Add A Dose Of Caring To Your Employee Health Management Programs

Dr. Natalie Lotzmann

Doctor talking with patient in hospital --- Image by © Drew Myers/CorbisThe pressure to accomplish more in today’s constantly changing environment is causing more stress than ever for employees. Not only does this create challenges to their health and the balance between work and life, but it also significantly impacts a company’s well-being. Data from the Federal Institute for Occupational Health and Safety indicates that the number of working days lost due to burnout, depression, and exhaustion has increased from 59 million in 2013 to 79 million today.

Trends like this make employee health management programs more critical than ever. But here’s the key: To have a significant impact on the health and well-being of employees, companies must move well beyond the basics – because that’s just not enough in today’s challenging world.

It’s time to build healthier corporate cultures

Many companies say their employees are their most valued assets, but in reality, when it comes to employee health management, most offer only the bare minimum required for legal purposes. In fact, according to Knoll Workplace Research, only 11% of U.S. organizations offer what is considered to be a comprehensive wellness program. And only 17% of the organizations with a defined budget for wellness programs spend more than $150 per employee per year on those programs.

I firmly believe a healthy corporate culture is no longer just a line item in the budget – it’s an economic imperative. And numbers from studies like this one from the University of St. Gallen prove this point. This research found that health management can improve employee well-being by 30%, engagement by 19%, and business performance by 15%.

The Knoll study supports these findings, with data that says a 10% increase in well-being is associated with a 5% increase in job performance, 24% lower presenteeism, and 5% fewer unscheduled absences. This study also associated greater well-being with 60% lower medical costs, as well as significant decreases in hospital admissions and prescription costs.

So what does it take to build a healthier workplace that goes beyond the basics?

It starts with an attitude of caring…

From my perspective, the most effective and innovative employee management programs are driven by an attitude of caring. In workplaces where employees are empowered by trust and feel a sense of empathy, the effect is widespread. Similar to the benefits noted in the above studies, I personally have seen better engagement, more commitment, higher productivity, and greater innovation when an attitude of caring is present.

In my company, I encourage that this attitude of caring be wholeheartedly adopted by the people that manage our employees. These people have the power to look beyond the projects, tasks, deliverables, and deadlines and see the common denominator in all of these: the employee. Understanding employees’ feelings and stress levels as they attempt to produce significant amounts of work is key to the benefits described above.

One way to do this is to encourage employees to be open about stress and let them know it’s no longer something that needs to be hidden from management. In addition, managers can ask employees to rate their stress levels on a scale from one to ten during one-to-one meetings. If stress levels approach a critical point, managers and employees can then work together to create mindfulness practices that reduce stress and build resilience. The same process can be used for employee satisfaction – when managers are aware that this is an issue, it can be addressed as well.

When this kind of approach is fostered inside the workplace, I also see it benefiting customers as well. When interacting with employees who are empathetic, customers feel they are understood and their needs are being met.

Look for where employees need support most

An attitude of caring can be extended beyond addressing basic health and well-being and extend to more serious health challenges that employees potentially face. A good example is cancer. According to the World Health Organization, there were approximately 14 million new cases and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths in 2012. And the World Cancer Report 2014 states that the number of cancer cases will rise to 25 million over the next two decades.

There is no doubt that employees in your company and mine will be directly affected by this disease. I believe we can show our employees that we care by supporting them with specific programs during the difficult journey of diagnosis and treatment.

Here at SAP, we’ve introduced a program called the Corporate Oncology Program for Employees (COPE) together with Molecular Health, an SAP customer. COPE helps our employees who have been diagnosed with a solid tumor cancer by giving their physicians access to innovative testing and information that can lead to better, more exacting treatment options.

It’s too early in the evolution of COPE to have any outcome evidence, but we know it has already had a significant impact on our employees. We’ve received highly positive feedback from people all over the globe who have expressed their appreciation for this program. Although most of them are not affected by cancer today, they know we care.

A step toward caring – and saving people’s lives

We will continue to show our employees we care, as we work individually and collectively towards our vision and purpose of helping the world run better and not only improving, but also saving, people’s lives. We believe that empathy is a key secret to success in business and in life, and we hope that other companies will join us on this journey.

Technology is improving people’s lives in unprecedented new ways. See How Tech Is Helping Refugees Find Their Way.

Dr. Natalie Lotzmann

About Dr. Natalie Lotzmann

Dr. Natalie Lotzmann is the Chief Medical Officer, responsible for executing on SAP's Health Strategy globally. She is a seasoned thought leader in the field of linking health metrics to talent management and an innovative people strategy.