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How To Create Workplace Health & Wellness Strategies For Effective Leadership

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Written in collaboration with Dr. Stella Muloongo

In light of the recent outbreak of a coronavirus originating in Wuhan, China, now officially known as COVID-19, we’ve collaborated with Stella Muloongo, a medical doctor who graduated from Fudan University in Shanghai, China to share insights on how medical pandemics can be innovatively managed through effective workplace wellness strategies. With medical experience spanning various countries, Stella has spent most of her time in China, mainly at Zhongshan Hospital and Huashan Hospital, in addition to rotations in Sydney, Auckland and Johannesburg.

The novel coronavirus is a new health challenge for our time. As a physician, Dr Muloongo understands the price paid on the frontlines of the healthcare battlefield. Former colleagues at the epicentre of COVID-19 in Wuhan and many more in her former city, Shanghai are fighting so that those infected with COVID-19 have the best chance of recovery. While there are still deaths on both sides and reports flood in about the spread of the virus across EMEA and the USA, there is hope in recent news of the decrease in new cases within Asia and increased patient recoveries starting to outpace new cases.

Lessons have been learnt from COVID-19’s genetic cousins SARS and MERS, and in such crises, we’ve learnt that decisive action early on is our best defence. As we continue to learn from each case of medical pandemics, steps in containment and treatment usually require great sacrifice and a unified front from the scientific community, governments and the general population.

The Background

There are hundreds of coronaviruses but only seven are known to cause humans illness, of which only three have been known to cause serious harm; SARS (2002), MERS (2012) and now COVID-19 (2019). Our history of fighting these strains of the virus has generated mass amounts of data and resources. However, due to the infrequent nature of these threats, frontline healthcare workers usually have to sift through outdated materials, learning as they go, changing and adapting to on-the-spot information as each strain’s unique identifiers are discovered and eventually treated. Despite knowing the importance of sharing information freely amongst the world’s health communities, statistics, successes and failures are manipulated on the global publicity stage to better reflect a country’s response, approach and effectiveness.

The Future

So how useful is a country’s public response in creating the necessary results in public health, primary care and preventive education? What kind of workplace wellness strategies can support governmental efforts in containing the spread of a virus? How can public service announcements effectively help combat the fear that an outbreak causes?

Dr Muloongo believes the answers at the core of all these questions lies in science, technology and the digital transformation of the healthcare system; in actionable knowledge and education that are made accessible to all. She asks, “can technology, care-based approaches and preventive measures be combined to form a healthcare system of the future so that the news is no longer the source of our healthcare education in a crisis?”

New problems require new solutions, and amid the current COVID-19 outbreak we reflect on the world’s response to the most recent fight for the healthcare of tomorrow.

What has worked well in China

  • Insurers have created mini-sites on COVID-19 for their policyholders, with links to information and appropriate healthcare facilities to contact for health checks.
  • Corporate businesses are investing in telemedicine providers, generating the largest-scale adoption and integration of telemedicine technology since its inception. This is particularly prevalent in the healthcare industry, an industry renowned for being overly traditional, process-heavy and slow to digitally transform. Newly-built hospitals in Wuhan, like Huoshenshan Mountain Hospital (note of which was constructed in only ten days), telemedicine is playing a major part in patient monitoring in isolation wards, as in other Wuhan hospitals, progressing China rapidly towards a value-based healthcare system.
  • The government used popular social media platforms AliPay and WeChat with a green, yellow and red traffic-light system on people’s mobile phones helping officials determine if the user should be allowed past guards at checkpoints.

