Spening a little extra on healthcare for staff can reap many benefits, as
Sandra Vandermerwe discovers
Most corporations continue to regard spending on health and staff well-being
a necessary expense to be kept to the minimum. To save money on healthcare,
however, companies must invest to attract and retain employees who are
motivated and fit, and thus work at peak performance.
With growing recognition of this competitive advantage, health promotion is
increasingly becoming a core objective within the HR function.
From cover to outcomes
The issue is no longer merely getting illness cover for employees; it is
also about ensuring employees are well and operating at the highest possible
level at home and on the move. It is in this new ‘market space’ that real
innovators such as International Heath Insurance, the Denmark-based global
enterprise, are putting emphasis, changing the health insurance industry in the
The type of cover provided is irrelevant if employees do not recognise a
symptom, make the wrong decision about what to do, or manage their recovery
period badly. If a decision to relocate is taken without considering the
comfort and needs of employees and their families, they will take longer to
settle in the new location and never perform at maximum potential. Consider these
situations as potential value ‘gaps’, for which HR, together with trusted
partners, must take responsibility
Health is an individual issue
Many corporations offer wellness programmes, but they are not often
comprehensive. Do any of the following sound familiar?
– A brochure on quitting smoking or promoting a gym, offered in a ‘take or
leave it’ style
– Canteens unconcerned about what is served so long as it conforms to the
minimum nutrition standards, again to save costs
– Lack of concern as to who eats what despite statistics suggesting that up
to 50 per cent of all people are known to be intolerant or allergic to certain
Allergic reactions can cause mood swings and backache, insomnia or chronic
fatigue. Knowing an employee has an allergy and building that into their diet
and the food offered by the corporate canteen requires a change in awareness
and systems, but it is that which leads to the bottom line results corporation
Becoming proactive and preventative
Becoming proactive prevents things going wrong. By giving high-risk patients
preventative services, US company the Haelan Group has reduced corporate
medical costs by as much as 50 per cent. Lego has reduced its absenteeism rate
by at least 10 per cent since it began its preventative healthcare programme,
says its HR manager.
This requires educating customers to change behaviour which damages their
health. This must include education on which medicines to take and where to get
them abroad while on the move or relocating.
Pharmalife, an e-business start-up, assists pharmacists in becoming more
proactive with their patients’ medicine management by tracking their
compliance: Have they taken their medication, with the correct dosage, on time?
Are they experiencing any side effects? Patients recover quicker and get back
to work sooner, all of which leads to lower costs for the health authorities.
Having a baseline from which to work, such as knowing what your
predisposition to a disease may be or your cholesterol level for example, is essential.
One system which can be of use to employees is carrying out an easy test on a
private webpage. The second step is dealing with a condition: what to do about
it, how to recognise symptoms, taking preventative action and monitoring
progress. And further, when and if things go wrong, how to identify the
options, what to do, and how to recover quickly.
The emphasis for customers is on wellness: they are helped to stay fit and
are rewarded when they set and meet goals, such as reducing cholesterol levels.
If they need advice they are matched with the best health services to suit
individual needs because of the knowledge and information gathered and used for
The health balance sheet
Measuring the payoff to the corporation in promoting health in their
organisation is the key to the health balance sheet. Returns on investment
include lower absenteesim, higher retention and greater productivity. Stress is
one of the fastest growing claims areas, costing US business $10,000 annually
per employee in absenteeism, lower productivity and increasing health and
workers’ compensation costs. Swedish research reports that rehabilitation time
for stress is a year or more.
But wellness programmes take time to show a return. Vision is required to
recognise both the cost of insurance and services as an investment and the
value of this investment for the HR fraternity in the years ahead.