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Strategies To build a Healthy Workplace Amid Pandemic It is increasingly seen as leadership and company responsibility and should occupy more and more of everyone's mind share

By Dr. Nalini Saligram

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As entrepreneurs and CXOs of businesses, one would agree that one thing that has emerged during the pandemic is employee health, which is of paramount importance and a strategic pillar for growth.

Employees are constantly evaluating how vital health is in the company, whether leaders mean what they say, and health may very likely be the clinching factor between an employee staying or leaving. In addition, as the war for talent intensifies, it is essential to remember that employee health is a reputation enhancer. It is increasingly seen as leadership and company responsibility and should occupy more and more of everyone's mind share.

Building a healthy workplace amid the pandemic means several things:

  • It means ensuring comprehensive health and wellness, emphasizing physical and mental wellbeing.
  • It means highlighting preventative health, including non-communicable disease prevention, i.e., encouraging eating right, exercise, and no tobacco use in the company, ensuring more employees take part in annual health checks, tracking biometric data trends in the employee population.
  • It also means genuinely engaging with employees and showing them that the leadership and company truly cares
  • It means that leaders walk the talk, i.e., visibly champion healthy living

In other words, it is important to place the employee and their health at the centre stage of the company's growth. It is essential to communicate to the employees, the board and externally to the investors and stakeholders on employee health programs. Alongside, it is also crucial to measure their impact and build a data-driven culture of health.

It can act as a motivation to encourage people to be good managers and reach out to their teams, talk about the wellbeing of individual employees, especially important during this time of uncertainty as people return to the office after 2 years of working from home. Research conducted at the beginning of the pandemic (April-May 2020) on the impact of working from home among 922 working Indians showed some important insights:

· A huge number (87 per cent) of employees acknowledged that their line managers were good at keeping in touch with them

· 89 per cent of working people said they were motivated to give their employer 100 per cent effort.

· And 84 per cent of the employees felt valued by their companies

The proactive outreach of managers to their teams, may have been a big factor why working Indians did not fare badly; more than half (ranging 58-69 per cent) scored positively on the WHO 5 Index, a well-accepted scale on emotional wellbeing, and did not appear to be suffering from undue anxiety as they transitioned to working from home during India's sudden lockdown in 2020.

Perhaps the most important thing to do as leaders is to make sure the company emerges more robust from the COVID-19 crisis.

While at it, it is also critical to learn from the strong links between COVID, a communicable disease, and diabetes - a noncommunicable disease. It is clear that people with underlying diabetes, hypertension or obesity are the ones, if infected with COVID, that are most likely to need hospitalizations, ICU care and the ones most likely to may be, not survive. A recent New York Times article called the two diseases colliding "a public health train wreck" and pointed out that outside the elderly and nursing home residents, diabetics were the most impacted. Whether it is because diabetes suppresses immunity or other reasons, it is clear that 30-40 per cent of those dying from COVID are people with underlying diabetes (US data).

So, preventing type 2 diabetes is now more urgent and important than ever before. In India diabetes is an alarming concern – up to 3 out of 4 adults in metro areas may be diabetic or pre-diabetic. It is important to help our employees prevent diabetes and other NCDs through healthy living which is one of the most important steps one can take as a leader.

Over the years, research has demonstrated that workplace health and wellbeing programs can make a difference. An ASSOCHAM 2018 study showed that Indian corporates can save $20 billion through initiating corporate wellness programs for their employees. On an average for every rupee being spent on employee wellness programs, the employers get INR 132.33 as a saving on absenteeism cost and INR 6.62 back as reduced health care costs. Progressive companies have realized the potential value of employee health and wellbeing programs to the organization's bottom line.

Going ahead, it is important to empower employees to lead healthy lives. Healthy living should be part of our collective armamentarium for pandemic preparedness. It can help us boost immunity, become grounded, reduce stress, and prevent NCDs. In general, healthy living can help employees truly thrive, perform better at work and cope better with life, and improve productivity and the company's bottom line. A healthy workforce would help India meet the SDGs, especially SDG #3, and retain the country's competitive edge on the global landscape

While one sets goals, let us look beyond numbers. Collaboration is the key to harness the energy of every individual towards building a healthier and stronger country that truly helps India build back better.

Dr. Nalini Saligram

Founder & CEO, Arogya World and Ashoka Fellow

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