Great Eastern gets staff passionate about healthy living

PHOTO: Great Eastern gets staff passionate about healthy living

SINGAPORE - Most offices are hardly paragons of healthy living.

Staff spend hours sitting inert at their desks, perhaps grabbing some less-than-nutritious sustenance when they get a chance.

Insurer Great Eastern recently decided it was time to change this by practising what it has been preaching to its customers.

For the past 18 months or so, it has been urging customers to live "better, healthier, and longer" in its Live Great programme. Now, the firm walks the talk by getting employees to do the same.

The Life Programme, an employee health incentive benefits programme, was launched earlier this year and has produced some encouraging results already.

Employees are given regular health benchmarks and incentives such as Life Points to take control of their health.

One point is equivalent to $1 and can be used for various items such as redeeming products and services offered by its merchants or to pay for Great Eastern insurance premiums.

Health and wellness activities are organised every month, such as talks about hypertension, weekly massages or mass runs around the Central Business District.

Great Eastern's Singapore chief executive Khoo Kah Siang said that such activities have attracted a participation rate of more than 75 per cent.

He said: "When employees are healthy, they are more engaged with their work. We hope to see absenteeism get lower.

"When (you're) healthy, you're energised, and better able to enjoy the work and cope with stress."

It is really about raising awareness of a healthy lifestyle, says Mr Khoo, "a journey to transform the mindset of people", as that simply cannot be forced on anyone.

So far, the Life Programme has done just that. Already, more employees are organising their own initiatives.

For example, staff from the distribution department, along with sales representatives, now jog at East Coast every Wednesday.

The information technology department has a 21-day "stretch break" challenge, where employees take a break to stretch in the midst of their desk-bound work.

Other 21-day challenges have been initiated - studies and psychologists say it takes 21 days of repeated action to form a habit. Project manager Tabitha Tan did just that.

After completing the company-wide "21 Days Vertical Challenge" in April, which encouraged employees to walk up at least five floors instead of taking the lift, she now climbs 14 floors to work every morning.

Ms Tan, in her 40s, says: "When we first started with five storeys, it was very easy, and we challenged ourselves to go seven and eight storeys.

"It was a very easy way to get minimum exercise and now on a daily basis, I walk up 14 storeys. We also challenge each other, to see if our timings improve."

She also has salad for lunch twice a week with colleagues, and says it really helps when co-workers are in it together.

She adds: "I find that the initiative does not just help us in getting that bit of exercise, but we also get to bond with our colleagues.

"It's very different when we're exercising together as opposed to arguing during meetings. Better understanding is built and relationships have definitely improved."

Ms Alexandra Hui, loyalty programme manager in group marketing and distribution, concurs.

She says the firm's programme "gets you support with the community".

Ms Hui, in her late 20s, explains: "It's that knowledge that you're backed by people around you, and you're really doing it as a company.

"These are people who see me every day, that's a company culture."

Ms Hui, who is also an ambassador for the programme, quit smoking earlier this year, because she was inspired by the constant health reminders.

"I used to social smoke, and at my worst, I'd smoke up to 10 cigarettes a day. Quitting was something I struggled with, on and off, and when the programme came around with the company asking us to go for health checks, it made me really think more about my health."

Apart from kicking that bad habit, she has started exercising four to five times a week, even organising pilates and yoga classes for her department.

"I definitely feel more productive and less sluggish these days, and I've lost about 2kg. It wasn't a goal I set out to achieve, it's a culmination of all these things such as immersing myself in the company culture."

Mr Khoo practises what his firm preaches too, such as having less sugar in his coffee, and oats for breakfast instead of oilier dishes such as fried noodles.

He says: "Healthy living can be a very powerful driver for a positive culture in the workplace, besides aspects such as leadership style and more."

He sees better engagement overall, adding that "healthier, happier employees are likely to serve customers well too".

"All employers have different programmes, but this is one model we think will work."

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