For 38 years, the only place of work Samuel Onyango knew was Deloitte. And when he retired last year in May, he could only reminisce about the years.
This is something that is slowly fading away as millennials and generation Z change jobs faster that their profile pictures in search of progress and flexible work environment.
But for Sammy, as he preferred to be called, he knew employees with access to wellness programmes report a positive impact on their health the secret to retaining employees longer, having risen to the ranks of Deloitte East Africa CEO at the time of retiring.
“I used to see very bright women working hard but when they get married, they would ask for flexible hours and if there was nothing within the firm, they would resign,” he told Business Daily in a previous exit interview about his stay at Deloitte.
“I remember one who came to me and said she had been struggling with pregnancies and the doctor had indicated that it was the heavy working environment that was causing the miscarriages.”
That was the genesis of flexible working hours at Deloitte. The firm did away with the culture of employees having to log in and out every day.
The flexi-hours, as the firm calls it, allowed staff to do whatever was required of them in the times they preferred.
According to Sammy, flexi- time made the audit and advisory firm retain a higher number of women professionals and even cut overall medical costs for the company.
In addition, Deloitte introduced a generous maternity leave package and even allowed mothers who deliver twins get an extra month off. It also rolled out subsidised gym service with a permanent instructor and introduced a massage parlour.
“Occasionally you find that some of the illnesses that employees have is related to looking at the computer for long hours and prolonged sitting,” said Sammy.
“The services reduced the amount of money we spend on medical care and people absences because some people fail to go to work because of a stiff neck.”
Deloitte told Business Daily, its wellness programs that have improved the overall health and wellbeing of the workforce and reduced average sick leave by about 20 percent.
The trend is spreading fast with many firms increasingly rolling out wellness programs to cut medical claims and boost workers’ productivity.
In the research ‘Millennials and the digital marketplace’, 63.3 per cent of its millennials say they are not fond of rigid working environment but cite flexible working hours as a factor that motivates them the most in accomplishing their tasks at work.
“Our survey outcome revealed flexible hours to be the most sought after than health programs,” says the firm.
“This could also mean that having flexible working hours establishes control in their lives, which in turn reduces issues such as stress, hence leading to a positive impact on their overall mental wellbeing.”
A recent Wellness Checkup Survey by UnitedHealth Group Inc, a US health care company, showed that 57 per cent of employees with access to wellness programs report a positive impact on their health.
This aspect has also pushed insuance firms to offer wellness programmes for their clients to reduce the health related claims in the long run.Zamara has been partnering with its clients to set up lactation rooms for mothers in offices. According to Zamara Risk Business Managing Director Rosalyn Mugo, nutrition plays a key role in healthy children which means fewer visits to the doctor.
Minet and Jubilee have been carrying wellness weeks touching on gambling, alcoholism, abuse and depression of employees of their clients. This is expected to boost the mental wellbeing of employees in workplaces.
This was reinforced in a 2018 study by Transamerica which said Johnson & Johnson reported 3.7 percent lower average annual growth in total medical spending and saved between $1.88 and $3.92 for every dollar spent on wellness plans for 30,000 employees.
“Medical claims have been impacted positively by our initiatives we are beginning to see a reduction in medical claims attributed to lifestyle diseases. But again it is important to note that the overall medical costs have been rising fast which unfortunately is credited to both hospital and pharmaceutical cost escalations within the past few years.,” said Helen Nangonzi, Head Corporate Affairs and Brand Marketing at Standard Chartered Bank Kenya.
“The wellness programs actually drive up productivity. Nowadays there are numerous lifestyle diseases, our business being of a sedentary nature if we didn’t introduce these activities we possibly will have a larger number of staff battling various ailments and all. The trade off in our opinion is having healthier and happier staff who provide excellent customer centric service to our clients,” she added.
The trend may be true for several other firms operating in Kenya. In the financial year ended December 2018, Barclays Bank of Kenya spent Sh440 million on employees’ medical expenses, translating to 20 percent cut or Sh110 million saving when compared to Sh550 million in previous year.
The bank runs different wellness programs such as counselling services to staff and their families in moments like death and trauma. A total of 67 employees benefited from this last year.
For lactating mothers, the bank has a nursing room fully equipped with milk storage facilities.
It has also invested in basic medical equipment in its offices for employees to test metrics as blood sugar, blood pressure and body mass indices.
“The Barclays employee wellness programme has greatly contributed to less office stress, reduced burnouts and therefore reduced sick-offs,” reports BBK.
Barclays’ counterpart KCB Group, with similar programs, has seen an improved productivity among employees. Its staff to income ratio improved from 26.9 per cent to 23.7 per cent. This means for every Sh1,000 generated as income, the bank incurs Sh237 on employees.
Companies such as Safaricom, East African Breweries, Kenya Women Microfinance Bank, Nestle, Mabati Rolling Mills and Isuzu East Africa have set up breastfeeding stations, providing mothers with among other things refrigerator to store breast milk.
Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore says in the latest East Africa CEOs outlook survey by KPMG says he places people ahead of technology as a key to building a resilient organisation.
“The most important job for a CEO is recruiting the right people. Secondly, learn to deal with people’s issues quicker,” he says.
The telco has trained over 460 line managers to be life coaches, helping support employee wellness and talent nurturing apart from just focusing on performance management.
While focusing on employee wellness programs is gaining popularity, employees are also facing immense pressure to balance work and life as employers ask for more productivity.
This even as more employees admit to being stressed about their finances. Cash flow and debt challenges continue to plague many employees, lowering the benefits derived from wellness programs.
Wellness programs are now incorporating financial management skills for employees especially with financial literacy lagging behind the current 83 percent financial inclusion reported in Kenya.
More than half of Kenyans have reported a worsened financial status, with many having soaked in excess debt from multiple sources, the 2019 Financial Access (FinAccess) Household survey shows.
“The ability of Kenyans to use financial services and products to manage their daily needs, cope with shocks and achieve big goals has declined,” said the report released in April.
It adds that less than seven percent of Kenyans seek professional advice to manage their finances as majority rely on own wisdom or friends and relatives.
Insurance brokerage firm, Minet Kenya recently launched a wellness program which extends focus beyond health, encouraging adoption of sound financial decisions as critical for employees’ mental stability.
“We have particularly incorporated mental wellness in our wellness programme because mental health disorders attributes to significant number of indirect deaths through suicide and self-harm,” CEO Sammy Muthui said.
With many firms chasing efficiency, job cuts have resulted in the process usually causing panic and anxiety among workers.
Firms such as Barclays, KCB and National Bank sponsored financial literary programs for the staff that had been laid off to assist them on how to utilise exit packages.
In May, Liberty Life Kenya and Heritage Insurance launched free financial literacy programmes targeting workers as well as the public.
Heritage Insurance MD Godfrey Kioi said employers must see the opportunity and self-interest in promoting a financial wellness agenda at the workplace.
Millennials now occupy a larger portion of the workplace, and it will increasingly become essential for employers to create an employee-centric culture that fosters productivity, according to job placement website BrighterMonday.