Corporate wellness used to mean a 30-minute yoga class in the office kitchen once a week or an annual health check with some leaflets thrown in. Now some UAE companies are offering intensive, holistic wellness initiatives that are generating dramatic results.
Among them is DP World, which is four months into a year-long programme called Get Fit for 60 of its UAE staff – a number whittled down from 700 to help only the truly committed.
The initiative includes Kcal food delivery for a limited period, full fitness assessments including blood analysis and bone density tests, weekly fitness classes and shopping trips to organic markets to educate employees on healthy food choices.
Lokanath Reddy, 31, a senior system analyst from India, is one staff member taking part. He has been a UAE resident for eight years and signed up because he wants to enter a marathon. “I knew it would improve my health,” he says. “Sometimes when you work out by yourself you’re not sure if what you’re doing is actually making a difference.”
Wasim Naqvi, 41, also from India, signed up after being told by his doctor he was a borderline diabetic. With no idea what to do at the gym before the programme, the senior environment officer says he has now learnt to train by himself.
“The impact of getting fitter and healthier is not only felt at work. It’s good for my family and society as a whole. I’ve already seen a decrease in my sugar levels and my fitness has improved,” he adds.
Guillame Mariole, the chief executive of Ignite Fitness, runs several corporate wellness initiatives for large UAE companies.
“Companies are starting to understand that educating their team on wellness will only come back and benefit them in the end,” he says. “The whole idea about Dubai being transient is very old-fashioned. Whether staff are with you for two years or 10, if you do not support, educate and nurture them, they will still cost you.”
Wellness initiatives not only encourage staff retention but also improve productivity, says Mr Mariole.
“Continual smoking breaks, gazing at social media, being fatigued and then using sugar and caffeine to meet deadlines are all signs your employees may not be totally engaged,” he adds. “Absenteeism is a problem for businesses but so is presenteeism.”
Why would a company adopt such an intensive wellness programme?
Alya Mehairi, from DP World’s human capital team says the company “is always looking at ways to increase employee retention. We also think healthier employees will lead to fewer sick days, lower medical bills and increased productivity in the office”, she adds.
Tell me more
Each person taking part was issued with a Polar watch to record their heart rate and activity levels when they were not in the organised sessions. The outputs from these are measured and recorded monthly. For extra incentives, points are awarded for turning up to a session or for extra fitness activities. An app accumulates the points and these can be redeemed at a certain UAE retailers. The group also undergo biometric tests at regular intervals to ensure their health and fitness levels are increasing.
Is it just about nutrition and fitness sessions?
At its core is a circuits-based fitness class, however, the group recently did a dragon boating session and once a month they do a team-based physical activity such as laser tag or trampolining. The company also runs fitness workshops and provides support around how to exercise during Ramadan.
When does the Get Fit programme end?
At the end of January 2017, then it will start again with a new group.