Recently, when most Malaysians had to stay at home during the Movement Control Order (MCO) period, one of the most common questions they were likely to get when contacted by their employer was: “How are you holding up?” And the conversation would invariably end with something along the lines of “Stay safe, stay healthy”.
Companies allowed to operate during the MCO had to contend with issues such as temperature screening, managing employees’ work schedules and exposure to possible health risks, or simply getting in touch with those working from home who felt overwhelmed by the lockdown.
Now, with the country having entered the “recovery phase” of the MCO — when almost all social, educational, religious and business activities will resume in phases, but with strict adherence to standard operating procedures — these same concerns are faced by all employers, in the “new normal” of social distancing and working from home.
Perhaps it was not noticed by many, but never before in Malaysia’s employment history have employees’ health and well-being been given as much thought and attention as when the Covid-19 pandemic swept through the country.
While the situation was unprecedented, it also drove home an important point. An employee’s health and well-being — whether physical, mental or emotional — directly affects a company’s productivity and performance.
Even before the pandemic struck, there was growing awareness of this, going by the rising number of organisations that had participated in the Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace by AIA Vitality survey in the past three years. From 47 organisations involving 5,369 employees in 2017, the numbers increased to 230 organisations and 17,595 employees last year.
“This is a tremendous growth in participation, signifying how companies in Malaysia are prioritising workplace health and working towards improving the health of their employees,” says AIA Bhd CEO Ben Ng.
Malaysia’s 15.71 million-strong workforce, according to data from the Department of Statistics as at April this year, is definitely not immune to health problems. In fact, an increasing number of their health problems are due to poor lifestyle habits. For example, the National Health and Morbidity Survey in 2019 found that one in five adults in Malaysia have diabetes, which translates to 3.9 million people aged 18 years and above. While four in 10 or eight million adults in Malaysia have elevated cholesterol levels, which is more than 5.2 millimoles per litre or higher.
“As the leading provider of employee benefit schemes, AIA has first-hand view of the impact that an unhealthy workforce has on employers. In 2019, the Malaysian workforce lost an average of 73.3 working days per employee per year.
“From a business perspective, this has caused Malaysian companies to lose an average of RM1.46 million per company per month, owing to employee health-related absence and presenteeism,” says Ng. While absenteeism is self-explanatory, presenteeism occurs when an employee clocks in but is unable to perform his duties owing to health issues.
Many employers have begun to realise the impact of employees’ health-related issues and initiated intervention programmes to help steer their employees to better health. In fact, the latest survey that AIA commissioned shows that employers in Malaysia offer an average of 14 interventions a year.
However, only 15% of employees are aware of these interventions and the average participation rate across such interventions stood at only 9%.
The key challenges employers face
Such low awareness and participation rates highlight three key challenges employers face when it comes to addressing the health and well-being of their workforce.
The first is the lack of data to help them understand their employees’ health situation. “To provide interventions that really benefit their workforce, employers need to know the actual health profiles of their employees. Only by knowing this will they be able to invest in the right interventions for their people,” explains Ng.
Second on the list is the struggle to design a holistic workforce well-being programme that works. A successful intervention should directly address the problem, offer the right tools and programmes, and be one that employees are aware of and want to engage in, says Ng.
“The third key issue is the difficulty in calculating the return on investment from such programmes or interventions. Some organisations expect instant results after investing in health and wellness programmes — such as lower claims utilisation or reduced absenteeism and presenteeism. However, change takes time and patience. Results will come,” he says.
Interestingly, even implementing a new policy that is favourable to employees has its own challenges, like what digital services provider, Digi Telecommunications experienced when it introduced a six-month paid maternity leave.
“When we proposed the change in policy, we had many questions, from managers asking who would fill these roles or how to manage the workload while their colleagues were away, to shareholders questioning how we were going to maintain productivity,” Digi’s chief human resource officer Elisabeth Stene says.
These were all valid questions and it took Digi months to make sure they were properly addressed, using various channels, such as the Digi Employees Union, and active engagement with line leaders via its leadership forums to obtain employee feedback, Stene says. “The key is to be transparent and communicate as often as you can with every level of the organisation, and maintain open channels for feedback,” she adds.
