Employers must care

by HRD03 Apr 2017
Employee health and well-being is no longer solely a personal matter for employees; employers have a moral and social responsibility as well

Today, the once clear-cut line between work and home is blurry. Longer working hours, the ability to work from anywhere and the uptake of mobile technology mean traditional notions of work-life balance have shifted. It’s no surprise that employers today are also more involved in the physical and mental well-being of employees. Employee health and well-being is no longer solely a personal matter.

Indeed, according to a March 2016 Labour Market Survey by the Manpower Research & Statistics department, employees spend an average of 45.5 hours at work each week – that equates to more than a quarter of their lives.

“It only makes sense that employers play an active role in their employees’ health,” says Mr Alvin Fu, Chief Corporate Solutions Officer at AIA Singapore. “Employers must care. A healthy workforce will lead to higher employee engagement, higher productivity and lower healthcare costs. Therefore investing in workplace health – from physical surroundings to encouraging physical activity – makes good economic sense and return on investment.”

A wider issue
It’s the well-documented hard statistics that are making business leaders take note. Put simply, poor health costs Singapore. In 2013, physical inactivity in Singapore cost the government, companies and Singaporeans more than S$200m in direct costs alone, the figure ballooning to a whopping S$275m when indirect costs are added.

The Singapore government is taking note, and is now laying the groundwork to ensure the well-being of individuals, families, businesses and the nation through initiatives such as the Healthy Living Master Plan. It recognises that employers now see the value of investing in a more productive workforce.

“Given Singapore’s labour market and ageing population, an increasing proportion of our workforce will work over a longer period of their life,” says Alvin Fu. “It must be imperative then that Singapore keeps its workforce at the highest level of good health possible in order to maximise its productivity.”

What can employers do?
How can employers play a role in a healthier Singapore, and how can they encourage sustainable behavioural change among employees?

At last year’s AIA Vitality Summit, delegates were asked this question. In a live poll, C-suite leadership endorsement and rewarding employees’ healthy behaviours were identified as the top two critical drivers for an effective workplace health program, approximately one in three (35% and 37% respectively) attendees selecting each option.

Alvin Fu says that employees should be rewarded for small step changes in behaviour. Examples of how to make step changes in behaviour include physical activity, healthy eating, annual health screening and mental wellness. Providing vouchers or benefits for small changes in behaviour can create a refreshing workplace culture that is fun and rewarding. 

“In addition, forming teams with colleagues to strive for team challenges creates peer-to-peer motivation and I have seen personally how this encourages employees to increase their physical activity,” says Alvin Fu.
AIA Vitality Weekly Challenge

Launched in January 2017, the AIA Vitality Weekly Challenge inspires AIA Vitality members to get active and be rewarded weekly via a mobile app with cash vouchers from Cold Storage, Starbucks and Uber.

Each week, members who earn 250 AIA Vitality points by participating in physical activities will be able to redeem vouchers worth $5. To put this into perspective, walking 7,500 steps a day translates to 50 AIA Vitality points. An average sedentary deskbound Singaporean walks around 5,000 to 6,000 steps a day. This means that all it takes is to walk a little more every day and exercise once a week to achieve the rewards.

Further, participants can form teams of four to get an additional reward of $5 every week if each member of the team achieves their 250 AIA Vitality points.

“Many colleagues have increased levels of motivation when in a team as the peer pressure provides positive encouragement for everyone in the team to achieve their 250 AIA Vitality points. This is an example of how Vitality is founded on behavioural science to encourage employees to do a little more physical activity each day,” says Alvin Fu, Chief Corporate Solutions Officer, AIA Singapore.

Sustainable programs
Part of the problem for employers, however, is creating initiatives that last. Too many will launch with huge fanfare, only to fizzle out a few months later. Alvin Fu reiterates that this is less likely to happen if the two previously mentioned levers – C-suite leadership endorsement and rewarding employees’ healthy behaviour – are utilised.

“There is no point in having a wellness program without rewarding employees,” he says. “Such programs do not encourage any change in behaviour, as employees quickly get tired with weekly runs or yoga classes. A proper, science-backed wellness program giving vouchers or benefits for each lifestyle change milestone is critical for sustainability and interest.”

AIA’s Vitality program meets these challenges head-on. Launched in 2013, AIA Vitality is a comprehensive wellness program that inspires people to make real change to their health by rewarding them for the small steps they take to become a little healthier every day.

