Far East Organisation made major changes to its healthcare offerings recently. Jodie Choo, group HR head, walks Sabrina Zolkifi through the process and shares her experiences.

Designing and implementing a new initiative can be a massive undertaking, and no one knows this better than Jodie Choo, group HR head at Far East Organisation.

Prior to Choo joining the company in 2012, Far East Organisation offered traditional healthcare benefits such as inpatient and outpatient coverage.

However, when she looked closely at the figures and data, she realised the utilisation rate was low, which is when she decided the benefits programme needed a new lease of life.

To realise our vision and better our employees’ way of life, one of our key priorities is to build a healthy workplace environment that supports the physical and mental wellness of our workforce.
Although the company was offering a comprehensive healthcare package, Choo says employees were not tapping into them as they preferred their personal family doctors who were not included in the programme.

As such, it ended up with employees having to pay for their own healthcare even though medical coverage was provided by the company.

Therefore, Choo decided to make changes to the programme, adding the company recognised it “cannot rely solely on curative benefits to maintain a healthy workforce”.

She found while the outpatient and inpatient offerings were comprehensive, they were more of a reactive measure.

“You only incur cost when you get sick and need to cure yourself, but what about prevention to make sure you don’t get sick in the first place? That’s why we introduced a more flexible health and wellness programme,” Choo says.

The decision to restructure the benefits programme was one that was highly supported by the CEO of Far East Organisation, who Choo says was “particularly concerned with the growing trend of chronic illnesses at the workplace”.

“Mental health was also identified as a critical area, and there was a need for counselling services or an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP),” she adds.

It became apparent that a holistic framework was needed to tie these singular initiatives in a coherent manner. The interventions needed to be targeted and the results must be sustainable.
In order to make sure the new offerings would better resonate with the employees, Choo first looked at past utilisation data.

“What we did in my first year at the company was while we maintained our current inpatient benefits structure, we brought the outpatient benefits in-house and extended it across the board rather than going by employees’ levels of seniority,” Choo says.

“Because this was a matter of health, everybody is important to us, so everybody across the board gets a fixed sum. On top of that, because we’ve brought the programme in-house, we were no longer constrained by any restrictions or limitations imposed by the insurance companies, so employees can now go to registered and recognised doctors, and even TCM (traditional Chinese medicine).”

Another plus point of having support from the CEO was the fact that he was highly encouraging and allowed her team to “experiment”.

“Only until you do it will you have data, so you can’t only depend on what you’ve done in the past – especially if the past scheme was different, and that’s why we had to try things out. The first year was spent monitoring results and making tweaks along the way.”

Far East Organisation also approached the Health Promotion Board for advice, and received ideas on the types of initiatives and interventions, of which the eventual framework was based on.

The company’s new Employee Health and Wellness Programme is built on the three framework pillars: investigative, preventive and curative.

Investigative

In the past, the company has offered investigative programmes such as health screenings, but to further supplement this, Far East Organisation introduced an annual Health Risk Assessment (HRA) in August this year.

The personalise results from the HRA together with those from the health screening will be used in the risk assessment exercise, which is an essential process to identify the main risk factors for initiatives in the “preventive” pillar to be effective.

Preventive

This aspect of the programme is “the key change driver”, and revolves around flexible health and wellbeing benefits, including EAP.

“The scheme encourages employees to proactively manage their physical and mental well-being by offering choice and flexibility to utilise healthcare, wellness and fitness products and services to their needs,” Choo says.

EAP is also a focus for the organisation as the lines separating work and personal lives are beginning to blur, which means more attention must be given in the areas of employee counselling and assistance.

Curative

This pillar is a spillover from the previous benefit programme the organisation offered. Choo says the differentiating factor for this benefit was extending it to the employee’s immediate family (spouse, children and parents).

“When health risks cannot be prevented, there must be a safety net to protect the well-being of staff members,” she adds.

The programme also remains fluid and customisable to the needs of the organisation, and this is a direct response to meeting the different needs of the company’s diverse workforce.
Once the different pillars were in place, Choo rolled out a communication plan to help employees better understand the new offerings.

“We recognised the critical importance to communicate the principles and ideals of the programme and the purpose of the benefit in order to drive the right behaviours amongst our employees,” she says.

On top of an email blast which was sent out to the entire company, Far East Organisation also organised two major town hall sessions and briefings at their various satellite offices.

The HR team also spent two weeks on the ground to communicate and explain the new scheme to the rest of the organisation.

“To the organisation, a flexible benefit scheme is more cost effective than having to manage multiple benefit schemes,” Choo says.

“Manpower costs can be managed within the prescribed budget for benefits. We have also leveraged on our existing third party providers to administer the benefit at no extra cost.”

While Choo isn’t able to provide statistics on the impact of the programme so far because it’s still in its early stages, she says the company will continue to review the utilisation rates and data to make adjusted and improvements as needed.

“We are certain that our sustainable approach will bring down the cost of curative benefits over time. As our employees become healthier through preventive measures, they will be less likely to spend on outpatient medical benefits or incur hospitalisation cost,” Choo says.

 

“Absenteeism due to health related issues will likely decrease, bringing about an increase in productivity.

A healthier workforce will also likely be more engaged, energised and happier at the workplace.
Moving forward, Choo says Far East Organisation will continue to make improvements to the programme, and will be looking at areas such as use satisfaction, ease of claims and suggestions from employees.

She adds Singapore is also in a good place with regards to healthcare, as the government has been stepping up efforts to promote better well-being.

“What’s good about our government is that they have also emphasised to individuals that there needs to be self-ownership,” Choo says.

“In that sense, there has been a lot of awareness about the need to provide either for you or your employees better healthcare support.”

As for the one lesson she’s picked up from the experience so far? Not roll out a new plan in the middle of the year.

“People’s budgets have been locked so it’s better to implement something at the start of the year, which also means the communication and planning needs to happen before that,” Choo says.