Johnson & Johnson leads the way on holistic employee wellbeing

Global healthcare organisation Johnson & Johnson’s groundbreaking employee wellbeing approach has won it the title of “Britain’s healthiest large company”. Clare Sicklen, HR director of the consumer division, talks to Sarah Silcox about its winning approach.

Britain’s Healthiest Company is an awards-based initiative designed to increase awareness and understanding of the role that healthy workplaces play in organisational performance. Johnson & Johnson (J&J) won first prize in the 2015 healthiest large company category for its holistic approach to the health and wellbeing of its employees.

The company is no newcomer to employee wellbeing: its mission, which was set out in the 1880s, commits the organisation to ensuring the health and wellness of all staff. In the 1970s, the then-chief executive dedicated the organisation to creating the healthiest workplace in the world, supported by the development of a health culture.

“In the UK, our health and wellbeing strategy has really taken off in the past 10-15 years. It’s holistic in approach, incorporating a range of initiatives, from creating a vibrant working environment to providing employees with choice around benefit provision” according to Clare Sicklen, HR director of J&J Consumer.

Return on investment

The health and wellbeing strategy at J&J operates at a global, regional and local, and country level and both HR and OH (or its “live for life” teams) are involved in translating the global strategy into locally delivered initiatives at country level. “Our local wellbeing initiatives are designed to meet employees’ specific needs, which we assess using health service usage data and feedback from employees”, Sicklen adds.

“We are always conscious of the need to demonstrate return on investment from our initiatives, many of which are designed to encourage behaviour change, so there is usually a personal as well as a work side to the metrics – it’s not all about keeping employees onsite”, she explains.

However, it is possible to generate some hard data for the effectiveness of the programmes; for example average absence across the company is low at under four days a year per employee. “Long-term sickness absence is especially low”, Sicklen states, adding: “We also consistently get employee engagement scores in the high 90s, particularly in areas such as employees’ discretionary effort.”

Britain’s Healthiest Company initiative

Britain’s Healthiest Company is an awards-based initiative that seeks to better understand the health of the UK workforce. Now in its third year, the initiative’s objectives are to:

  • gain greater understanding of the burden of disease and the prevalence of lifestyle risk factors in the workforce; that is, those lifestyle behaviours and other factors that affect an individual’s health, including smoking, lack of exercise and poor diet;
  • better understand employee attitudes to their own health and how best to motivate them to make positive behaviour change;
  • understand the effectiveness of current workplace policies, facilities and interventions in engaging employees in their health and wellbeing;
  • benchmark the performance of participating companies across a broad spectrum of interventions and health and productivity outcomes; and
  • further develop the financial case for investment by companies in employee health and wellbeing.

Source: Britain’s Healthiest Company

Health trust

There are four strands to the company’s holistic delivery of health and wellbeing, including providing employees with access to solutions that enable them to monitor their own health, and get specialist advice and support as appropriate.

“At Johnson & Johnson, we made a conscious decision to create our own health trust rather than buy private medical care through an insurance contract with a provider”, Sicklen explains. The company administers health benefits through Bupa’s network of hospitals, but the HR directors of the different UK divisions are trustees of its own trust, meaning “it makes the rules”.

Having this control over the private medical scheme means the company can respond quickly to what its health data is telling it, for example, adding additional support as required. “We recently introduced a system of open referral as a result of examining our health data, so that employees now have fast access to a range of services, including physiotherapy,” says Sicklen. An employee is able to speak to a clinician over the telephone; this clinician then carries out a detailed assessment, leading to perhaps an exercise programme or an immediate booked appointment with an approved physiotherapist close to work or home.

“This avoids the situation where an employee may be back and forth to their GP before getting the help they need; our people are treated quickly and by a specialist,” Sicklen explains. Employees with cancer receive unlimited support from the health trust, reducing the worry and concern about whether or not an insurance policy will cover everything they need at such a difficult time.

Behaviour and performance

A second strand of the J&J wellness strategy focuses on educating employees about how their health behaviours can affect performance, both inside and outside work. Energy for Performance in Life is a two-day workshop run by an in-house human performance institute. The workshop explores how to manage and expand energy levels through the prism of four energy “dimensions”: spiritual alignment; being mentally focused; being emotionally connected; and being physically energised.

Vitality Age tool

One of the sponsors of the Britain’s Healthiest Company initiative, health and life insurer VitalityHealth, has developed a calculation tool – Vitality Age – to assess all-round physical age. It takes into account body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, cholesterol levels and a range of lifestyle behaviours, including tobacco and alcohol consumption.

Data gathered from employers participating in the 2015 Britain’s Healthiest Company awards shows that 87.1% of all employee participants had a Vitality Age higher than their actual age – on average, three years and 10 months higher.

However, although 12.8% of participants in the 2015 scheme had a Vitality Age of more than eight years higher than their chronological age, this represents an improvement on the position in both 2013 and 2014, when around 20% were in this category.

“The risk factors that had the greatest impact on Vitality Age were smoking, BMI and nutrition”, according to Keith Klintworth, Vitality’s clinical risk director.

“It is important to understand how these choices today impact upon your long-term health”, he adds.

The third strand in the strategy is about creating an environment of good work and encouraging employees to take responsibility for their own health. “Everything we do is designed as a two-way street”, says Sicklen.

Access to the health programmes is open to all employees, but the company also seeks to ensure that people achieve a balance in their home and work lives through a range of non-health HR policies and practices. For example, it deliberately limits the carry over of holidays so that people must use their entitlement. It also provides the option for staff to “buy” up to five extra days holiday a year through the flexible benefits scheme.

“We are very keen that people have the space and time to recover from work, and also provide good ergonomics in it,” Sicklen adds. Non-desk space is important in all Johnson & Johnson facilities, including collaboration areas, all of which are designed to ensure the working environment is conducive to employee recovery.

Finally, it is important that the initiatives and programmes in the health and wellbeing strategy enable the effort, both from employees and the company, to be sustained: “It’s all about continuous improvement”, Sicklen notes.

Evaluating the impact of the programmes and ensuring employees “know their health numbers” is central. A global health profile initiative runs onsite in all the UK divisions and involves the OH teams carrying out annual basic biometric tests for employees.

“We also offer employees full health assessments, including the taking of medical histories and more detailed measurements, including stress, anti-oxidant and hydration levels, all of which are presented in a full report,” she adds.

“Halo effect”

Sicklen says that J&J “does not have a problem” with low employee participation in the health programmes that it offers because of its deeply embedded wellness culture. Employees are “active ambassadors” of the strategy and their participation has a “halo effect”, as they take home health messages and learnings. “From employee self-reports, we know that they impart the health knowledge they obtain through taking part in our programmes to their friends and families,” she adds.

No major new initiatives are planned for the immediate future, but existing programmes will be “tweaked” if emerging data suggests this is needed to keep them effective: “We will look at opportunities to perhaps develop niche interventions around areas such as cholesterol and diabetes support, but really our future plans focus on using the data to keep our ongoing programmes fresh,” Sicklen concludes.

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