Building a Culture of Health

Feb 20, 07

This Month
It is good to connect with you readers after a two month hiatus.
I hope this article serves as an inspiration not just to start ‘healthy lifestyle’ programmes in your organization but it also serves to motivate you to leading a healthier life.
This article took root when a friend of mine passed me
Martina Navratilova’s book, “Shape Your Self”, a marvellous and inspiring read. It has certainly forced me to resume my daily walks and increase my daily fruits intake!
If you don’t have time for anything else, be sure to take 5 minutes and watch this video of Dr. Cornish at the TED, “The rest of the world is eating, living and dying like us.” It is not the title of the talk but something from the talk that has stayed with me.
If you walk regularly, you will enjoy plotting your walk here, . It was fun plotting my walk to the Lower Pierce Reservoir, Singapore though disappointing to know that I was not losing as many calories as I thought!
To a healthier us! Let’s make Health a part of our Wealth portfolio!

Warm wishes,

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Building a Culture of Health
The imperative for organizations to look at ‘Employee Wellness’

The increasing amount of business travel, job related stress and longer work hours have resulted in lack of time and inclination for physical activity, unhealthy food habits and lifestyles. This has an impact not only on health costs but other hidden costs such as lower productivity as a result of ‘presenteeism’ that is when an employee comes to work but could be less productive because of flu, back pain, and migraine etc.
Dr. Dean Ornish says, “diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases, hypertension are all completely preventable for at least 95% of people just by changing in life-style and diet.” He has since documented results showing reversal even with prostate cancer patients.
WHO states that, “At least 171 million people worldwide have diabetes; this figure is likely to be more than double by 2030. In developed countries most people with diabetes are above the age of retirement. In developing countries those most frequently affected are in the middle, productive years of their lives, aged between 35 and 64.” There are several proven studies on obesity and its related health problems.
A moderate reduction in weight and half an hour of walking each day reduced the incidence of diabetes by more than one half in overweight subjects with mild Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT) according to the WHO site.
Organizations can play an important role in addressing the three key pillars that can make a huge difference to employee health.
Raising awareness and educating employees to preventive healthcare
Creating a culture that encourages and rewards good health
Providing ample opportunities to encourage physical activity and nutritious food in its cafeterias and vending machines.

Five steps to providing Effective Feedback
Where does one start?

The following two links provide excellent road maps including templates of questionnaires that can be used in the organization:

A document created by the Kentucky Department of Public Health, US. It is one of the most comprehensive resources that enables you to examine your wellness programmes comprehensively. It examines the why, how to get started, how healthy is your worksite, strategies to consider, determine priorities and evaluation.

The cancer gold standard workbook looks at practices aimed at reducing the risk of cancer through risk reduction, early detection and quality care. It provides for checklists to review tobacco, diet and nutrition, physical activity, screening and early detection and access to quality treatment and clinical trials.

The initiatives of this kind succeed in achieving for example, “As an organization, we have a heightened awareness of the costs and consequences of poor nutritional choices and inactivity. More importantly, we have demonstrated that each of us has the ability to take charge of our own health and wellness.” As put by Corrie Kirkendall, Wellness Center Director for Nocona General Hospital.

What are some measures that can used to monitor progress?

Beat National averages and incidence levels: As Mr.Wong Woon Liong, Director-General of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and winner of the Health Leader Excellence Award, Singapore says, “I am proud to say that based on survey findings, the proportion of CAAS staff who exercise regularly (34%) is much higher than the national average (25%), while the incidences of hypertension (17%), high cholesterol (10%) or high blood glucose levels (< 3%) in CAAS staff are significantly lower than the national average (20%, 19% and 8% respectively).

Create a Fitness Index Score: This scores could be a composite index score that measures body mass index (BMI), blood cholesterol, physical fitness including ergonomic scores, stress/ anxiety/depression level. Measure improvements over a period of time.

