EXECUTIVE HEALTH The Corporate Chill Pill

As the Romans knew only too well, person’s state of mind is inextricably linked to the state of their body. Most executives are driven, type-A personalities who willingly sacrifice scarce leisure time to meet an urgent business goal. While this can be challenging and even exciting, managers who continue down this path will sooner or later be on first-name terms with their doctor.
Executives who want to perform well need to look after themselves. This means being mentally stimulated, taking regular exercise, eating sensibly, sleeping about seven hours night and making time to relax and have fun. But how many managers make this way of life rather than rescue package after night of excess? And are corporates taking proactive steps to look after their key staff?
Many executives still find it easier to take time off to consult doctors about physical symptoms than to seek out psychologists to help them with issues such as performance management or executive coaching. new free service has been set up on the web to help people find registered psychologist near their office – ‘find psychologist’ on www.psychology.org.nz. good psychologist will help managers understand their own behaviour patterns, get them to think about the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and suggest ways to implement work/life balance.
Registered psychologist Sara Chatwin from Mindworks is listed on this site and says that New Zealand businesspeople are slower than their counterparts in the United States or the United Kingdom to seek help from psychologists. In Chatwin’s view, there is still slight stigma attached to asking for help and people prefer to ignore problems rather than deal with them. Yet solutions can carry widespread benefits.
“In recent case at one company,” says Chatwin, “one team member was causing friction. meeting was called and everyone agreed that something needed to be changed. They called me in to talk to this member. After some discussion it was clear that he felt he was being given an unfair workload but had not discussed the issue with his manager. We worked on ways to improve the situation and make the team more user-friendly and ultimately stronger.”
Chatwin, whose client list includes many large New Zealand corporates, also sees many executives from high socio-economic backgrounds who have chosen alcohol and/or drugs as way to reduce stress. “Obviously, this isn’t successful long-term choice,” she says. “It leads to depressive patterns of behaviour and addiction.”
She advises companies to help employees learn relaxation methods and make sure that people build some ‘me time’ into their routine. “Planning and organisation isn’t an option – it is essential, otherwise you will be dealing with burnout.”
Chatwin is also firm believer in the power of mentoring and coaching. How long does it take to turn somebody around? While that clearly depends on the issue and the individual, she reckons that in just three to five sessions person will have some of the tools to make some positive changes.
Dr Warren Groarke, one of the directors at Well For Life, specialist provider of corporate health programmes, says he sees lot of high achievers in the upper echelons of management putting in long work hours to the detriment of other areas such as their health.
“People become immune to stress and tell themselves it’s normal,” he notes. “This can continue for many years before something serious crops up. Our aim is to be proactive and help people put plan into place to improve their health in holistic way.”
The company provides specialised clinics in weight management, sports injury and assessment, cholesterol management and heart disease prevention, stress management and mindfulness, exercise prescription and coaching.
It also runs GP service in which clients, after filling out lifestyle questionnaires, receive two-hour medical which includes being wired up to an ECG while on treadmill. Groarke sees his role as educational rather than prescriptive. “We aim for evolutionary changes over time as these are more likely to stick and become habit.”
While the company’s client list used to comprise law firms and accountancy companies, it now also includes many top corporates. “Well For Life’s service is now simply an extension to the way we operate with our senior staff,” says Geoff Vazey, CEO at Ports of Auckland. “Clear and tangible benefits are accruing to our company as result.”
Clever marketing has proved winner for the Millennium Institute of Sport & Health. It has taken an innovative approach to encourage people to get moving with its Cape to Bluff Step Challenge taken up by several companies recently, including Vero Insurance New Zealand, OCG Consulting and Fletcher Building. Using pedometers (step counters worn on the waistband) employees are put into teams of six and required to travel the distance from Cape Reinga to the Bluff within six weeks, with each person taking 10,000 steps per day.
Avan Polo, Millennium’s business development manager, says completing the challenge not only improves employee health and wellbeing but also productivity and staff morale, while reducing absenteeism and ergonomic injuries.
Apart from the obvious health benefits, Glenys Barker at Vero Insurance New Zealand said that she found team-building skills had strengthened in unexpected ways. “We’re now organising our second step challenge with teams from offices in Whangarei right down to Invercargill joining in.”
Evelyn Reid, accounts payable team leader at Fletcher Building, describes the challenge as fun, motivating and healthy. “We’ve seen real lift in energy levels across whole sections of our company. People are now stocking the fridge with healthy food and comparing notes about walk lengths and times. My hope is that walking will become habit for people, way of life, now that they have seen the benefit. I have recommended this challenge to our other companies in the steel group.”
Meanwhile, health insurance companies continue to diversify their wellness programmes. Several companies now offer onsite eye testing, blood pressure checks and fitness testing. Instead of providing the reactive ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, insurers are being more proactive with fence at the top. This approach signifies “growing respect for all employees, not just the top layer of management”, says Peter Tynan, COO of corporate solutions, Southern Cross Healthcare. “It has huge impact on morale and, of course, can be used as hot button in retention strategies.”
Full policy take-ups have risen by 19-25 percent over the past 18 months while Tynan reports no significant increase in stress cases and says that the preventative approach with lifestyle questionnaires and thorough medicals is working well. “Companies are sending many more staff from all areas to our wellness days. Employers are more aware than ever before of health risks so we are strengthening our preventative programmes with indepth newsletters, web pages and more options covered for wellness,” says Tynan.
Other insurance companies echo this diversification. Tower New Zealand has seen greater uptake of what used to be seen as ‘alternative’ options, including chiropractic, podiatry, acupuncture and osteopathy. “There is growing trend for people to look after themselves better and we’ve responded to it. Policies need to include these sorts of options,” says Margaret Reid, marketing manager – health and risk at Tower New Zealand.
Today’s executives are looking for flexibility in their insurance policies with point of difference allowing employees to choose what suits them, adding dental and optical benefits, for example. “We notice that companies take out standard policies and then individuals upgrade their policy,” says Reid. “Our ‘health plus – business’ appeals to wide range of companies as it is flexible and affordable.” This policy start

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