HR Excellence Awards 2023 Singapore
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Suite Talk: AIA's tips for implementing corporate wellness initiatives

Sainthan Satyamoorthy, chief corporate solutions officer, AIA, gives tips for implementing a new wellness initiative and showcasing ROI of health and wellness to senior stakeholders.

Q Having spent your career in insurance, first in actuarial and distribution roles, then in leadership roles, what is the biggest motivation that keeps you passionate?

It has been interesting for me to transition from a role that involved seeing the world from a statistical and numerical point of view to a role that allowed me to fully engage with customers and clients who benefit from having insurance. For me, knowing that you can make a difference in people's lives and help them at times of need keeps me motivated and ready to make a difference.

Q In the seven years that you've been with AIA across Indonesia and Malaysia in regional roles, what has been the most significant personal milestone?

I have been fortunate enough to work across multiple countries and roles in Europe and in Asia, and when I look back, the thing that influenced me the most is the people that I worked with. Ultimately as a leader, your role is to try and bring the best out of your team members and so for me, being able to help the people that I've worked with realise their potential and progress to be even more successful is a much greater feeling than achieving any business goal.

Q Moving to your other passion, health and wellness, tell us about AIA's wellbeing strategy for employees. When was it instituted, and what was the business need?

Being a leading life insurer in Malaysia, we are acutely aware of the impact that ill-health or losing a loved one can have on a person or a family. It was clear to us that whilst we were there for them or their loved ones during these difficult times, we were not doing enough to help them avoid it from happening.

For this reason, we embarked on the AIA Vitality programme. Of course, the best place to start would be amongst our own employees, our life planners as they have the same risks and concerns as anyone else in Malaysia.

Q What was the journey you undertook towards building this strategy – for eg, the resourcing, stakeholders, and the challenges you faced?

As with any new initiative, the challenge is to get the employees engaged. While there are always early adopters, many of them need help and guidance to get them started. As leaders in AIA, we took it upon ourselves to be role models and spread the message to our teams. We even went floor by floor to help employees sign-up and log on to the system for the very first time and understand the basics of the programme.

Additionally, new initiatives also require investment and hard work. Our HR team faced the challenging task of driving engagement as well as how to achieve active engagement with limited resources.

For instance, the team utilised the pre-existing employee engagement budget to implement Active Wednesdays, promoting staff engagement activities during company events, town halls and manager meetings. I’m proud to say that all our events incorporate the elements of health and wellness.

As leaders in AIA, we took it upon ourselves to be role models and spread the message to our teams. We even went floor by floor to help employees sign-up and log on to the system for the very first time and understand the basics of the programme.

Q As you may be implementing these solutions for clients as well, how would you say the Malaysian landscape has evolved in terms of employer-led wellbeing approaches?

As the employment market continues to evolve, we have seen employers shift from payroll, to employee benefits and ultimately employee engagement. All of these are put forward with the aim of securing and retaining the best talents.

However, more and more employers are now dealing with non-communicable health issues such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, as well as the increasing cost of treatment. This not only puts pressure on medical benefit cost but also impacts productivity.

Hence a lot more companies and employers realise the need to work with an organisation/partner to assist them in addressing both the increasing cost of medical treatment and help them stem increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases which would impact both operational cost and organisational productivity.

We are seeing a clear shift in demand from employers for employee health and wellness solutions. For example, the number of companies and employees participating in the Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace Survey and in our Corporate AIA Vitality programme have more than doubled this year. This proves to be an indicator that Malaysian companies look for greater insights and data into the health of their organisations; understanding the value in improving the health and wellbeing of their employees.

The Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace by AIA Vitality is in its second year. The survey is by far Malaysia’s most comprehensive workplace survey that examines employee health as well as workplace health strategies and activities. The survey seeks responses from both employers and its employees to provide insights into corporate health.

As we know, healthy employees are key to any business success. That’s why taking the first step to understanding the company’s current state of health, as well as of those of its employees, is equally important. By gaining a deeper understanding of these crucial elements, companies can then put actions into place to create a healthier and more productive environment for their workforce.

With data obtained from the survey, supported by our AIA Vitality programme, companies implement employee activities that encourage long-term behaviour changes in health and are rewarded with benefits and discounts for taking sustainable steps, however small, to improve their health.

