Warren Heaps – Birches Group LLC
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure to attend the Houston International HR Conference sponsored by the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC). The conference was well-attended; over 150 delegates, both corporate staffers and suppliers were there. My colleague and contributing editor, Alan Freeman, was also there. We would like to share some of the highlights from the conference proceedings. We hope this will allow our readers to benefit from the learnings of the conference, even if you were not there personally. This is the first installment of our report.
One of the most interesting and innovative topics at the conference was Global Wellness. Two companies, Chevron and Intel, presented their experiences with the development and implementation of wellness programs in the US and in various global markets. While each company took a slightly different approach, there were many similarities in their experience.
Chevron is one of the world’s largest integrated oil companies, with operations in over 100 countries. The company identified cardio-vascular health as a primary risk factor in their population and decided to focus on health awareness and improvement programs to address this risk. Chevron began their program with pilot tests in the US, Nigeria, Angola and Thailand, among others.
The wellness program consists of a health assessment conducted by a third-party, measuring basic health statistics such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, body fat index, and similar risk factors. Employees are then provided with coaching on lifestyle and behavioral changes they can adopt to reduce their risk for cardio-vascular disease. Some of the changes are typically smoking cessation, exercise, weight reduction, stress reduction, sleep and healthier food choices in their diet. In addition, the company worked with it’s vendors in the the target countries to introduce heart-healthy options in their food service programs, introducing both new menu choices and some items with substitute ingredients or modified recipes, such as reduced sodium content.
The program has been a strong success, and is now being rolled out in additional countries. There were many learnings from the pilot experience, but here are a few that I thought were particularly powerful:
- Cardio-vascular disease is often thought of as an illness that strikes mainly in developed countries. This was, in fact, the initial reaction in Nigeria. In fact, however, the World Health Organization reports that 82% of deaths from cardio-vascular disease are in low- and moderate- income countries, and affect men and women equally. Chevron’s employee demographics, which include large numbers of men in their 50’s, are a primary risk group.
- The counseling sessions which followed the health assessment needed to be tailored to local conditions and culture. Suggestions for changes to diet, for example, had to be adapted to reference the typical food choices available in country.
- The communications to staff were adapted to the individual market. While there was a consistent message, the images and illustrations were chosen to reflect the population of the particular country, so employees.
- There were measurable results that indicate the program is helping to reduce risk for cardio-vascular diseases amongst the participants. As the program continues, Chevron will develop statistics to demonstrate specific financial and other impacts; but in the US, there is already strong evidence among a group of staff who have consistently participated in the program since it’s inception that it’s working.
The Intel Experience
Intel Corporation is the world’s largest manufacturer of semi-conductors. They rolled out a wellness program in the US and several overseas markets, including Malaysia, Israel, Costa Rica and China. Initially, Intel staff examined several years of health surveillance data to confirm that staff were properly protected from the chemical processes used in the semi-conductor fabrication process. The study indicated there was no effect from the work environment, and that rather, lifestyle behaviors were the larger risk areas for Intel employees.
Some stress-reduction programs were introduced, but it wasn’t until Intel CEO Andy Grove had a medical event that the focus on wellness was renewed and elevated in the company. Building on a substantial array of existing services, such as occupational medicine, on-site clinics and various online resources, Intel began to introduce a more dynamic program to help improve employee wellness.
The Intel program is a 3-Step Wellness Check, including a Biometric Health Check, a Health Risk Assessment, and Wellness Coaching. The Coaching is provided face to face in most major locations. In China, the coaching is provided in person by prominent local physicians. Follow-ups are also integrated with the local EAP. These design changes were made based on the recommendation of the local committee responsible for implementation of the wellness initiative in China. It has proven to be very effective, and Intel plans to continue rolling out the program to additional locations over the next few years.
I was quite impressed by the efforts of these two prominent global companies in the area of employee wellness. In both cases, the companies have a long-established focus on employee safety; the wellness initiatives are consistent with this focus and enhances this commitment.
What is especially impressive is the success in introducing the program not only in the United States, but also in overseas markets, mainly in the developing world. While it’s still too early to draw any major conclusions about the long-term impact of these programs on company health care costs, other related items such as absenteeism, and overall impact in the community, the preliminary data indicates positive impact for the companies, their employees and the community.
What Are You Doing to Promote Employee Wellness?
Global Employee Wellness is a new area of focus for companies, and there is a lot still to be learned. What is your company doing in the area? Please share your comments and experiences with us!
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