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KIM Chi-Poong

A Wellness Scoreboard for a ‘Healthy’ Win-Win

KIM Chi-Poong

July 12, 2011

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Well-equipped company gyms around Korea attest to their recognition that a fit body leads to a fit mind. On the other hand, companies could do more in helping their employees stay healthy, highly energized and productive. Not only would employees benefit more but companies could be rewarded far more than they realize.

The development of corporate healthcare can be divided into three stages: individual responsibility, company support, and company-led. In contrast to companies in other countries, Korean companies remain stuck at the company support level, where support is provided for an individual employee's own healthcare regime.

To move to the next stage and thus enhance their competitiveness, companies need to adopt a new mindset toward employee healthcare. They must see it as a business concern and target for investment. For example, SAS, a software company and winner of the “2011 Best Workplace” award, spends US$1.41 on employee medical care, including an in-company hospital and healthcare center, for every US$1 spent on operating costs.

The payoff can be substantial. According to Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of US consulting firm Energy Project, the profit and net income per share rose 19% and 28%, respectively, at companies with a high level of employee concentration.

Understandably, some Korean companies may question the rate of return on investing heavily in employee healthcare. Such is the case in other countries. In a survey by global human resources consultant Towers Watson, 38% of the responding companies cited insufficient systematic data management of employees' health as a major obstacle.

The remedy is found in the Wellness Scorecard, which not only measures an employee's physical health but also includes his or her mental, social and spiritual well-being. Furthermore, the scorecard should be intertwined with business metrics such as output and revenue.

The program would not only include setting goals and frequent monitoring of performance but also counseling and holding managers accountable for achieving positive results.

While introducing the Wellness Scorecard, an integrated infrastructure should be simultaneously established. The whole system, managed by a newly assembled staff, would integrate and simultaneously manage medical examinations, the company fitness center, sports teams and funds for giving up smoking and loosing weight. It would also collect information on each employee's health changes and problems.

Health examinations and support programs for mental health should also be strengthened. Current employee health examinations only distinguish those who are able to perform their duties from those who cannot. The medical testing must be upgraded to a comprehensive examination in order to prevent various illnesses and diseases. In particular, to respond to the rise in mental illness, counseling and examinations must be expanded. Hewlett-Packard regularly conducts mental examinations and provides counseling. And Marriott International operates a free phone counseling service so that employees can receive advice from specialists.

Also, companies must make healthcare programs easily accessible to employees. A majority of employees are unable to take advantage of such healthcare facilities due to time constraints and a lack of willpower. Therefore, a service that actively seeks those in need of a healthcare regime is recommended. At oil refining company Chevron, a personal trainer visits the work place to lead employees in stretching exercises. In addition, there is a need to develop an in-house website to share helpful tips on health and exercise.

Lastly, enhancing corporate performance through the use of the Wellness Scorecard requires attention and effort from all levels of the corporate ladder. CEOs should take the initiative and set an example by starting their own healthcare regime. But the success of the Wellness Scoreboard will rest on middle managers. They will be the key to developing a corporate culture of fitness. They not must promote the program but also develop a keen interest and provide support for employees' healthcare. Finally, someone to take the lead in promoting healthcare and education on health issues must be chosen.

What results have been made? Healthcare products and pharmaceuticals provider, Johnson & Johnson, has managed to reduce absences by 78%, lowered employee smoking by 66% and employees with high blood pressure by more than 50% since it started investing in healthcare in 1995.

But CEOs who adopt the Wellness Scorecard must not expect to see rapid results including improvements in employees' health and enhancement of productivity. Reducing smoking and drinking in the Korean corporate culture would require a sea of change in attitudes and habits, not to mention shedding excess weight. For healthcare to become an integral part of culture and produce results takes a long period of time, therefore, it is important to have patience and continue investing. Above all, integrating healthcare into the corporate culture and letting employees naturally develop an interest in their health will lead to a healthier, more productive workforce.

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