Monday 22 Apr 2024
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Increasingly, research on corporate wellness has indicated that proactive management of employees’ physical as well as mental health can help reduce staff turnover and absenteeism and, in turn, boost productivity.

And it seems that about half of all employers globally subscribe to this belief, as they offer some kind of health and well-being programme, according to a global survey on health promotion and workplace wellness strategies by Buck Consultants in 2012.

The more recent Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace by AIA Vitality 2019 survey, the first science-backed survey commisioned by AIA that analyses productivity for companies as well as employees’ health, shows that 61% of 230 organisations polled have a budget for health and well-being facilities and services. And at 80% of the organisations involved, staff health and ­well-being are discussed at the board level at least once a year.

But employees are only going to benefit from health and well-being programmes if they are aware of and actively take part in them. In the Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace by AIA Vitality survey, the average awareness rate among employees about health and well-being programmes or interventions offered at the workplaces is a low 15%, while the participation rate in the interventions by employees is below 10% of eligible employees. Further data collected shows a significant gap between what employers say they offer and what employees perceive the offer to be.

The survey, which polled 17,595 employees, also found that the cost of health-related absenteeism and presenteeism translates into 73 days lost per employee per year for organisations. While absenteeism needs no explanation, presenteeism refers to the scenario when an employee clocks in but is unable to perform work due to health issues.

The days lost per year are equivalent to RM1.46 million worth of estimated average monthly cost per organisation.

Clearly, there is a need for better employee engagement to understand what they really need to help them on their journey to better health and well-being. This is especially because most employers do not have a good understanding of the health and well-being risks their employees face, says Dr Christian van Stolk, executive vice-president of not-for-profit research institute RAND Europe, which focuses on helping improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis.

 

Getting the motive right

There are many approaches to making employee engagement work. However, the worst thing a manager can do is engage with employees on the basis that his engagement is driven by financial motives, says van Stolk.

For example, by focusing on sickness absence, it would imply that the only reason a manager cares about staff health and well-being is to reduce productivity loss, he says. This tends to lead to lower levels of engagement.

As a result, van Stolk encourages organisations to survey their employees, hold workshops with them and collect information about them and from them through staff forums or line managers. It is good for an organisation to have a work council or staff forum, as it typically translates into higher employee engagement.

Ultimately, it is about giving employees a voice in how the organisation works and the design of intervention programmes for them, he adds.

Line managers are also crucial in such efforts, as they are not only the facilitators but also barriers to better staff health and well-being. “Role modelling by senior executives is important as well as reporting on health and well-being in the workplace. The latter speaks to the old adage, ‘what gets measured gets done’. Organisations are more likely to take action when health and well-being is being discussed at executive and board level,” van Stolk notes.

And if employees are less inclined to change, creating an environment conducive to change and a culture of health within the organisation may provide them with extra motivation.

As an example, van Stolk cites the AIA Vitality programme, under which members get rewarded with benefits and discounts by staying healthy, which will encourage more healthy behaviour.

Interestingly, van Stolk says loss-framed incentives work as a powerful incentive tool.

“RAND did some work on a Vitality programme in the UK that used an Apple Watch. The members received the watch and it would remain free of charge if they undertook a certain exercise regime. If they fell behind, they would have to start paying for the watch. The effect was quite impressive, as employees wanted to avert losing the watch or having to pay for it.

“Promotion and renewal are also important in programmes. Employers often put interventions in place without promoting or updating them. This tends to lead to low awareness and participation. Those participating also want new interventions over time. So, programmes need to be continuously reinvented to drive engagement and remain relevant,” says van Stolk.

AIA Bhd chief human resources officer Thomas Wong, meanwhile, says engagement programmes should be customised to the needs of the particular organisation as well as individual work teams.

“At AIA, we view engagement as the product of the interplay of human needs at the workplace, which range from the basic one such as clarity of role and responsibilities to higher needs such as growth and development. The links between each need and high performance provides a framework for managers to influence and inspire their team’s engagement and actions. Offering rewards and benefits will only take us so far. We believe that fostering a purpose-led organisation underpinned by empowerment and trust will ensure the sustainable growth of the people and the organisation,” he says.

 

Employers often put interventions in place without promoting or updating them. This tends to lead to low awareness and participation. - Dr Christian van Stolk

 

At AIA, we view engagement as the product of the interplay of human needs at the workplace, which range from the basic one such as clarity of role and responsibilities to higher needs such as growth and development. - Thomas Wong

 

At the moment, most companies in Malaysia often practise a basic minimum compliance with the country’s labour law [when it comes to employee treatment], with no additional consideration given to employees. - Dr Marzuki Isahak

 

 

Employees know when employers care

Employees can sense that a company cares for them. Needing to feel that one belongs is a basic psychological need, says

Dr Marzuki Isahak, an associate professor at the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya.

“At the moment, most companies in Malaysia often practise a basic minimum compliance with the country’s labour law [when it comes to employee treatment], with no additional consideration given to employees. Hence, firstly, we need to go back to the basics. When offering salary and the different types of leave, the company has to consider if these are sufficient for their employees.

“Secondly, companies have to see if their policy benefits employees and not just the company. Is the policy conducive for the growth and needs of employees?

“Thirdly, companies have to present themselves as being employee-friendly in that opinions, suggestions and voices are allowed to be heard without employees feeling threatened or scared,” he says.

According to Wong, the biggest misconceptions about employee engagement are higher pay leads to greater engagement, and engagement can be strengthened through fun one-off events and activities.

“Employees have different needs, expectations and motivations and what resonates with each varies.

“Engagement strategies therefore need to be integrated with daily work activities underpinned by regular, focused, meaningful conversations between employers and employees,” he says.

In Malaysia, AIA invests in various formal and informal initiatives to recognise employees’ extra efforts and exemplary behaviours, and in development programmes to expose its people to learning experiences and career opportunities that will enhance their technical and leadership competencies.

“We are especially encouraged by our progress in improving the health and well-being of our employees through the AIA Vitality programme. It has formed the basis for us to introduce a range of workplace health and wellness interventions over the last four years. Our progress indicates that the initiatives are what our people need and want. We believe that when our people choose to be healthy and stay healthy, they will bring the best of themselves to work and give their best,” says Wong.

When it comes to organisational psychology, it is always debatable to say what is the best practice, Marzuki says, as understanding employees’ needs has always been linked to individual well-being.

In relation to employee well-being, scholars suggest that providing more job resources, such as recognition, training, rewards, social support and a positive work climate, will enhance work engagement and increase job satisfaction.

Marzuki cites a new theory called psychosocial safety climate, which proposes four main elements that could help  build a psychologically safe working environment. They are 1) management priority, 2) management support, 3) organisational communication and 4) organisational involvement.

“It’s important to create an employee-friendly company in which employees can voice out their concerns and suggestions, and the company acts on the feedback, rather than just entertaining employees and burying the issues thereafter.

“Listen to employees, see what else is lacking in the policy, how they can do better as a company. For this, Human Resources has a major role to play,” he says.


The Edge is the media partner of Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace by AIA Vitality 2019

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