How to not work yourself to death

Apr 12, 2017 06.00PM |
 

by Abraham Lee

YOU, at work, not getting enough exercise, not eating right and stressing out. That’s going to cost you – years of life and insurance money, compounded by a medical inflation rate of 15 per cent in 2015. It’s going to cost your employer – lower productivity from the time you spend, sick days and medical claims. It’s going to cost the nation – more than $1 billion from diabetes alone in 2010, and expected to be over $2.5 billion by 2050. 12 per cent of Singapore’s population is pre-diabetic- it will get worse.

But who should be concerned about employee health? Employers currently have the most control over workplace culture, but how can employers, human resource professionals, and even employees, build a healthy culture at the workplace?

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No budget? No problem. While the first step to building a healthy culture in the workplace requires commitment from the company’s (or the department’s) leadership, it can be simple and cheap to implement. Mr Alexander Yap, Global Rewards Director at United Test and Assembly Center, shared about how his department, after talking about losing weight and getting healthier for ages, decided to set team health as one of their Key Performance Indicators.

Mr Yap said that it “starts with an awakening” and leading by example. He formed a cycling team at work and started off with just short routes around the company premises. Over time, the team cycled longer distances and more often, at times covering 200km a week. In just five months, Mr Yap lost 16kg, and every member of his team clocked some healthy weight loss.

Offering smart incentives is also key to guiding workers towards developing healthier habits because of the short-term judgement errors likely to be made when it comes to decisions on health. Mr Yap highlighted that since the company became an existing AIA customer, the corporate AIA Vitality programme encouraged him and his colleagues to pursue healthier choices.

Encouraging a culture of health can also come from the choice architecture of our office spaces. For example, placing prominent staircases in the layout of an office building can encourage employees to climb stairs. Low uptake on the free fruit basket? Simply moving the complimentary fruit from the corner pantry to a well-lit, accessible part of the office would increase consumption two-fold. Introducing standing desks will encourage workers to get off their bums more often.

The panel experts also emphasised the importance of not procrastinating and taking small, repeatable actions. Dr Derek Yach, Chief Health Officer of Vitality Group, talked about how physical activity triggers more healthy activity and encourages healthier habits, and that this cycle can lead to more success.

He shared data showing how companies that participated in the AIA Vitality programme saw fewer medical certificates being taken and produced lower rates of absenteeism. There was also a correlation between companies with more active participants in the programme and those that saw lower medical costs. Healthier employees are also more productive and motivated at work.

Senior Consultant of the National Heart Centre, Dr Carolyn Lam echoed these sentiments and said that “we have to start somewhere” and that “that feeling of being on the right track… is addictive”. As a cardiologist, she was more eager to preventing heart disease than treat it, and started encouraging the medical staff on her shift to walk up and down the stairs between wards instead of taking the lift.

These small, measurable changes, she said, help to build habits and it is best when these habits are reinforced with small rewards. When asked how long results take to be seen, Dr Lam said, “We expect a response to lifestyle measurements in terms of the reduction in blood pressure or reduction in cholesterol levels and so on, within three months.”

Perhaps it’s time we started taking our workplace health as seriously as we do our careers. The end of a career is retirement, usually at 63, but our health choices stay with us until the very end of our lives.
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This story is part of a series with AIA Singapore.

AIA Singapore is invested in the health and wellness of Singaporeans and has launched AIA Vitality, a comprehensive wellness programme that rewards members for taking small, everyday steps to improve their health.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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