May 23, 2017

73% Of Our Workforce Is Unhealthy, How To Educate Employees About Their Health

73% Of Our Workforce Is Unhealthy, How To Educate Employees About Their Health


It is an open secret that Malaysia has the highest obesity rate in Asia at 45.3 per cent but a recent survey done by the Social Security Organisation (SOCSO) turned out alarming results.

The survey found that among employees in Malaysia, 73 per cent are obese, 62 per cent have high levels of cholesterol, 27 per cent have high blood pressure and nine per cent have diabetes.

This issue was addressed by Human Resource (HR) Deputy Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Abdul Muttalib who said that the emphasis on having good and quality health should be ingrained in employees and their work results should not be the only aspect that employers look at.

“In producing employees that are productive, goal-oriented, disciplined and responsive, having good health also plays an important role because it contributes to the increase in the quality of their work.

“Therefore, they should be involved in the different healthy activities and not only focus on work that it affects their health,” he said.

As the survey pertains to employees, Malaysian Digest decided to look at what initiatives that employers have taken to ensure the health of their employees and whether employees actually make use of their companies’ effort to improve their health.

What Companies Are Doing To Keep Employees Healthy

Following the results of the survey, Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) President Abdul Halim Mansor suggested that companies need to find a method that will promote healthy living among the employees.

“Among the methods that companies can adopt are by providing a gym at their workplace and organise sports activities such as bowling, badminton or football more often,” he said when contacted by Kosmo!.

He also added that giving importance to employees’ health would indirectly improve productivity of the employees as they would not have to often see the doctor.

“Employers should not chase profit only that they neglect their employees’ health. If an employee falls sick, the company has to bear the losses in not just the treatment bill but also the drop in productivity,” Abdul Halim said.

However, many companies have already provided these facilities which have been fully utilised by their employees.

Speaking with the HR department of a renowned oil and gas company in Malaysia, they said that providing a gym is not only to accommodate their employees’ needs but also to encourage healthier lifestyles as their employees’ health is a big concern of the company.

“We acknowledge that as time progresses, people are growing more conscious of their health and fitness lifestyle.

“So the gym is provided to accommodate the employees’ need, but its primary purpose is to encourage a healthier lifestyle among the employees or rather to provide an outlet for them to blow off some steam.

“It's noted that exercise is one of the best ways to cope with stress as well as boosting your mental capabilities,” the Employee Engagement Specialist under the HR Department said.

Although the gym is not always crowded, it is not empty either and it is utilised by the employees when they have free time from their work.

“At this oil and gas company, we practice a flexible working hour.

“The gym is open from 6am to midnight, so the employee can choose to come in before work, after work or during breaks,” the HR spokesperson explained.

An interior designing firm based in Kuala Lumpur also has the same philosophy regarding their employees’ health and also shared that many companies are requesting for them to allocate and design a space for their employees to exercise.

“We allocate time for the employees to go out and exercise at the nearby park as we do not have enough space in our office for them to do so and this is to promote a healthy lifestyle among the employees.

“As an interior designing firm, many of our clients have been requesting for break areas to cater to the Gen-Y employees and some big companies even provide an in-house gym for their employees to use,” an HR representative told Malaysian Digest.

And while the employees are encouraged to use the allocated time to exercise when they are not busy with work, the spokesperson is happy to report that the employees actually use the time fully to exercise instead of doing other activities.

Do Employees Make Use Of Facilities And Time To Exercise Provided By Their Employers?

A company may provide facilities and allocate time for their employees to exercise but do they actually utilise the facilities provided and does it make a difference to them?

Over the last few years, company wellness programs have become a popular way for companies to try to curb rising health-care costs, a Bloomberg report highlighted on employee wellness programmes in January last year.

The report outlined the growing trend among companies to spur workers to buy into wellness and even offering a reward of money toward health insurance premiums. Some companies were even withholding insurance coverage if an employee chose not to participate in in-house wellness programmes.

While employment medical insurance is crucial for many employees in countries that do not offer public health services, what do Malaysian employees think about their companies’ efforts to help them lead a healthy lifestyle?

Azza, 30, is an employee at the abovementioned interior designing firm and she shared that having the chance to break away from working at her desk makes a difference for her.

“Whenever I have time for it, I would utilise the time to stretch my legs. Even taking an hour-long walk around the park and not doing any rigorous exercise is nice just to break away from the monotony of work.

