By Dr. Vijay Panickar
On November 5, at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai, Arogya World named 20 companies from a variety of sectors across India “Healthy Workplaces,” in the third year of its pioneering public health program. A global non-profit health organization, Arogya World has worked to prevent non-communicable diseases – diabetes, heart disease, cancer and chronic lung diseases – through health education and lifestyle change.
An all-day educational event for employers, sponsored by Cigna TTK (a joint venture between Cigna, the U.S. based global health services leader and Indian conglomerate TTK Group), concluded with Arogya World announcing this year’s Healthy Workplace winners and commending them for their commitment to workplace wellness. At the award ceremony, employers from multiple industries representing manufacturing, technology, pharmaceuticals, health care and financial services all met key criteria to earn the designation of a Healthy Workplace. Since the program began in 2013, 47 companies have been named Healthy Workplaces in India, with a collective workforce of 333,000 people.
The day began with Jason Sadler (President of Cigna’s International Markets business) providing the audience an overview of the disease burden faced by India: it shares 21% of the global disease burden while a third of Indian deaths are caused by CVS diseases alone. Jason proposed that the current understanding of wellness should be expanded to include social, financial and spiritual aspects. Furthermore, in order to promote workplace wellness and subsequently increase employee productivity and loyalty, personalization and affordability of programs would be key.
Dr Sadhana Bhagwat (WHO India) spoke on “India’s Big NCD Challenge – Why Healthy Workplaces Matter”. She focused on the economic impact of NCD’s, especially the effect that avoidable NCD-based premature deaths in India’s productive age group were having on the county’s growth. NCD’s required a long term “life-course” approach, with the workplace providing an essential component for overall wellness.
Sandeep Patel (CEO & MD CignaTTK) presented the initial findings of the company’s 360 Degree Survey.
The first panel discussion focused on how the $4.6 trillion lost to chronic disease worldwide could be alleviated through making workplaces healthier. Panelists Sunita Cherian (Wipro), BS Nanjappa (Infosys), Chitra Buzruk (Persistent) and moderator Pradeep Mukerjee (Confluence Coaching and Consulting) discussed the programs that each had implemented internally to bring about sustained employee benefit.
This was followed by a Best Practices Workshop where Healthy Workplace award winners shared some of what they had done to improve employee wellness. Malav Dani (Hitech) displayed how using colored flags to mark healthy food choices in their cafeteria empowered employees without restricting choice. They also rewarded workers for physical activity (walking to speak to colleagues rather than online discussions) through the use of redeemable tokens, which not only improved fitness but also increased employee awareness of other company divisions. GS Thimmaiah (Madura Fashion and Lifestyle) discussed how they had improved their cafeteria choices after consultation with a nutritionist, cutting down portions and removing the dessert option. Furthermore, he emphasized the need to lead healthy change from the top describing how internal champions become benchmarks of healthy behavior for others.
The second panel discussion discussed “The Value on Investment from Healthy Workplaces”. Panelists Dr. Ashwin Naik (Ashoka), Dhruv Bhalia (SREI), Gautam Khanna (Hinduja Hospital), Indrajeet Sengupta (Johnson & Johnson) and moderator Aparna Piramal Raje (MINT) highlighted that the increasing awareness of NCD’s has meant that while no company can ignore employee wellness, companies associated with the health field are the last who can afford to have unhealthy employees. The importance of top-down leadership for wellness was discussed as was eliminating the opportunity to indulge in unhealthy activities while simultaneously replacing it with healthy alternatives (i.e. fewer seats to encourage standing in the cafeteria).
Tracking and correlation of data points such as treatment, sick leave and timely performance appraisals was also bought up, especially as a standardized health Index that could span companies so as to track health parameters against a company average and map disease trends.
Other necessary interventions discussed include: encouragement of yearly sports activities to naturally improve exposure to regular exercise and the flexible scheduling of healthy activities (such as yoga classes) to encourage participation. All agreed that multi-stakeholder (especially top management) participation was essential (as were internal champions) and that the reputation of an organization as a healthy one facilitated the hiring of talent.
There was general agreement that to ameliorate the two greatest hurdles for corporate wellness implementation (internal decision makers viewing wellness only in terms of cost and the lack of continuity of programs at home) the responsibilities for action should be split: companies should provide a conducive environment that minimizes barriers to health access while employees should take up personal responsibility for their own health.
