Concern about pay is the biggest cause of workplace stress among employees across the GCC, according to a new study in the region.
The professional services company Towers Watson surveyed 24 companies which employ 25,834 people across the Gulf as part of its Global Staying@Work 2015-16 study.
While low pay was the top concern among employees, employers cited workplace stress as the biggest health risk.
“We were a little bit surprised about that. You don’t hear too much about workplace stress in this part of the world,” says Steve Clements, director of health and group benefits at Towers Watson. “People are on a working visa and maybe they don’t like to talk about feeling under pressure at work or being a little bit exposed to stress.”
Employers in the GCC cited higher employee engagement as the top reason for investing in the health of their employees, compared to productivity elsewhere in the world.
And wellness programmes are becoming more popular in the region, says the human resources consultant Mercer.
“According to Mercer’s 2015 UAE benefits survey, 37 per cent of organisations provide a wellness programme [for] their employees,” says Nuno Gomes, Mercer’s information solutions leader for the Middle East. “These types of initiatives demonstrate an active interest from employers in the well-being of its employees.”
According to the Towers Watson study, almost a quarter of employers offer weight management programmes. Half offer low-calorie options in the cafeteria and while 39 per cent offer gym subsidies, a fifth offer access to on-site fitness centres.
“We really see a whole range of activities coming from one end of the spectrum, the bowl of fruit on the side and the work-time yoga sessions through to some really sophisticated programmes towards preventive screening for cancer and biometric tests for employees,” says Mr Clements.
“Biometric tests were the most common health and well-being intervention being put into the workplace by employers. That is … knowing your vital statistics in terms of risk factors, your BMI, your cholesterol level, looking into lifestyle factors you might be exposed to though your family history or your particular lifestyle preferences that might be exposing you to high risk of particular medical conditions.”
Tobacco, which did not feature in the top five of any other region worldwide in the study, was highlighted as a major concern by employers in the Middle East. Half of employers in the GCC said it was a concern, making it the second largest risk to health, according to employers after workplace stress.
q&a issues nipped in the bud
Steve Clements, director of health and group benefits at Towers Watson, tells Gillian Duncan about the rise of health and wellness programmes among UAE employers:
What is the benefit of well-being in the workplace programmes?
There have been a lot of studies around the world into this area. There is even one of two now emerging in the Middle East region, and all of these show a return on investment that every dollar spent can be [multiplied by] three times in terms of return on investment. They also see that they have lower voluntary turnover of staff by about 2.7 percentage points, which is quite significant. What that is saying is that employees are much more engaged with their employer in these initiatives.
Which well-being initiatives are most effective?
It depends on what the problem is that you are trying to cure. What we have experienced is typically something like 40 per cent of medical claims costs relate to conditions that are to some extent avoidable or manageable through early interventions or lifestyle choices or changes in behaviour of the population. You can then target initiatives.
Do employees like these programmes?
One of the concerns, and this is not unique to this part of the world, is that participation from employees in some of the initiatives has been relatively low. Only around a third of employees on average have been participating in their employers’ programmes, so there is more work to be done.
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