18/02/2016 3:35 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

It Pays Off To Invest In Employees' Health, And Indian Workplaces Are Catching On

Close up of woman practicing mudra meditation
Hero Images via Getty Images
Close up of woman practicing mudra meditation

Workplace wellness programs are a recent trend in India, seen by the corporate world as a significant step towards creating a healthier and more productive workforce. And working toward health is a necessity. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 20% of Indians have at least one chronic condition. More than 60 million Indians live with diabetes, and one million die from it each year. Indians develop type 2 diabetes 10 years earlier than most Westerners, making the public health burden in the country even more significant.

Yet, these diseases are largely preventable with lifestyle changes such as avoiding tobacco, eating healthy foods, and increasing physical activity.

Keeping employees healthy and happy has been shown to have a positive effect on individuals, businesses and the economy in general.

Companies are also realising that wellness programs can create a happier workforce, and are competing to come up with ideas that are meaningful to employees and nurture a sense of belonging among them. Keeping employees healthy and happy has been shown to have a positive effect on individuals, businesses and the economy in general.

While large economies like China, Russia, Canada and South Korea have more people at retirement age than those entering the workforce, India is facing the challenge of a younger workforce. Half of India's population is below 25 years of age and soon we will have the largest number of working people in the 15-59 age group.

Younger employees are conscious of their personal as well as professional lives and look for companies that will enable them to balance both. With today's pace of life, schedules are hectic, with people are constantly juggling work, home, children and office deadlines, leaving little time for health and wellness.

Physical and mental fitness

Some companies integrate physical fitness into the workplace by incorporating ergonomics and encouraging people to use gadgets like Fitbit. This enables the employees to continually work on fitness until it becomes ingrained in their behavior.

In addition to physical fitness, Indian companies are also investing in mental fitness by offering stress management programs of which yoga and meditation are predominant features. Meditation instruction is increasingly a part of stress reduction programs used as a tool to deal with high pressure situations at the workplace. Training sessions on spiritual management foster a sense of well being at work, and interactive online yoga sessions for employees who travel a lot or work from home encourage mental fitness.

Work-life balance

An interesting trend called "Green Work Life Balance" (GWLB) is being accepted in some companies--holistic approaches designed to create comfortable workplace environments that allow employees to be more efficient and in turn improve organisational health. For example, workplace rigidity can be reduced and the managers can set performance targets that take family circumstances into account. Involving the families of the employees in company-sponsored events can also help strengthen the company's relationship with workers. Other practices that can be encouraged under the GWLB banner are: allowing staff and line managers to participate in policy formulation, seeking feedback on a regular basis, empowering employees to make their own decisions, and planning a charity project or a fundraising event together.

I recently joined Arogya World's Healthy Workplace team, which evaluates and awards Indian workplaces which meet strict criteria for encouraging young working Indians to adopt healthy lifestyles even as they work. That apart, as the mother of working adult children, I am glad that companies are focusing more on the wellbeing of their employees and seeing them as more than mere cogs in the wheel.

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