EXECUTIVE HEALTH Keep the Ball Rolling – Could executive healthcare lose its bounce?

There’s nothing like gloomy economic survey to put the dampeners on corporate healthcare. Or so has proved the case in the past. So latest news from NZIER announcing that business confidence has plunged to 20-year low, must be cause for alarm in an industry that helps provide the “luxury” of healthy, happy employees.
Or is it? Could it be that executive healthcare has now gathered sufficient momentum and produced such benefits that organisations will now do their best to ring-fence it from the accountant’s knife? In any case, the cost of cutting executive healthcare programmes can be onerous.
Avan Polo, outgoing business development manager at the Millennium Institute of Sport & Health, acknowledges that while unemployment in New Zealand is currently at its lowest ebb in 20 years, in many outfits the health and safety budget would be one of the first to be slashed in an economic downturn. “But,” he says, “the reality is that organisations need to keep staff healthy and they also need to retain staff.”
Should they reach the stage of needing to save dollars, Polo advises organisations to cull across all budgets and not just wipe executive healthcare. Completely eliminating the health budget, he says, is sure-fire way to lift stress.
Peter Tynan, chief operating officer of Southern Cross Healthcare’s Corporate Solutions division, admits that it is, of course, difficult to predict the future but says his organisation would certainly be encouraging employers to maintain any health initiatives they have in place.
“If business conditions become tougher, employees are likely to become more stressed or tired as they struggle to achieve their targets. In such business environment it will be even more essential to maintain health and wellbeing for maintaining staff productivity and tenure.”
Rebekah Herron-Bell, marketing manager at the Hotel & Spa du Vin, rates executive health so highly that she files it firmly as an “essential component of business”.
“Health for executives should be paramount,” she argues. Among the benefits to companies she lists staff retention, increased productivity, fresh ideas and better team players. For individuals, expect to gain increased health and fitness which leads to better performance and enhanced happiness.
Hotel & Spa du Vin recently launched two to three day Health & Wellness programme. Modelled on the health spa concept found overseas, the programme is designed for men and women of all ages and offers mix of health and wellness activities and educational seminars. Each programme includes two hours of spa treatments per day where the focus is on relaxation and rejuvenation.
Seminars include nutrition, personalities and stress management, and activity options include yoga, pilates, meditation and tai chi. As if that’s not enough, participants can make beeline for the cardio gym, fitness trail, croquet lawn, indoor swimming and spa pools, mountain bikes, steam room, tennis courts, volleyball court or walking trails.
“Programmes are personalised,” says Herron-Bell, “so that participants get the most out of them based on their personal reason for being there – whether it be for rest and relaxation or for health and fitness.”
Last year Southern Cross Healthcare also set up for corporates new dedicated health management account, Activa. Louise Kerridge, Activa Health’s chief operating officer, describes it as benefit that businesses can opt to use as either an add-on for employees’ healthcare or an alternative.
“It enables New Zealanders to set aside funds into an account for day-to-day healthcare costs,” she says. The account is accessed via an eftpos-style card at Activa’s growing network of around 2500 participating health providers and retailers nationwide.
“Activa has also partnered with some leading health brands to provide extra value to customers,” says Kerridge, “including dentists, opticians, pharmacies, health stores, gyms and sports retailers, as well as physiotherapists, audiologists, radiologists, and beauty and appearance medicine clinics.”
The attractions of the new offering haven’t been lost on professional services firm Deloitte, which late last year became the first New Zealand organisation to snap up the idea. “Activa is in line with our firm’s emphasis on looking after our people, providing supportive working environment and encouraging proactive health and wellbeing,” says Deloitte CEO Murray Jack.
So, when it comes to executive health, are more New Zealand organisations doing more for their people? Absolutely, according to Avan Polo. New Zealand may have lagged little behind some other developed nations in the past, he says, but in recent times employers have definitely taken more proactive role to the health of their employees.
Over the past 12 to 18 months Polo says he has seen shift in mindset in New Zealand: especially since last year’s general election in October when debate raised the level of awareness.
And while off-the-shelf programmes are good, he says, they may not always be the best for specific situations. “The ad hoc approach doesn’t benefit company at all but structured approach works well.”
According to Polo, lot of companies are now looking at new ways to build their teams. The Institute’s “Cape to Bluff step challenge” – in which members are encouraged to walk 10,000 steps day for six weeks (the equivalent of walking from one end of the country to the other) – is one such example.
Other organisations are getting their team members to all row in the same direction at the same time – quite literally – by enticing them out onto the water.
Peter Tynan says that Southern Cross Healthcare formed its Corporate Solutions division last year on the basis that there is business requirement in the general workplace health risk management area.
Though Southern Cross is well-known as corporate health insurer (it provides health insurance to over 4000 local businesses), Corporate Solutions has been steadily bringing on board new services. Its business offering now coordinates the provision of long list of other wellness services. These include physical checks such as executive medicals and staff health checks, vision and hearing testing, skin checks, pre-employment screening and reviews of workstation posture. Corporate Solutions also provides flu vaccines, and can draw up exercise and fitness regimes or weight management programmes.
Services also extend to employee assistance programmes such as counselling, trauma management, employee development services and educational information such as stop-smoking programmes.
Other services include what Tynan describes as “a motivational tool for employees” – functional age testing. This is where an assessment of their physical and lifestyle factors enables an individual to compare their “working order age” with their chronological age. For some, this must bring shocking news.
“Indications from our first year of operation are that there is very receptive market,” says Tynan, who reports that just in the past year more than 50 of New Zealand’s larger corporates have started incorporating wellness-related activities.
Corporate Solutions joins growing list of outfits cottoning on to the desire for corporate wellness. Auckland-based company Well for Life, for example, provides wellness and preventative medicine, corporate and company healthcare, and comprehensive annual medicals to its list of business clients.
Geoff Vazey, CEO of Ports of Auckland, says he sees Well for Life’s services as simply an extension to the way the Ports operates with its senior staff. “Clear and tangible benefits are accruing to the company as result,” he says.
Similarly, the service obviously hits the spot for Fonterra director Earl Rattray, who is on record saying that after lifetime trying to avoid going to doctor he now finds himself looking forward to his next check-up and subsequent report.
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