What has worked well in Singapore

  • Singapore’s Ministry Of Health website has the most up-to-date, concise and relevant information available to the population on COVID-19. The real-time, accurate resources and intuitive site design has even garnered praise from the WHO. Publishing geographic clusters where increased numbers of infections occur, and baseline details on confirmed cases, this educational tool allows the general public to avoid higher risk areas around the island and encourages the sharing of information on affected cases of COVID-19. By empowering the average person and dispelling fears of the medical situation, the population responds effectively, containing and reducing infection. What is happening in Singapore is an example of value-based preventive healthcare in action.
  • DBS, Singapore’s largest bank is offering all their customers and their immediate family complimentary COVID-19 relief insurance coverage to further cushion affected patients’ expenses. The COVID-19 Hospital Cash policy is a 30-day free coverage that provides a daily cash benefit for hospital confinement and a lump sum payout for ICU confinement in relation to the virus. It also provides worldwide coverage for policyholders who must travel during this period.
  • In order to uncover COVID-19 infections that may have otherwise evaded detection, Singapore’s health authorities decided early on to test all influenza-like and pneumonia cases, implementing a rigorous detection and quarantine schedule free of charge for all its citizens. The government also offers SGD100 per day for self-employed citizens in quarantine, and prevents corporate employers from subtracting quarantine days from an employees holiday leave. Singapore still maintains zero deaths from COVID-19, despite being the first country with the second most infections outside of China in the initial stages of the outbreak.

What has worked well across Asia

  • Several new medical training courses on COVID-19, such as a recent one by MDBriefcase, are now available for medical professionals. These courses are a good start for basic knowledge on the virus itself and sharing of new treatment information including new medications and vaccinations as and when they become available.
  • By February 1st, aggressive travel restrictions early on in countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore contravened WHO’s initial insistence that travel bans were not necessary. The precautions came at a significant economic cost to these international hubs, which all rely on mainland China as their biggest trading partner and source of tourists. Looking retrospectively just 6 weeks later these countries’ low reported cases prove that decisive action early on wins.
  • Following SARS in 2003, Taiwan established a central command center for epidemics. By Jan. 20, it was coordinating the government’s response to the coronavirus. It quickly compiled a list of 124 “action items,” including border controls, school and work policies, public communication plans and resource assessments of hospitals, according to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Taiwan, just 81 miles from mainland China, was expected to have among the highest number of imported cases, but it has now tallied just 50 cases—fewer than Slovenia.

Lessons from the healthcare industry

  • Further improvements have been made in the field regarding nosocomial mismanagement, addressing the large scale infection of healthcare workers, although there is still a way to go.
  • Measures have been taken to change the way COVID-19 is diagnosed including the necessary time gap required before positive results are given. Improvements in clinical diagnostic criteria has led to better management of patients with pneumonia symptoms and are treated as potential COVID-19 cases until cleared.
  • Public health is about collaboration; only in unity can things progress forward. Public health efforts in China meant the sharing of COVID-19’s DNA structure with the world allowing rapid research into medications, vaccines and the creation of test kits.
  • Continued development of medical and public health courses including the latest data and research to support current treatment protocols, quickest diagnostic methods and the most effective vaccinations and medications to prescribe, creating a dynamic learning environment.

Implications for businesses

A recent executive study by McKinsey & Company “COVID-19: Implications for business” (authored by Matt Craven, Linda Liu, Mihir Mysore, and Matt Wilson) looks at the growing impact of COVID-19 on the global economy. Providing business leaders with a perspective on the evolving situation and implications for their companies, Table 1 outlines three possible economic situations.

Protecting your employees

Looking specifically at a short-term contingency plan to manage an outbreak like COVID-19, senior business leaders should look to:

  • Follow the most stringent guidelines from leading global healthcare organisations such as WHO, CDC and local health authorities.
  • Communicate frequently with your employees and through the right channels, making sure employees that are affected directly receive more targeted support.
  • Benchmark your efforts with others in your industry for example; limiting non-essential travel, ensuring a work from home rotation schedule to reduce the number of employees at one site.
  • Support your CEO with setting up a cross-functional response team of senior leaders that guarantees decisive action and a stable line of communication to reduce workforce anxiety.
  • Consider scenarios of 30, 90, 180 and 365 days and model out workforce management plans.

