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Healthy employees make sound business sense

Nov 12 2014 14:14

Johannesburg - Healthier companies show lower absenteeism rates and more productivity levels than their unhealthier competitors, according to the 2014 Healthy Company Index.

Top honours were taken by Vital Health Foods, Johnson Matthey SA, and Hatch Goba in the small, medium and large categories of the 2014 Healthy Company Index Awards, hosted by Discovery Vitality.

The official rankings, as well as the overall results of the Healthy Company Index survey, were revealed at an awards ceremony where winning companies were recognised for best practice in health promotion initiatives in corporate South Africa.

"We have moved beyond the point of defining return-on-investment and impact on absenteeism and prioritising the health of our workforce is good for business and critical for society," said Dr Craig Nossel, head of Vitality Wellness.

"A trend that emerged from 2014 is that we’re seeing a significant shift in how employee health is viewed by companies globally. There is increasing focus on improving and managing health and wellbeing and how this is affecting their bottom line."

According to Nossel, this is largely due to the worsening and alarming general state of health around the world, in particular with chronic diseases of lifestyle.

Chronic diseases of lifestyle

The risks of chronic diseases of lifestyle - including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory conditions and certain cancers - play a significant role in employee illness and absenteeism, as well as reduced levels of workplace morale, engagement and productivity.

Research has shown, though, that these diseases of lifestyle can be largely mitigated through tailored interventions to promote a healthier diet, increased levels of physical activity, and regular health checks. Since people spend a great deal of their lives at work, and work significantly impacts stress and lifestyle, employers have a unique opportunity to positively influence their employees’ ability to make healthy choices and help them to manage stress and reduce illness.

This year, Discovery partnered with the University of Cambridge and Rand Europe, who have offered a global perspective on corporate wellness. Christian van Stolk, director of employment and social policy at Rand Europe, said the Healthy Company Index provides employers with critical information on the health and well-being of employees. Successful wellness initiatives are those that encourage a culture of health in the workplace and motivate individuals to take control of their own health. As a consequence, there is a strong business case for companies to look at health and well-being more closely and invest in improving employee health.

The results of the 2014 Discovery Healthy Company Index showed that there are some important improvements in employee health. The average Vitality Age, for example, a measurement of health risk-related age, was 5.8 years older than the average real age in this year’s results compared to 6.4 years older in 2012.

"Although still not ideal. It indicates that people are more physically active, are managing stress better and have a lower smoking rate now than two years prior," said Van Stolk.

"The Healthy Company Index showed that South Africans suffer an 11.4% loss in working days due to suboptimal health, which equates to 25 working days per employee. When compared to the UK, SA employers have a 2.3% higher productivity loss rate due to employees being unhealthier and taking more sick days."

Based on this year’s index results, recommendations for a healthier workplace include implementing canteens that offer healthy, affordable food and drinks that are subsidised where possible. In addition, having flexible work hours to allow employees to be active before or after work and recruiting health ambassadors or advocates to champion corporate wellness goals will help an organisation to lead the way when it comes to the health and wellbeing of their staff.

The winning companies in the 2014 Discovery Healthy Company Index are:

Healthiest employees winners - small, medium, and large categories:

- Small: Open Box Software;

- Medium: Ogilvy and Mather Cape Town;

- Large: Ernst and Young.

Healthiest workplace winners - small, medium, and large categories:

- Small: Vital Health Foods;

- Medium: Johnson Matthey SA;

- Large: OUTsurance.

Healthiest company winners - small, medium, and large categories:

- Small: Vital Health Foods;

- Medium: Johnson Matthey SA;

- Large: Hatch Goba.

discovery  |  small business  |  wellness  |  employees
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