Employee buy-in is key to deploying strategies for a company with an exciting growth agenda, says Top Glove Corporation Berhad executive chairman Tan Sri Dr Lim Wee Chai.
And building a competitive portfolio of benefits that appeals to the younger generation is a priority. Hence, the the manufacturer of gloves benchmarks market offerings and makes sure to stay abreast of trends in the macro environment to ensure these benefits evolve along with changing needs.
“We value the input of our people and have made it a practice to obtain feedback from senior personnel, prior to any policy implementation or changes. There is clear communication on the whys and hows of a strategy and post-implementation, we monitor closely and remain receptive to inputs for future improvement,” says Lim.
In a company with staff from more than 50 nationalities like Mindvalley, it is especially important to constantly evaluate different desires and needs in terms of deciding on what is best for its people.
“This means that traditional benefits may not best fit our team,” says Ezekiel Mordeno Vicente, who is chief operating officer at Mindvalley.
So what are some non-traditional benefits that apply in Mindvalley? Vicente says the online personal-growth
company has in-house mental health specialists and coaches to look after the mental health and well-being of its employees. These two areas have long been underestimated in workplaces, but are a priority at Mindvalley.
And feedback is always welcome. Employees, Vicente says, may approach anyone in the leadership team to give feedback on an initiative implemented and the input is acted on after getting executive approval.
Be agile and listen
Employers also need to be agile in anticipating changes in the external environment that may cause different employee needs to arise. A case in point is the Covid-19 outbreak, AIA Bhd CEO Ben Ng says, which resulted in not only Malaysia but the whole world going into lockdown. Malaysia and many other countries are moving cautiously to reopen their economy in phases but the global situation remains uncertain as long as a vaccine is not found.
“This unprecedented situation has changed the way businesses are operating today and many are experiencing revenue and production losses. During this time, employees will also have many questions — job security, their health and family welfare, the list goes on. Employers need to be quick enough to give the assurance that their concerns and well-being are being looked after and that the company is there to support them at a time when they feel the most vulnerable,” says Ng.
AIA recently ran its #RethinkingHealth online poll, which looked at how Malaysians were coping health-wise during the MCO period. The results showed an increase in positive habits during this period, with 48% of respondents sleeping better, 45% exercising more and 43% eating healthier. Now, the question is, as employees begin returning to their physical workplaces and companies ease back into full operation in the “new normal”, how do employers help and support their people to maintain the healthy habits that were developed while working from home?
“While employers may not always have the answers during times of uncertainty, being present and listening to their employees’ needs and concerns is always a good first step in letting them know that they matter,” says Ng.
To him, the definition of employee benefits goes beyond tangible ones such as good medical coverage, time off and incentives.
“It also includes other intangible benefits provided by the company that help boost employee happiness and retention such as creating a workplace culture that is empowering and rewarding for employees,” Ng says. Examples of other intangible benefits are advancement opportunities, having work-life balance, being given the autonomy to carry out one’s tasks, or something as simple as having the option to telecommute.
“We believe employee benefits should be customised to the needs of the particular organisation — there aren’t standardised solutions that would be suitable for all organisations,” Ng adds.
To better understand the needs of their workforce, he also suggests that employers consider using a needs-based approach, where they identify where the strengths and opportunities are across their organisation and within particular teams. Managers and their teams for instance should develop shared engagement goals to improve employee motivation and business performance.
AIA, which has been in Malaysia for more than 70 years, is the largest employee benefits insurance provider in the country.
Currently insuring more than 10,000 corporate clients and 1.2 million employees, the company prides itself on its comprehensive range of corporate health solutions and programmes that covers employees’ health journey, from prevention to diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
Armed with data-driven insights gathered from consolidated claims and health and well-being reports, it works hand in hand with clients to design employee benefits programmes that best suit the companies’ needs, relieving them of the need to take on these risks on their own.
One such report used comes from the Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace by AIA Vitality survey, which AIA first launched in 2017 in line with its commitment to championing workplace health advocacy. The survey measures the state of overall well-being in the workplace and how it affects work productivity.