Develop a 4E’s workplace wellness strategy

Once short-term business continuity planning is complete, next look at a more robust workplace wellness strategy that can weather all manner of workforce crises:

Evaluate

  • Evaluate your current situation including previously run employee programs, employee net promoter scores, budgets, current initiatives and leadership buy-in. Look at the current employee handbook on flexible and remote working practices, on-site protocols and office-based policies. Ideally, interview a range of employees and ask the tough questions about how they feel about their current work environment and working options.

Employ

  • Whether this be investing in a new technology, the creation of a wellness committee, setting up a mini-site in the employees’ portal or the identification of wellness champions, look to create a culture of wellness through each and every employee. New digital platforms offer value to all staff, and encourage the use of innovation to find workarounds that may create longer-term efficiencies in the way the company runs. Be sure to align everyone’s vision on what a healthy workplace looks like, and correlate that with the data you’ve collected in your evaluation stage.

Engage

  • The key to engaging employees is consistency; whether that be in frequency and tone of communications, resources provided, new technologies you invest in or who you target first, creating sustained behavioural change stems from healthy habits from the core of your wellness strategy. Remember that one size doesn’t fit all and a culture of mass personalisation will ensure your workforce feel the company has provided a range of solutions that suit them.

Expand

  • After the first 30, 60, 90 and 180 days, evaluate, adjust and start to expand across the organisation. This could be to regional offices that weren’t previously included, or centralised global headquarters. The importance of this stage is to ensure lessons have been learnt from previous situations and the company is better prepared for what might come next by rolling out the strategy into every area of the company culture. This means collaboration from all departments to ensure everyone is pulling together for success.

In Conclusion

The modern challenges that HR business leaders face provide a volatile, unpredictable new work environment that needs to be expertly navigated to ensure human capital strategies support public health and local government efforts. The global workforce needs to be given flexible, practical and relevant measures to follow to maintain corporate productivity while also protecting employees’ health and wellbeing. If you want more information or would like to talk to one of our consultants you can contact us here.

References

  • Current studies on key risk factors of COVID-19: Coronavirus: Largest study suggests elderly and sick are most at risk. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-51540981
  • MOH Singapore COVID-19: https://www.moh.gov.sg/covid-19 (Current updates) https://www.moh.gov.sg/covid-19/past-updates (Past updates)
  • ARV use treating COVID-19: https://news.cgtn.com/news/2020-01-26/Beijing-confirms-use-of-anti-HIV-drugs-to-treat-novel-coronavirus-NyWfDcmeZi/index.html
  • https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/06/health/coronavirus-treatments.html
  • Cured COVID-19 patient plasma for treating severe cases of COVID19: Coronavirus Outbreak: Plasma from recovered patients used as treatment https://news.cgtn.com/news/77416a4e354d4464776c6d636a4e6e62684a4856/index.html
  • https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/coronavirus-china-asks-recovered-patients-to-donate-blood-for-plasma-treatment
  • Previously used for H1N5 (swine flu) &H1N1 (bird flu) as well as in SARS https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15616839
  • MDbriefcase COVID-19 course: https://www.mdbriefcase.net/resources/coronavirus/content/index.html#/
  • https://www.mdbriefcase.com/course/a-canadian-healthcare-providers-guide-to-the-novel-coron
  • https://www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/coronaviruses
  • https://time.com/5802293/coronavirus-covid19-singapore-hong-kong-taiwan/
  • https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/20200312-sitrep-52-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=e2bfc9c0_2 facts true as of 12 March 2020
  • https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/risk/our-insights/covid-19-implications-for-business
  • https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html
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Is Your Workplace Well?

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Written by Victoria Gilbert, Associate Director, Workplace Advisory Corporate Solutions Asia, Colliers International

Wellness is becoming a strategic priority for companies across the globe. Over the past few years in there has been a significant uptake and rapid growth of wellness building projects in Asia Pacific – which looks set to continue.

Business leaders have identified the ‘war for talent’ as their number one challenge in the region. Millennials – set to make up 75% of the workforce by 2025 – are more focused on their own well-being, changing expectations of the ‘employee experience’. And, research shows that shows failing to take wellness into consideration has serious consequences for productivity and the bottom line. 