Health initiatives should be made mandatory for Indian companies (and separated from CSR) and costed as a percentage of total corporate turnover. Active intervention and continuous monitoring are necessary, with tangible assessment of productivity in terms of engagement, overtime hours, absenteeism/sick days and talent acquisition improvement.
At the Perspectives presentation, Kavita Mathur (Wellness Associates), Dr. Utpal Chakraborty (Tata Power) and Aniruddha Sen (Citigroup) spoke on “Eating Right in the Workplace”, “Increasing Physical Activity through Fun” and “Health Innovation in the Workplace” respectively.
Kavitha mentioned that while 70% of health is nutrition, 3 to 9 percent of India’s GDP is lost to malnutrition. In light of the fact that a third of an urban Indian’s dietary intake occurs at work, workplace wellness becomes of paramount importance due to the long hours spent there, the social interactions therein and the support structures in place. If wellness programs combine awareness building, education, environment optimization and rational policies there would be a direct improvement in productivity, retention, corporate reputation and employee morale. Dr. Uptal discussed the benefit of formal and informal team activities—both virtual and physical (i.e. “step-athons” and cricket matches)—to improve team spirit and acclimation to exercise. Aniruddha capped the discussion by elaborating on the benefits of corporate fitness challenges, on-site health camps, intranet wellness sub-sites, healthy eating and smoking cessation campaigns.
A second Best Practices Workshop followed. Vishwas Shinde (Hindalco) spoke on the importance of work/life balance through the provision of health opportunities for employees including first aid certification, health lectures for employees and their families, yoga programs and annual medical examinations. Preeti Bhargav (India Bulls) also emphasized the need for work/life balance and physical activity, highlighting the company’s IB Get Fit Go program, which included marathons and cricket tournaments. Also provided were health camps and a special Men’s/Woman’s Day. Shifting mindsets was accomplished through a combination of targeted appraisals and incentives, special awards, annual meets and group mediclaim. Ravi Krishnamurthy (SBI Life) expounded on the progression of health intervention, from medical care to wellness to happiness and finally satisfaction in contributing to society. This was aided by improved access to healthcare, transport and healthy food. Kalyan Kumar (Sasan Power) closed the section off by describing how Sasan Power had declared smoking as not only prohibited but an unsafe practice and complimented this with successful de-addiction programs.
The Day Event was then closed by Arogya World’s Dr. Vijay Panickar and Dr. Geeta Bharadwaj: Vijay formally committing the organization to promoting health in the workplace through partnerships and Geeta providing a summation of the day’s event in her closing remarks.
The evening’s Award Event began with a networking reception concluded by Arogya World’s Dr. Nalini Saligram’s opening remarks. The awards were then presented to the 2015 award winners.
Quinnox’s Sriram Murthi spoke regarding “What Being a Healthy Workplace Means to Us.” The recurring theme of senior management support was again touched upon (“Living the Values” and “Leading by Example”) and the need for active affirmative intervention which included employee monitoring and course correction, internal journey mapping, professional lectures on women’s health/diabetes and health camps (including vision/dental checks, yoga and smoking cessation).
Arogya World’s Dr. Geeta Bharadwaj then officially launched the Platinum Healthy Workplace award category, which would take gold certified companies to the next level of employee wellness.
Closing the guest speaker interaction, Lal Sudhakaran from Madura Clothing (Aditya Birla Nuvo) cited the need for sustainability, inclusiveness and impact to be added to their numerous ongoing programs (medical camps, child nutritional and educational support, micro-financing education and loans) as the drivers for “Why We are Striving for Platinum.”
The event closed with a keynote speech by noted nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar who laid out five rules to combat the twin burdens of malnutrition in India: “dia-becity” (diabetes and obesity) and under-nourishment.
- Sitting is the new smoking: For every 30 mins of sitting, an individual should stand for 3 minutes.
- Activity does not replace exercise: 150 mins of strength, stamina and flexibility based exercise a week.
- Consume local seasonal whole foods.
- No TV/cell phone usage an hour before bed.
- Gender accountability.
Awardees were honored a few days later in the local newspaper, with a full page advertisement celebrating their accomplishments and World Diabetes Day.