For example, Ms Pang Kim Bee, Plant Manager of Becton Dickinson Critical

Care Systems Pte Ltd, another winner in the Health Leader Excellence Award, Singapore saw:

Improvement in the Fitness Index score from a baseline of 25% in 2004 to 75% in 2005 and 81% in 2006
21% progressive reduction in the medical cost per employee from 2003 to 2005
16% progressive reduction in absenteeism rates from 2003 to 2005

Monitor shift in number of employees moving from high and medium risk categories to low risk categories in various categories: Reduction in the number of people who stop smoking or achieve lower Body Mass Index. At Union Pacific Railroad, a smoking cessation program using counselling and medication saw 29% total quit rate after 6 months. A lowering of BMI has a wide reaching impact. For example, people who have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or higher were more than seven times as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes. They were more than six times more likely to have high blood pressure and four times as likely to have arthritis compared to those with normal body weights.

Some creative practices
IBM reimburses a fixed amount per year for all employees who complete a course or certification in the field of healthy lifestyle and/or work/life balance such as stress management, smoking cessation, weight management and back health.
Many organizations hold regular ‘lunch n learn’ talks on topics related to health, nutrition and physical activity.
Cianbro pays 80% (vs. 65% standard contribution) of a worker’s health insurance premium if the worker participates in its wellness program that includes smoking cessation, nutrition, exercise and promoting a healthy lifestyle.
CAAS has a club for its employees that is open between 7.30am to 10.30pm. In order to encourage its employees to develop healthy lifestyle habits, it has a Wellness Bonus Points Programme that rewards those who utilize the Club’s facilities regularly. The accumulated points can be exchanged for free classes or usage of facilities.
Hudson River HealthCare uses Peer Health Coaches to assist employees in setting and reaching goals. Each participant is assigned a Coach, and given a pedometer and tracking booklet covering a 12-week period. Progress is tracked monthly by the coaches.
J C Penney awards all participants who complete the ‘Personal Health Assessment’ USD 250 in a Health Incentive Account. The plan allows them to get in touch with a health educator, who explains the results of the assessment and directs them to suitable programmes or resources. This year, to earn the same amount, all participants have to participate in the health management programmes for example smoking cessation.
Nocana General Hospital introduced a Wellness Challenge over a 15 week period. The winning team reduced its BMI by 3.3 points to win the $1500 cash award.
Astra Zeneca offers on-site screening programs for breast, prostate and colon cancer, as well as blood pressure and cholesterol measurement. Through the breast cancer screening program, more than 30 malignancies–most of them in their early stages–have been detected.
Pitney Bowes has taken health promotion into the cafeteria, re-pricing its menu so that healthy foods are subsidized by the company while less healthy foods cost more.
IBM Employees set goals (e.g., time spent exercising) then log participation (e.g., actual minutes) on the web-based tools. Prizes are awarded to those who reach their goals.

It is finally the culture and leadership of an organization that plays a significant role in raising awareness, creating healthy peer encouragement, coupled with incentives and rewards that will enable a healthy lifestyle for employees in organizations. No doubt, as Partnership for Prevention, President John M. Clymer says, “A healthy employee waistline equates to a healthy corporate bottom line. The goal is to plug in employee health as a core element of an organization’s business strategy.

Continued after break…

With our compliments

You are invited to use our web based 360-degree feedback tool to invite about 6-8 of your colleagues. We will give you an online report based on the feedback you receive, with our compliments.

You will be able to gather feedback on 6 basic competencies.

To find out more, please email us at

Resources : Some creative posters encouraging people to use the stairs. Some quotes include, “The First Wealth is Health” and “When you go up, your blood pressure goes down.” : Singapore Health Promotion Board’s success stories, it includes examples of Becton Dickinson and CAAS. It offers a wealth of information to organizations wishing to promote healthy lifestyles. The Wellness Council of America has several resources and case- studies. : A document that shares case studies of various leading companies. : WHO site on diabetes.
Other resources from where examples have been cited in the article: : IBM Canada. It offers several other examples. : Nocana General Hospital : Hudson River Health Care. It has examples of other winners of “2006
Innovation in Prevention”. : Cianbro’s example : Astra Zeneca :
JC Penney’s example


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