It is therefore vital for companies to consider how they can embed wellness into the built environment, develop effective organisational policies, and positively influence employee behaviour.

Industry needs to address the pain points of these companies – by developing services to improve well-being at scale, leveraging new technologies to facilitate the journey, and providing ways to measure the impacts. For many, the focus is shifting from ‘what’ wellness is and ‘why’ it’s important, and asking ‘how’ to build effective wellness programmes, and quantify the benefits to employee and corporate performance. As the wellness industry develops more tools to answer these questions, companies will be more willing to commit time and resources to implementing them.

Serious businesswoman in protective mask looking at screen of laptop in working environment

Given that we spend 90 per cent of our time inside, especially in urban environments like Hong Kong, and that indoor air can be more polluted than outside it is essential to ensure the air we are breathing is high quality. Poor air quality, including high carbon dioxide levels, is linked to increased risk of disease and decreased productivity. Providing clean air not only has a clear health benefit but also gives a psychological edge – it’s peace of mind. Leveraging big data and apps to consistently monitor and communicate this to employees is extremely effective.

We were born to move. Some companies are addressing this through office design by creating circulation routes to ensure people are moving throughout the day. Some have fewer printers or a centralised area for bins so people are naturally compelled to walk and socialise. You’ll also find height-adjustable desks or standing desks that team members use for a break from sitting all day. All of this helps to increase movement and step count – making for healthy internal competitions! Using a digital platform or wearable can be a great driver for healthy habits across the business and a great way to see improvements over time.

Efforts to enhance wellness can encounter multiple challenges, from budget limitations to a lack of staff or management buy-in. It’s crucial for corporates to create a wellness strategy that’s core to a business and its employees, and not just an add-on. This will help practitioners narrow the gap between the growing understanding of the field of wellness and effectively engaging with industry experts to execute it.

How Do You Bring Wellness Into Your Workplace?

Here are ten top tips to improve the work environment for you and your employees.

  • Improve air quality – air pollution kills 7 million people every year.
  • Ensure you’re drinking enough water – dehydration reduces cognitive performance and energy levels by up to 20%.
  • Reduce sound distractions – exposure to unwanted sound reduces concentration by 66%.
  • Get comfortable – 85% of people in Asia suffer one or more musculoskeletal conditions annually
  • Make the most of natural light – employees seated within 10 feet of a window reported an 84% decrease in eyestrain, headaches, and blurred vision symptoms.
  • Focus on your mind and wellbeing – 25% of people report work as the number one stressor in their lives.
  • Embrace nature and green materials – adding plants to the workplace can result in a 58% reduction in depression, 44% in hostility and 37% in anxiety and fatigue.
  • Get moving – physical inactivity is the 4th highest risk factor in global mortality.
  • Be more conscious about nourishment – 1 in 5 deaths are linked to band diets globally.
  • Build a sense of community – the average human requires 6 hours of social interaction per day to maintain overall wellbeing.

To read the article in full, find out more about Colliers International Corporate Workplace Advisory Solutions or contact Victoria Gilbert click here.

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Why Work-Related Mental Health Could Be The Biggest Cost In Your Business

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Work-related mental health issues affect everyone in their working lives at one point or another across the globe. In Australia, 58% of women and 42% of men in Australia made serious claims on average per year amounting to approximately USD372 million.

In the UK for the first time, work-related stress anxiety or depression accounted for over half of all working days lost due to ill health, resulting in a loss of approximately USD86 billion in 2017/18.

Work-related mental health conditions are estimated to cost the global economy USD1 trillion per year.

Annual costs associated with work-related mental health conditions in the USA are increasing twice as fast as all other medical expenses in recent years, according to data from Aetna Behavioral Health, costing US businesses up to USD193.2 billion in 2018.

