace change, include a foundation in data and analysis, and have the buy-in of senior leadership.
These approaches are paying off:
- High-effectiveness organisations in Asia Pacific have a 20 percentage point higher participation in lifestyle behaviour coaching programs and a 21 percentage point higher participation in EAPs compared to low-effectiveness organisations
- 66% of employees at high-effectiveness organisations complete the health risk assessment, compared to 61% for low-effectiveness organisations
- Companies in Asia Pacific with highly-effective programs experienced 2.0 percentage points lower voluntary turnover
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