Human Resources



The amazing benefits of healthy staff

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Keeping your staff healthy goes far beyond simply decreasing sick leave and lowering healthcare costs, Ashwani Dahiya, VP of global compensation and benefits at American Express, found out.

The Singapore working population is both ageing rapidly and becoming less healthy, with incidents of disease directly linked to worsening lifestyle habits and sedentary, stressful jobs.

Chronic health conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes in particular have quickly become major issues for the national healthcare system. It’s little surprise that medical inflation is on the rise – healthcare costs in Singapore rose 5.5% in 2012 compared with 4.98% in 2011.

In addition, health conditions lead to higher sick leave, increased absenteeism and lower employee productivity.

Presenteeism, a term used to define on-the-job lost productivity because of poor health or emotional conditions, is increasingly becoming a better proxy to measure workers’ health and how it impacts their daily work.

Organisations that have realised this and have a sustained Workplace Health Promotion (WHP) programme report significantly positive results.

According to Dr Amy Khor, Minister of State for Health, as part of Singapore Health Award assessments, the Health Promotion Board undertook a fringe productivity study among 52 companies and more than 1,500 employees; 60% of employees from bronze-awarded companies reported mild to severe degrees of presenteeism at work, compared with 42% of employees from platinum-awarded companies.

On average, a bronze award recipient bears $2,400 per employee in annual productivity losses, whereas the cost to a platinum award recipient is $1,800 per employee.

Companies with a more sustained and progressive WHP programme can anticipate an “improvement” of $600 per employee in employee presenteeism losses.

At American Express, we discovered increasing employee participation in wellness programmes was a very effective contributor towards improved health risks and presenteeism.

We are always looking for innovative ways to increase employees’ participation in such programmes in Singapore because they can lead to changed health behaviour and improved health outcomes among employees.


Ashwani Dahiya, vice-president, global compensation & benefits, American Express

Over the past few years in Singapore, sick leave has decreased, healthcare costs have been declining and presenteeism has improved. In the past, more than 300 American Express employees and their families created Singapore’s longest healthy sandwich and entered the Singapore Book of Records.

In 2010, American Express also became one of the first global companies in Singapore to launch a health programme that supported the Health Promotion Board’s National Healthy Lifestyle Campaign – Healthy Together.

Most recently, American Express partnered with ConneXionsAsia (CXA), which built a powerful platform aggregating the entire health and benefits supply chain so corporates can begin shifting the paradigm from treatment to prevention. We found CXA’s network of wellness providers and focus on analytics ideally suited to helping employees improve overall wellbeing. What was particularly engaging was the face-ageing technology integrated into CXA’s on-site biometrics and lifestyle risk assessment. This service helped us improve participation to almost 75%.

Employees were intrigued at seeing what they would look like in 20 or 30 years time. For the first time, they could visualise what their lifestyle was doing to their appearance.

Employees’ word-of- mouth did what we were not able to do in previous years.

Each participant received an on-the-spot report that not only showed their aged faces, but traffic light indicators of their health risks. Hallway conversations such as “How many reds do you have?” and “You age really well” were heard as employees shared results among themselves. Lunchtime meal options were reconsidered. We were pleased to see the buzz and level of personal engagement generated. Even our senior management was caught up in the excitement and led by example.

By inviting employees to wellness programmes that are engaging and fun, we have achieved greater participation and better health outcomes for the company.

Increased employee participation creates a culture of well-being that has a lasting positive impact on employee presenteeism, healthcare costs and employee loyalty. The company plans to build on this success by engaging families as well as employees in its programmes and further integrate these programmes with other talent-management practices.

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