When employees improve their lifestyle choices, not only will it help to increase employee engagement and work productivity, but will also give companies a hiring edge given that more and more employees value work-life balance.

As we know, healthy employees are key to any business success. That’s why taking the first step to understanding the company’s current state of health, as well as of those of its employees, is equally important.

Q In the same vein, what do the findings of the Malaysia's Healthiest Workplace research suggest? Any data points or analysis that really jumps out for action?

As mentioned, Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace by AIA Vitality is now into its second year and we will be sharing the second-year results at the end of this month. The survey also aims to bring to the fore the role of employers in championing good health at the workplace. Given that working Malaysians spend most of their waking hours at work, it is important to understand, measure and improve health and wellbeing at the workplace.

The 2017 Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace survey findings revealed that Malaysia experienced a high loss of productivity as the average annual cost of health-related absenteeism or presenteeism is equivalent to approximately RM2.7 million per organisation.

The survey went on to highlight other behaviours and factors that negatively impact employee health, and also revealed that Malaysia’s workforce is at high risk of mental illnesses and whilst 91% of employers are making interventions available only 58% of employees are aware about them.

In other words, there is a significant financial impact to employers but the way we are addressing it now is not as effective as it could be.

Q You’re a firm believer in ROI of health and wellness, as affirmed at the recent Employee Healthcare Interactive. What approach do you recommend employers to undertake to showcase this ROI to senior stakeholders?

One of the interesting discussion that came about during the conference was around ROI. Ultimately as an employer there are always business goals to be achieved and as long as the health and wellness approach can be aligned to the company’s overall strategy and business goals, there is likely to be a return on the investment even if it is not a direct dollar savings on cost.

The key is about having clarity of a measurable goal, this can be the rate of increase in medical cost, productivity, absenteeism or presenteeism for example.

The next and most important part is then having ways of measuring this. Too often decisions are made looking at only claims data even though on the average, less than 10% of customers use the hospitalisation benefit in a year.

That is why having programmes like AIA Vitality and participating in Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace survey by AIA Vitality, allows employers to get data on the wider population and not just those who are physically ill.

Linking the claims and health data together allows employers to set more realistic goals and KPIs to manage the longer-term ROI in a measurable way that can be communicated to the senior leadership team.

This also helps employers to utilise their resources better. It allows them to build more effective and segmented interventions and address those that are chronically ill. The idea is to help them manage the disease and so that those at risk will take practical steps to avoid the disease, as opposed to the one size fits all interventions that tend to happen when you only have claims data.

The key is about having clarity of a measurable goal, this can be the rate of increase in medical cost, productivity, absenteeism or presenteeism for example.

Q One of the issues that got most delegates worried at this event was the stigma attached to discussing mental health. Any practical ideas or experiences you can share to equip employers for this discussion?

From the 2017 Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace survey, we also note that 53% of Malaysian employees are at risk of mental health issues, yet close to 44% of employers offer no interventions at all. The sad truth is that, mental health remains a taboo discussion.

The lack of sleep leaves employees at risk for at least one work-related stress factor (i.e. bullying, financial concerns), high level of anxiety or depressive symptoms, are at increased risk of developing severe mental health conditions.

There are a multitude of studies that show a link between improved physical health and improved mental health which means a clear focus on driving physical health can help. AIA also offers programmes such as A-Health Maximiser which enables employers to help their employees obtain better financial protection at a very reasonable cost, allowing employees to have greater peace of mind should they face any unfortunate incidents.

Q Concluding with the AIA front, can you share an innovative project or solution that you’re working on, that clients can eagerly look forward to?

At AIA, workplace health and wellness is being embedded in our culture. AIA Vitality is our first step into bringing a holistic and sustainable solution to incentivise Malaysians to start adopting and making positive changes to their daily lifestyle.

On top of introducing AIA Vitality to our corporate clients, we are piloting several offline approaches to pique employee’s interest in living healthier. One of these approaches involve bringing a human element in guiding and motivating employees throughout the journey of change, which most will struggle to even start. Combining with the regular, immediate incentives and rewards they receive from achieving daily activity targets, we foresee this will be a game changer towards the traditional sense of offering employee benefits.

The journey to promoting workplace wellness has just begun for us at AIA. We hope to establish more collaborative efforts with the government, employers, healthcare providers and work closely with the community at large to enact policies and practices that can help the Malaysian workforce live healthier, longer, better lives.

Photo / AIA

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