Work-related mental health conditions take a huge toll on worker health and productivity, with the negative impact felt by individuals themselves, their families, and colleagues. Depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact; the estimated cost to the global economy is USD1 trillion per year in lost productivity.

This infographic from Safe Work Australia looks at the rate, type and causes of work-related mental health conditions in the workplace, to help us focus on how to reduce these statistics.

Work-related mental health conditions (also known as psychological injuries) have become a major concern in Australian workplaces due to the negative impact on individual employees, and the costs associated with the long periods away from work that are typical of these claims. It’s reported that 60% of mental disorder claims are awarded to workers aged 40 and over.

But the situation is likely more grave than reported, as employees frequently call in sick with colds or upset stomachs to hide the fact they may be suffering from a workplace-related psychological issue. According to MIND in the UK, 95% of employees who took time off previously for stress named a physical illness at some stage to avoid difficult conversations with supervisors and managers they felt didn’t support them.

In the US, 71% of adults reported at least one symptom of stress, such as a headache or feeling overwhelmed or anxious, with nearly 1 in 5 working adults reporting mental illness in 2016.

Over the five-year period reviewed by SWA in Australia, the occupations with the highest rate of claims for mental health conditions were defence, transport drivers, support workers, prison and security officers and social and welfare professionals.

In the UK, the fastest-growing rates of work-related stress, anxiety or depression by industry were education, healthcare and social workers, defence, finance and insurance, with notable increases also found in science, technology, arts and entertainment, administration and automotive.

The picture is very different in the US, with manufacturing, retail and food & beverage industries ranking worst for workplace mental health, citing stress, lack of physical exercise, the potential for conflict and feelings of irrelevance as top reasons for poor mental health.

While no two cases are the same, there are some mechanisms that when present within a work environment increases the likelihood of employees developing work-related mental health issues. In Australia between 2010-2015 91% of workers’ compensation claims involving a mental health condition were linked to stress, with the majority of cases relating directly to increase work pressure (31% on average per year).

Increased work pressure is the most reported reason in the UK with 38% of cases, followed by 17.9% reported on financial concerns and 9.5% reported on workplace bullying. More than half (55.3%) of employees interviewed said that their job had become more stressful in the last five years.

Excessive workplace stress causes on average 120,000 deaths a year in the US and results in nearly USD190 billion in health care costs each year. This represents 5% to 8% of national health care spending, derived primarily from high demands at work (USD48 billion), lack of insurance (USD40 billion), and work-family conflict (USD24 billion).

Depression, anxiety and stress-related disorders are consistently reported in Australia, UK and the USA with regards to work-related mental health conditions.

This trend is seen on a global scale, with major depression ranking second (after low back pain) worldwide of work-related reported conditions, and anxiety disorders ranking ninth. Using more inclusive criteria to embrace other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, insomnia and major depression, it is estimated that 164.8 million people of all ages in the European Union (38.2% of the population) suffer from a form of mental disorder each year; the commonest being anxiety (14.0%), insomnia (7.0%) and major depression (6.9%).

Employers must look to address mental health in the workplace as part of their physical health check-ups, due to numerous studies proving the relationship between mental and physical conditions. Depressed persons are twice as likely to develop coronary artery disease or stroke and more than four times as likely to die within 6 months from a heart attack. There is a strong linkage between depression and obesity, where those with depression had a 58% greater risk of developing obesity than non-depressed individuals, and people with obesity had a 55% increased risk of being depressed than non-obese individuals. An added concern is that people with depression also exhibit poor adherence with medication or other prescribed treatments.

“Depressed people are up to 4 times more likely to develop physical conditions such as heart attacks, strokes and obesity.”

Research also shows that there are more workers absent from work because of stress and anxiety than because of physical illness or injury. Furthermore, more days of work loss and work impairment are caused by mental illness than other chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and arthritis. Employees with depression report their productivity at 70% of their peak performance, and approximately 32 incremental workdays are lost to presenteeism for individuals with major depressive disorders.

With such compelling research and staggering statistics, what are you doing to address these issues within your organisation?

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