“Having a baseline of where your company stands in terms of employee health, well-being and engagement is an important first step. Targeted solutions can then be developed to help our clients address the various needs concerning their employees’ physical, mental and financial well-being,” says AIA Bhd CEO Ben Ng.
The recent Movement Control Order (MCO) that was imposed following the Covid-19 outbreak has pushed organisations and businesses into uncharted territories, with many having to figure out quickly how to adapt to the ‘new normal’ of social distancing and working from home, while complying with health and safety measures. Three employers share how the unprecedented situation has changed or influenced the way they approach employee health and well-being.
If there is one thing that the MCO has shown, it is that it is important to focus on consistently transforming the employee experience, says chief human resource officer Elisabeth Stene.
“We have always prioritised our employees’ safety and well-being, with stringent and industry-leading health and safety environment (HSE) measures implemented at our premises, and invested a lot of effort on driving awareness and compliance around HSE among our employees,” she says.
Stene says Digi takes a practical view in looking after its employees’ well-being to ensure that they remain safe and productive. This includes taking initiatives in key areas such as physical health and safety, mental health and psychological safety, and providing work-from-home capabilities and leadership skills.
In the area of mental health, Stene says it is about encouraging leaders to do regular team check-ins with their subordinates and equipping them with a toolkit on ways to engage with their teams to maintain connection and a positive spirit.
As for psychological safety, it is about ensuring employees continue to receive their compensation and benefits in a timely manner, “and doing everything in our power to ensure they can deliver their tasks easily”, says Stene. This includes making sure authorisation letters are in order for them to get to worksites.
“We also ran a pulse survey to have a better understanding of our employees’ needs and requests during this time, and how they are coping with the changes. The survey gave us some good feedback that we acted on. Generally, we’re heartened to know that everyone is staying safe, healthy and productive,” she says.
TOP GLOVE CORP BHD
The world’s largest manufacturer of gloves has always practised what its executive chairman Tan Sri Dr Lim Wee Chai terms the 5 Wells — clean well, eat well, work well, exercise well and sleep well — as well as adhered to the good business ethics of honesty, integrity and transparency, which form the foundation of Top Glove’s “unique health-centric culture”.
With the outbreak of Covid-19, the company has made sure it is fully compliant with the pandemic preventive measures as well as the standard operating procedures outlined by the authorities. “The main change is centred on implementing and enhancing these measures for employees. To this end, we have intensified training and awareness on personal hygiene, health and well-being,” Lim says.
Top Glove also has its own medical facility, namely Top Glove Global Doctors — a 24-hour super-clinic and ambulatory centre comprising 13 medical personnel to provide its staff with immediate medical attention and rapid tests — as well as an isolation hostel in the event its workers exhibit Covid-19 symptoms or have been in contact with Covid-19 positive cases. In addition, it has activated a dedicated MCO/CMCO hotline to help employees during this period, and conducts daily health checks among staff.
In particular, since the start of the MCO, the company has introduced the delivery of subsidised vegetarian lunch boxes to all employees, a benefit that has been very well-received, Lim says.
“This helps to minimise movement and risk of exposure to Covid-19, while ensuring our people have access to a variety of healthy and affordable meals,” he says. “We are considering continuing the benefit even after the RMCO is fully lifted.”
Mindvalley, one of the fastest-growing personal growth companies today, has been preparing its employees for remote work for years. Hence, moving to a fully remote work strategy during the height of the pandemic was “basically a flip of a switch for us”, according to Ezekiel Mordeno Vicente, the company’s chief operating officer.
With already-strict meeting agendas to ensure clear focus, Vicente says the MCO made the company focus even more on the agendas of its meetings. “So, we spend less time in meetings and more time actually executing our strategies,” he points out.
To help support employees’ workload, Vicente says the company reminds them that it does not expect them to work more than 40 hours per week just because they work remotely, and that they should prioritise their health and well-being.
They should not feel pressured to do more for the sake of doing more, he says.
“We’re actually much more effective as a company and doing much better performance-wise during this time period.
“People love the amount of focus that this new set-up has brought about, and now prefer to work this way. Most of our team members choose to work from home because it also saves them time in commute. Plus, some of them are parents and have children to take care of,” he adds.