This article is brought to you by AIA Malaysia.

Employers all across Malaysia are sitting up and taking accountability for better physical and mental health of their workforce.

In conversation with Edmund Lim, Chief Corporate Solutions Officer, AIA Malaysia, we find out how AIA is championing the issue.


Around two thousand years ago, Tibetan monks in the Himalayas developed a set of five exercises that they called The Five Tibetans. These exercises soon came to be associated with the ‘secret fountain of youth’, and today, they are known to promise health, vigour and vitality for those who choose to incorporate the ritual into their daily routines.

By condensing 21 yoga exercises into just five simple steps, The Five Tibetans concept is at present one of the best kept secrets in yoga, and it has rejuvenated many across the world, through the better activation of physical energy and the benefits of exceptional health.

In the present business environment too, companies are keen to rejuvenate their business models and, in essence, become healthy, wealthy and wise. Yet the reality is harder than that. The Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace survey by AIA Vitality found that organisations in Malaysia lose a total of 73.1 days per employee due to absence and presenteeism, costing each employer RM2.27mn per year.

While absenteeism refers to the actual absence from work due to sickness/ health problems; presenteeism, on the other hand, stems from employees clocking in but unable to perform optimally due to health problems, loss of concentration from a lack of sleep, work-related stress and other factors.

What's holding employers back from building a healthier workplace for their employees? First and foremost - they lack data to understand their workforce's health. "In order to provide interventions that really benefit their workforce, employers need to know the health profiles of their employees – by knowing this then only would they be able to invest in the right interventions," says Edmund Lim, Chief Corporate Solutions Officer, AIA Malaysia.

The first step then, for employers to design a holistic workforce wellbeing programme that works, is to identify and understand the problem, offer the right tools and programmes and create awareness amongst employees, while constantly driving engagement.

"Not all employers know if their health programmes are being well-received and utilised - Malaysia's Healthiest Workplace Survey by AIA Vitality enables organisations to do a pulse check on the health and wellbeing of their employees as well as find out what intervention works and what doesn’t work for their people," Lim cites, as a good starting point.

"This knowledge then empowers them to set the right health and wellbeing programmes that ultimately contribute to the productivity of their workforce."


Don't sleep on it: Take action

Research shows it takes losing just 16 minutes of sleep to interfere with job performance the next morning. Adding to this, findings from AIA's latest survey revealed that 54.4% of Malaysian employees sleep less than seven hours a night, with 11% saying that they have poor sleep, followed by 2% reporting very poor sleep. It is undeniable that the Malaysian workforce is a sleep deprived lot.

In light of this, one of AIA Vitality's recent solutions have been around sleep management, weaved into AIA Vitality, its unique science-backed health programme established three years ago, which started off by rewarding members for taking steps to exercise more, and later giving them benefits for practising healthy eating. Come April 2019, AIA began to reward them for incorporating sufficient rest into their lives.

The new sleep tracking benefit rewards members with 10 AIA Vitality points per day if they achieve a minimum of 420 minutes (or seven hours) of accumulated sleep within a 24-hour period. All corporate Vitality members will have access to this new benefit. Lim reinforces: "We want to share the message that resting well is no less important as being physically active and maintaining a balanced diet."

On a similar note, we've got the issue of mental health which more employers are talking about, given that a government official cited a health ministry study conducted in 2017 that found 18,336 Malaysians suffering from various stages of depression.

Accordingly, Lim agrees that the topic of mental health has increased in importance, adding that its survey hopes to help employers take a closer look at understanding their employee’s health and dive deep into their health profile, the prevalence of such issues, and problems affecting their workforce.

He says: "Our data and recommendations are meant to inspire them to adopt better and improved policies and pursue effective proactive programmes that lead to a health workplace and in the process, boost workforce engagement and productivity.

Ultimately, we aim to drive action and increase discussions on workplace health and help the Malaysian workforce and the larger community to lead healthier, longer, better lives.


Work hard, play hard

One thing to note from AIA's experience is that health and wellness interventions don't necessarily have to be restricted to the office. Outside the confines of work, AIA has introduced the District Race, which is its way of getting Malaysians to explore their terrain actively and through gamification.

"We’re definitely very excited to bring District Race by AIA Vitality to Malaysia – as a ground-breaking technology platform that provides a fun urban exploration experience for everyone," says Lim.

"District Race combines technology and fitness beautifully, offering a great starting point to motivate people to get out and rediscover their cities in a whole new light. All they need is their mobile phone, the District app, a pair of walking or running shoes, a curious mind, and off they go!"

Since its launch in June, AIA has opened up 'virtual grids' in various locations in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Putrajaya, Melaka, Johor Bahru and Penang for people to explore and be in the running to win some exciting prizes. There are currently 15 grids available, with more grids to be added every month.

"So far, the response has been very encouraging – we see participants using their lunch time to explore 'grids' near their places of work, while some take their families and friends along during the weekend. Some people have even used District as a platform for team building and small group activities," affirms Lim.

Buoyed by the enthusiasm around the race, AIA is also hosting a series of community events known as #ExploreEvents throughout the country. The first two in Kuala Lumpur and Penang were attended by over 500 people in total, while the main event will take place in Kuala Lumpur on 3 November.

Through all of this, AIA is engaging its corporate Vitality clients and inviting them and their employees to participate in District, as well as supporting them through briefings, communications, and promotions to help promote this internally.

Calculating ROI from workforce wellbeing programmes

Some organisations expect instantaneous results after investing in health and wellness programmes (i.e. lower claims utilisation/reduced in absenteeism and presenteeism). "However, change takes time and patience, and results will come," Lim reminds us.

Studies have shown that healthy employees result in better productivity and ultimately increase the bottom line for the company. This also reduces high turnover rates and results in a positive and motivated environment for the employees to work in. Even so, Lim admits it is challenging to capture the returns through dollars and cents as there are many variables to consider reaching an accurate figure.

Undeterred, he finds a solution: "One way the impact of these interventions can be measured is through the increased of productivity of the workforce, the reduction of absenteeism and presenteeism as well as lower employee turnover rate."

Perhaps, it is time we stop looking at financial indicators as the only measure of an organisation’s success. It is time we monitor global events on a real-time basis and ensure that our organisations are ready to adapt to changes.

And most importantly, it is time we take our employees’ health into our hands, because it is only when you have a healthy workforce can you ensure sustained productivity and optimised performance, for the business to achieve goals in an effective manner.

Working hand-in-hand for a winning result

One example of a partnership which has demonstrated genuine results was Mewah-Oils. The company joined AIA's Employee Benefit Scheme on 1 August 2018. They were sourcing for an insurance provider who not only provided efficient services but also helped them manage their cost, while allowing their employees to continue to enjoy cashless facilities.

AIA identified that Mewah-Oils was experiencing an increase in cost, and through its careful analysis was able to help the organisation identify opportunities to mitigate the risk of cost escalation. Working together, both parties managed to implement initiatives to mitigate the risk without compromising the employee’s experience.

The great partnership between Mewah-Oils and AIA has resulted in an approximately 9%* reduction in the company’s medical cost in 2018. AIA continues to monitor the conduct of the account to ensure that both client and members’ expectations are met.

*Based on nine months' average cost per person.

Lead image and infographics / provided