HEALTHY EXECUTIVES : Keeping Workers Healthy – More than just work-life balance

The physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of our people is really critical to us,” says Michael Stanley, human resources director for Vodafone NZ.
“We make commitment to all of our people around their well-being – it’s an important part of our strategy to attract talented people,” he says.
Vodafone in New Zealand has taken three-pronged approach to the health and well-being of its employees by including health and life insurance as part of remuneration packages; offering various activities which employees can join or choose to be part of, like Weight Watchers programme or dragon boat racing; and providing work environment that enhances productivity, builds morale and strengthens customer service.
A key component is Vodafone’s WAVE programme (well-being, attitude, vitality and energy), which is designed to enhance the health and well-being strategies that employees may already utilise, expand the scope of activities and benefits to employees’ families, and create positive work culture that reduces sickness and stress.
This programme allows employees to choose what they need to reach their own personal health and wellness goals. It has been taken up by most of Vodafone’s 1500 New Zealand employees. The WAVE online well-being service can be accessed through central portal and contains monthly feature article by an expert in specific field, success story of an employee achieving personal well-being goals, and medical or sporting advice section.
It also posts special deals and discounts, information on WAVE activities, health assessments and expos, and offers bulletin board where employees can let others know their training regimes and invite them to join.
Vodafone employees at the Auckland head office are heavily involved in local dragon boat racing competitions. On average they enter six teams every year, backed by company sponsorship. They can access information about the racing in the first instance through the web portal and use this as conduit for getting other colleagues involved.
Stanley says watching people take part in Weight Watchers programmes is rewarding because of the “great individual results”.
“We can demonstrate on an individual, case-by-case basis that people benefit from heart screening, blood pressure testing, and cholesterol testing. There are specific tangible results like improving people’s morale and motivation.
“Our people work really hard. To support that, we take genuine interest in their well-being, backing that up with information and activity help and support.”
Stanley says well-being offers are “key component” of the remuneration packages Vodafone NZ offers prospective employees.
Word of mouth means it’s an important recruitment tool. At interview time, Vodafone managers explain that an annual health check, the full cost of which is covered by the company, is available to all employees. Programmes like Weight Watchers are subsidised and the company handles all the logistical issues associated with enrolment and registration.
Terry Shubkin, account and service delivery manager for Unisys NZ, the information services company, says 2008 risks being the year of the “revolving door” if employers continue to focus on simply attracting new staff, rather than developing and retaining current employees.
Resulting staff turnover is expected to cost New Zealand businesses dearly over the coming 12 months, Shubkin says.
“At time when the skills shortage is squeezing the New Zealand economy, staff turnover is turning into major problem that is already costing the country’s businesses 1.5 times the annual salary of the replaced worker.
“It costs more to continually replace staff, and in tight labour market each new hire drives up wage levels for the same job role without corresponding increase in productivity.
“With good staff also goes intellectual property and the valuable relationships they established with customers and business partners,” says Shubkin, adding that all the indications are that this will get worse in 2008.
Shubkin says healthy work-life balance is equally important for creating employee engagement. But it encompasses far more than merely how many hours people work in an office.
It also requires combination of physical and emotional well-being, she says.
While there aren’t statistics published for New Zealand, studies have found that Australia’s annual productivity cost attributed to obesity is estimated to be A$1.7 billion. Shubkin says this highlights the direct benefit for businesses to ensure they have healthy and productive workforce.
Unisys has programme called ‘Living Well’, which is designed to actively encourage employee health and well-being. It incorporates lunchtime seminars covering range of topics from nutrition to managing stressful situations, an interactive website and employee activities, and free water bottles and lunchboxes to encourage staff to keep hydrated and bring healthy lunches to work.
Shubkin says the key to retaining people in tight labour market doesn’t revolve around simply paying people more. “That’s not what people are looking for anyway.”
She says “two-thirds to three-quarters” of Unisys’ 550 New Zealand employees do the Living Well programme.
Staff don’t have to formally join and can participate as much or as little as they like.
The Living Well web portal includes survey which people can complete to alert the company about specific issues they want help with, including weight loss, stress management, and insomnia.
Armed with this information, Shubkin and her team organise seminars tailored to the issues staff have identified, which are held throughout the year.
A free health check helps produce detailed medical information which allows comparison between person’s chronological age and their functional age, based on answers to questions about lifestyle, including habits like drinking or smoking.
A challenge then follows in which teams of three or four employees, armed with free pedometer supplied by Unisys, see how fast they can walk around virtual New Zealand.
They don’t literally walk around New Zealand, but enter their daily steps into log.
When that programme’s in full cry, says Shubkin, the watercooler conversation changes from “How was your weekend?” to “How many steps did you do?”.
“You constantly see people flicking open their pedometers to check how they are doing,” she says.
To make the competition more interesting, prizes are awarded at the end.
“The biggest thing about it is that people think it’s great the company’s doing something for them,” says Shubkin.
“Healthier employees are more productive, so there are spinoffs in that way. While we haven’t registered actual numbers of sick days, we know anecdotally that people are saying: ‘I feel healthier.’”
Southern Cross Medical Care Society group chief executive Ian McPherson says introducing ‘wellness leave’, reward as part of an overall employee health and well-being programme, has seen the health insurance business improve staff satisfaction levels and reduce absenteeism by more than three percent.
“As we come into the new year, time when people often evaluate their next career move, employers should also be thinking about what they can do to keep their competitive edge in tight labour market. Our experience is that ‘wellness’ leave works.”
This leave is part of Southern Cross’s ‘Switch2Well’ programme developed with direct input from the 550 permanent staff. It entitles society employees to paid time off. So far, 166 employees have achieved this. They can also earn other benefits such as vouchers for health-related services.
McPherson says Southern Cross established this new leave category in recognition that taking time out is important in finding work-life balance.
“This balance gets lot of lip service, but many employers struggle to go beyond that when the pressures of day-to-day business take precedence. The investment has been more than returned in terms of staff re

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