Leveraging behavioural science principles, it provides incentives and rewards for people to make healthy choices. Done repeatedly, these behaviours become a habit and eventually a lifestyle.
Insights into the health of Singaporeans

AIA’s 2016 Healthy Living Index Survey found that Singapore’s healthy living index score continues to track below the regional average. The survey also uncovered key motivators for Singaporeans to lead healthier lifestyles. These included: smaller and more achievable goals (79%), help to change one step at a time (79%), and rewards for reaching their goals (73%). Further insights were gleaned by surveying AIA Vitality Summit delegates:

• 36.6% of participants identified rewarding employees healthy behaviours as the critical driver of an effective workplace health program
• 34.7% suggested C-suite leadership and engagement was critical to the success of a workplace health program
• 38.9% said their biggest challenge to implementing a corporate wellness program in their organisation was uncertainty about ROI from corporate wellness

A results-driven program
An easy way to get started is to seek a sustainable, effective corporate wellness program. AIA Vitality is one such program that has been proven to improve productivity, engagement and retention, as well as decrease healthcare costs for companies. The results speak for themselves:

Vitality drives employee engagement:
According to Vitality Data from the US, the engagement of the segment of the workforce that took part in physical activities increased after Vitality was implemented. A further study found that participants nearly doubled the amount of wellness activities from 6.9 to 13.4 activities per month.

According to the same study, the productivity of employees who were highly engaged was 18% higher when compared to those who had no or a decreased level of engagement.

Employees engaged in Vitality exhibit lower absenteeism and healthcare costs: Data from South Africa, recorded 2008-2011, showed the average number of sick days for employees not on Vitality increased year-on-year, whereas the average number of sick days for employees with Vitality decreased year-on-year. In the same study, an analysis of medical claims for employers showed that the greater the level of Vitality engagement by employees, the lower their associated healthcare costs, relative to employers with lower levels of employee Vitality engagement.

The AIA Vitality Summit 2017 Following the event’s huge success in 2016, the AIA Vitality Summit 2017 will take place on 3 April. Themed “Changing behaviours for a healthier workforce”, the Summit will provide insights and address key questions on how employers can take action:
  • What are practical ways for businesses to implement corporate wellness programs that lead to sustainable behavioural change among employees?
  • Is there an easy, plug-and-play solution for companies to inspire behavioural change and influence good habits for a happier, healthier and more productive workforce?
  • What are the benefits of corporate wellness programs, how do you measure them and why are they especially relevant today?
The Summit will bring together leaders from the financial, healthcare and policymaking sectors to discuss and provide practical advice on how companies can inspire behavioural change and influence good habits among employees to reap the business benefits of a healthy and more productive workforce. Follow AIA Singapore on LinkedIn for updates: www.linkedin.com/company/aiasingapore
AIA Healthiest Workplace Survey

The inaugural Singapore’s Healthiest Workplace 2017 by AIA Vitality is a comprehensive survey of the health and wellbeing of employees in Singapore. This is a well-established survey modelled from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, which was launched in 2013 and surveyed more than 100,000 employees and 400 employers across multiple industries. The survey provides companies with insights that will inform strategies to increase productivity, reduce absenteeism and turnover rates, and lower medical costs. Mr Alvin Fu outlined its importance to Singapore employers.

“Singapore is lagging in its efforts to promote corporate health and the well-being of its employees. Organisations invest in wellness activities such as yoga classes, gym membership and fruits for employees, but fail to have a comprehensive way to track employees’ health and its return on investment.

“AIA Singapore, reinforcing our promise to help our customers live longer, healthier and better lives, is championing this survey at no cost to companies. We want to help Singapore companies establish a baseline for their employee wellness programs and measure their returns on investment.

“I invite every company serious about their employees’ health and well-being to participate in this survey.”

Companies with 50 or more employees are encouraged to register online from Wednesday, 15 March: healthiestworkplace.aia.com. Deadline for registration is Monday, 15 May.

1 The economic burden of physical activity: a global analysis of major non-communicable diseases (2016) The Lancet, http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)30383-X/fulltext
2 Investing in Employees Health Whitepaper, the McKesson case study available at: http://www.aia.com.sg/ content/dam/sg/en/docs/aia-survey-research/investing-in-employee-health-whitepaper.pdf

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