Confessions of a benefits manager: A healthy obsession

I can tell you for certain that Big Bad Boss couldn’t care less about our health. The only reason we are looking at a wellness programme is because they have one in the US.

Indeed, the Higher Beings over there wouldn’t be bothered if it wasn’t for the fact that staff illness costs money. Someone has woken up to the fact that our staff are not the healthiest bunch, and this costs us in terms of medical insurance, not to mention life insurance if they actually keel over while still on the payroll. Company concern is all about big bucks, not big hearts.

Big Bad Boss has sent me the US programme to review and implement. There are 27 documents; when HQ decides to do something, it really goes for it. Each document seems to be aimed at a six-year-old, but, fair enough, it is aimed at the US workforce.

Luckily, I have not been asked to localise it for all of Europe, just to roll it out in the UK. Mind you, that will be hard enough. Our guys are already running around trying to meet their quarterly objectives, on top of a slew of HR programmes to complete every year, such as performance management, competency assessments, diversity training and ethnicity reporting. I can just see eyes rolling at the introduction of another activity viewed as unnecessary.

The US wellness education slides start with a lot of statistics about health globally. Apparently, obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years. Americans complaining that we are all too fat is quite ironic, really. Then they talk about the top health issues in each country. Apparently, the UK’s top health issue is stress, followed by work-life issues (in other words, the number of hours of stress). If we want to fix that, I think we should be looking at individual workloads, flexible working arrangements and creating a more collaborative management style. Those things might actually influence the health of our workforce, but no, instead we are giving them a wellness programme. Yippee.

Employee assistance programme

The HQ wellness programme, I learn, is made up of several parts. First, there is an employee assistance programme (EAP). The good news is we already have one in the UK, across Europe in fact. Mind you, I am not very impressed with it. One of my colleagues rang for help when she was bereaved, and it really just gave her a list of numbers to call. We might as well offer access to Google as an EAP for all the difference it really makes to someone in need, but at least I can tick that box as done.

The second part is a stress-awareness programme. My heart sinks. How can we, in all seriousness, tell our workforce to get healthy by managing their stress when the company is the main source of it? It is such a shame I am not given any leeway to do something more positive about stress. Imagine if we could stop treating people as if they are a mere commodity, like photocopy paper to be churned out and then recycled?

Even if we are not going to change the way we treat employees, we could at least offer them some therapy at the end of it. Imagine if I could furnish chill-out rooms with nice candles and soft music. Maybe not, but perhaps I could contact that on-site massage firm that has been hassling me. I am sure it will be worth getting them in to do a demonstration; I am a martyr to the job, you know.

Health screening benefits

Next on the wellness programme action list is health assessment and health screening. This is an online health test which basically asks employees how many hours they slob in front of the TV while eating fast food and drinking beer. At the end of it, staff discover just how unhealthy they are on a scale of one to 10, so that they may be motivated to do something about it. I am quite sure our guys are too busy being stressed at work to fill in yet another questionnaire. I can roll it out, but I just hope the US doesn’t want me to track compliance.

On the screening side, it insists we get on-site testing for weight, height and blood pressure, along with various blood tests which it has branded ‘Know your numbers’. Gawd. How am I going to get anyone around here to agree to buy into that? Luckily, the Higher Beings get an annual health screening with their private medical insurance, so at least I don’t have to try to get them into a medical van in the car park. Still, I can practically guarantee that nobody from marketing or sales will turn up, unless we can find a very attractive nurse.

I am also rather alarmed by the ‘numbers’ they think we should have. My cholesterol is around 4.5, which is supposed to be normal, but the programme recommends being under 200. It turns out that Americans measure all this stuff differently, so I will have to go through all the training documents with a fine-tooth comb.

Finally, we need to promote physical activity, because this can prevent all manner of expensive health problems. HQ has organised some after-work running and cycling clubs. I don’t think so. Not in these shoes. Perhaps this is my chance to get the company to sponsor membership to that new fancy gym around the corner. Not that I am all that keen on sweating after work any more than I do already during the day, but it could be nice to pop in there for a manicure in my lunch hour. Just think what that could do for my stress levels.

Next time…Candid talks to the sales department about commission.