“It is definitely nice that my company allocated time for us to exercise. Not only do we have time to break a sweat but we also get to hang out and get to know our co-workers better, which promotes better teamwork among colleagues,” she said.

Zana, 24, also utilises the facilities that her company provides as she sees it as a way to ensure that she keeps her body moving since she sits around in the office all day.

“I honestly like that my company provided us with the facilities because it's beneficial for the employees especially for those who need a way to cope with stress or have always desired to go to the gym but find the membership fee expensive,” she said.

Believing that companies should encourage employees to want to be healthier, she also wished that her company would organise some outdoor activities but realises that cost could be prohibitive for it to be feasible.

“Inter-department sports day or recreational outing will be great but maybe it's not so feasible for a big company because the cost might be an issue,” she mused.

However, not all employees make use of the facilities provided by their company due to various reasons but they make up for it in their own different ways.

Mikayla, 33 and a Financial Analyst at a large company, does not utilise the facilities provided by her company as the gym time is her alone time to unwind from work.

“It is good to see that the gym is being utilised by the employees but it is also the reason why I don’t use it because my colleagues are there,” she chuckled.

Despite not using the facilities, she likes the fact that her company provided it for them because it shows that they care for the employees’ well-being on top of giving them an outlet to de-stress.

“However, if the company does offer other options to ensure the employees’ health, I think a routine check-up for cancer; blood and etc. would be good as well seeing how some of us are beyond lazy to go ourselves,” she said.

Nurul, 26, said while she likes that the publishing company she works at provides a gym and badminton court that is available for them to use after work or during weekends, she prefers to jog outdoors instead and would like to see her company organising and providing different facilities to their employees.

“I think organising a sports day or a run should be fun as we can mingle with friends from other departments while playing sports.

“And I think they should provide some benefits like annual medical check-up for us,” she shared.

As for Rifqi, 24, he does not want his company to provide a gym for them and would prefer that they are allocated an allowance to do outdoor activities with their colleagues.

“I would much rather go for a weekly futsal/badminton with my department because at least it will indirectly teach us team building and communication with each other,” he opined.

Health Affects Work And Work Affects Health, Employers Say

Although it would be ideal if all companies can provide facilities or allocations for their employees to exercise, it might not be feasible but it does not mean that alternatives can’t be conjured.

Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan said in regards to the employees’ health, all parties from employers, government to employees should be concerned because a lot of losses can arise from employees who are not healthy.

“As employers, we are concerned about our employees’ health but if the company is not able to provide facilities to their employees, they could ask their employees to perform simple exercises in between working hours, like a minute or so, just to make sure that their muscles aren’t stiff and they can do other activities after working hours,” he said.

However, Datuk Shamsuddin said that they do not want to make it mandatory to all companies because of the restrictions that some companies have in working space or situation does not permit such facilities. However he stressed that employees are not expected to just work as they need to take care of their physical and mental needs as well.

In addition, he said that a health screening programme among the employees would be better so that they would detect any health issues before it is too late.

“Currently, most employees don’t want to go to the doctor to do the screening and they will only go to the doctor when they are sick and sometimes it may be too late.

“For example, when we talk about the SOCSO screening program, very few employees took up the screening option and out of those few, most of them have health issues,” he lamented, while adding that a change in lifestyle and eating habit among employees is needed for them to be healthier.

Datuk Azih Muda, President of CUEPACS, also agrees that employees need to cut down and change their eating habit to ensure a healthier life.

“We might be healthier if we change our diet and if we can change our eating culture, then it would be good and we would be able to produce healthy employees,” he said.

According to Datuk Azih, CUEPACS also wants to suggest that the ministries, departments and agencies provide fitness centres for the employees.

“This will allow employees to take some time after working hours to exercise and burn the calories and release the toxic accumulated in the body throughout the day so that their body would return its healthy ways again,” he said.

The trend towards corporate wellness programmes in our country is still in its infancy and mainly offered by multinational companies but as the saying goes, prevention is better than cure.

However, as highlighted by the various stakeholders, managing employee's health choices should not become intrusive, imposing on companies to intervene in their employees health or unnecessarily singling out and penalising employees for their health and lifestyle choices.

In conclusion, Datuk Azih’s words can serve as a warning that if employees don’t take the initiative to take care of themselves, then “it would lead to higher treatment cost”, which will impact on both employers and employees negatively. Certainly, not something anyone wants in a time where cost of living is rising.

Original source: Malaysian Digest

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