Wellness: Measuring the High Cost

In just few months, four of the seven top executives in one of New Zealand’s better known business organisations suffered heart attacks. No, it is not an urban myth and no, we are not going to reveal the name of the business concerned. But there had been lots of cost cutting going on and the executives involved were working under great stress.
Now, imagine the ensuing chaos and the cost of these illnesses to this business.
Few, if any, observers suggest that executive stress is anything other than on the increase in New Zealand. And, increasingly, companies and individuals are realising that prevention is better than cure. There is new era, which appreciates the importance of “individual wellness”, dawning.
Employers are, finally, looking at both the emotional and physical causes of stress, and other health problems impacting on employee health to identify contributing health risk factors.
US studies indicate that every dollar spent on staff health risk programmes should return about $3.40 – or in some cases as much as $20 – in benefits to the organisation. In New Zealand the dollar spent on prevention is calculated to return only between $2 and $3.
When Christina Rogstad moved to New Zealand from the US 10 years ago, she thought the pace was “cruisey”. Now as general manager of sales and distribution with Southern Cross Healthcare, she acknowledges that stress has become major problem among managers. “We are up there with American standards now – we want to build world-class organisations and are working the longer hours. Stress is factor.”
Rogstad and her team are spearheading new Southern Cross initiative called HealthWorks which she says is “all about keeping employees healthy, and when they’re ill or experiencing stress, helping them manage their recovery”.
HealthWorks – developed for New Zealand workplaces – manages health risk by putting in place health and well-being programmes for staff, health insurance to provide immediate access to healthcare and then measures the change in health, absenteeism and productivity.
“If employers look at the programme specific to the risks in their employment population (eg do they have high ratio of diabetics, asthmatics, smokers or staff who are experiencing stress), they can appropriately target these risk areas. For example if they have high number of smokers, they might consider smoking cessation programme,” Rogstad explains.
In addition to launching HealthWorks, Southern Cross has begun benchmark study with three major New Zealand corporates, New Zealand Post, Carter Holt Harvey and Fulton Hogan. The study is seeking to measure the return on investment of running health risk management programmes in the workplace and data from this research will be released in 2002.
By correlating health risk information with insurance claims data, injury management and the company’s payroll and HR data, Rogstad believes the employers will have greater access to promoting climate of “wellness”.
Rogstad revels in her work and the punishing schedule it brings. She believes that executives must learn to police their own health and the health of those around them. “If my staff see me at my desk after 7pm, they’ll tell me to go home. If we are in trouble, we have to put our hand up and know there won’t be ramifications – culture of transparent management and respect works well.”
“The old Kiwi philosophy of work from 9 until 5 followed by drinks has not only gone, but many people are putting all their efforts into work and neglecting themselves,” according to Dr Antony Vriens. He is the senior medical officer and business development manager with SalusHealth, an Auckland-based facility, which opened in August last year focusing on preventive healthcare.
Working alongside Vriens at the new health centre is cardiologist and physician Dr Gerald Lewis (medical director) and the director of executive health Dr Sven Hansen, who is well known for his corporate wellness programmes run throughout New Zealand since 1988.
Research organised by Hansen in Auckland between January 2000 and June 2001 revealed an alarming increase in the level of stress among executives in the city. He was concerned at the high number of people suffering from negative stress brought on by increasing workloads and hectic personal lives. He reported that of over 450 executive health assessments carried out in that period, the majority suffered from stress-related symptoms – from chest pains to fatigue.
SalusHealth facilities include comprehensive cardiac risk factor analysis as well as Gated CT Calcium Scoring for those with significant risk factors. The test includes detailed questionnaire, biometric tests, comprehensive cardiac blood screening test and CT scan. Following the scan, patients will be debriefed by medical officer and given “report card” on their status, which will be forwarded to their own GP.
The private facility also provides total health checks, fitness and lifestyle management programmes, preventive health seminars, an executive health programme and stress management unit.
“It is incredibly important in the whole issue of work performance to be as robust as possible – physically and emotionally,” says Vriens. And most executives are in slightly less than top health “either on the physical fitness side or in their ability to deal with stress”.
He sees growing awareness in health issues among business executives, but is often frustrated by their inaction. “Everything executives use in their jobs is based on the best information available, but they don’t apply this to their own health.”
But, Vriens is impressed with the interest in health issues now shown by local employers and SalusHealth is now working with several major companies, such as ASB Bank. Encouraged by the American models that prove money invested into health generates generous benefits, many employers now use their healthcare programmes as lure for staff. American studies demonstrated that companies investing in their employees’ health also reap benefits in terms of increased production and loyalty.
Corporate wellness specialist Karen Beard also reports definite increased awareness of the benefits of healthy workplace in the local business community. “Businesses see the tangible results in reduced sick leave, turnover of staff and an improvement in production and creativity of staff.”
Thrown into tight timeframes by technology, Beard says we are working four to six weeks more each year than our counterparts of the 1970s. “Technology is supposed to give us more leisure, but the opposite is happening… so we need backup, support system.”
She launched her business, The Body Corporate, in 1994, and bases her coaching and programmes on holistic health – focusing on coping with stress (“learning to work through it rather than sticking plaster on it”), healthy diet, exercise and good balance between work and leisure.
Corporate wellness gets results for both employers and employees, but it is an ongoing education process and the two groups must work together, says Beard.
With that glorious advantage of hindsight, think of the angst and money preventive healthcare could possibly have saved the company with the outbreak of heart attacks.

Holism and Health – Balanced Bottom Line

A holistic approach to health and well-being was the key philosophy of natural health products
company Blackmores when it was founded in Australia more than 60 years ago and established in New Zealand in 1987. The importance of healthy, balanced lifestyle remains the company’s focus – and is still at the heart of its approach to the increasing problem of executive stress.
“It is important to take holistic stance on health and wellbeing,” explains Blackmores local CEO Alison Quesnel. “Everyone, especially busy executives, should look at how they run all aspects of their life – work, diet, exercise, relaxation activities and dietary supplements are all part of it.”
Bodies unde

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