A global health-insurance leader is urging Australian employers to focus more on the health of their employees, amid increasing rates of chronic disease in Australia, where more than half of the population suffer from a chronic disease.
“Chronic disease is a major issue for employee productivity, which can lead to significantly increased costs for business and an increased imposition on Australia’s healthcare system and society in general,” said Leena Johns, MetLife vice president of global healthcare strategy and medical director, who is in Sydney this week to deliver workplace-health seminars. “Absenteeism and presenteeism cost the Australian economy and society millions every year.”
Johns noted that Australian employers are best placed to help their staff improve their physical and mental health, considering that people spend 35 hours a week, or a third of their lives, in the workplace.
“From the programs we’ve rolled out with employers across the globe, we’ve seen meaningful reductions in medically-related claims and significant improvements in employee-engagement metrics,” Johns said. “Healthier people perform better, are happier, and are more likely to stay.”
Johns also pointed out how employers often overlook mental health as a workforce issue.
“The reality is that our bodies do not differentiate between a physical threat like being chased in a dark alley, and psychological stress,” Johns said. “Mental and physical health are not separate domains – they are fundamentally linked, so when we stress over a problem continuously, our body reacts to it as if it were facing a real-life threat, resulting in an outpouring of hormones from our endocrine system that fuels inflammation in our body.”
Johns, whose area of interest is in data-health analytics, is responsible for developing and implementing health and wellbeing strategies globally. She has four tips for engaging employees about their health:
- Provide people the information they need about their health;
- Offer screening programs that help employees take a proactive approach to specific health issues;
- Implement health-intervention programs to help employees take an active step towards better health; and
- Implement initiatives that are grounded in sustainable behavioural change to ensure real impact.