Corporate health in India and its economic impact

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As India moves towards industrialisation and higher participation in the global economy, the workplace will become an increasingly important place to prevent the burden of chronic diseases. An insight by Varun Gera, Founder & CEO, HealthAssure

India is often referred to as an awakening giant – an economic superpower in the making, and rightly so. According to a study by Deloitte, India will account for more than half of the increase in Asia’s workforce in the coming decade, opening up vast opportunities for the corporate world and for the Indian economy.

As growth speeds up and pro-business policies by the government create labour demand, India’s influence can be expected to rise in the coming years. Though this demographic shift will present India’s greatest opportunity, it will also bring to light its biggest challenge – building a healthy workforce.

India’s population, though young, is riddled with its own set of health issues. According to a study conducted by Optum, a top provider of employee assistance programmes to corporate, a high 46 per cent of the workforce in organisations in India suffers from some or the other form of stress, while 43 per cent have a skewed BMI of which almost 30 per cent are prone to diabetes and hypertension.

The fact that our youth – our productive population – is suffering from chronic diseases is not just a health issue, but is also detrimental to the economy. It imposes a large economic burden on the global healthcare system and the wider global economy. This burden can be measured through direct medical costs, indirect costs associated with productivity loss, premature mortality and the negative impact of diabetes on nations’ gross domestic product (GDP).

The need for corporate wellness

A healthy workforce is the backbone of an economy. With our current workforce bearing the burden of a dependent population (increasing number of people in the 0-14 and 65+ years bracket), the health and welfare of our country’s workforce is critical not only for the health of the economy, but also for a family’s welfare and poverty reduction. But if the country’s economic future is dependent on our youth, we’re not doing a very good job of keeping them healthy.

This is where the importance of building and promoting corporate wellness in India lies. Our young workforce spends the maximum time at work – leading to mostly, high-stress, sedentary lifestyles. The workplace, therefore, is an important location for successful prevention strategies because employers can influence behaviour by providing a supportive environment and leveraging existing infrastructure to offer low-cost but effective interventions.

According to a report by ASSOCHAM, adoption of Corporate wellness programmes can save India Inc. income up to $20 billion by 2018 through a reduction in absenteeism rate by 1.00 per cent and at the same time improve chronic and lifestyle diseases of corporates and employees.

Increased prevalence of Non communicable Diseases (NCD) can adversely impact a country’s GDP. For instance, the costs of treating and caring for people with Non communicable Diseases (NCD) are high and growing rapidly. It is likely that some significant part of these costs will be met from individual or public savings, hence reducing the ability of the economy to fund new investment and growth. As India moves towards industrialisation and higher participation in the global economy, the workplace will become an increasingly important place to prevent the burden of chronic diseases.

The startup effect

Traditionally governments, not employers, have been responsible for the health of people in terms of prevention as well as treatment. However, many business and policy leaders now believe that governments alone cannot prevent the spread of chronic disease due to persistent underspending on public health initiatives.

Catering to this need of organisations, various start-ups are budding today with corporate wellness as their service and expertise. The Indian wellness industry is a very big prospect in terms of revenue and target market. The current status of the wellness industry in India is depicting a growth of almost 25 per cent every year. It is believed that the figure will touch an estimation of Rs 1 trillion by the end of 2020.

The untapped potential of the corporate wellness market is on the rise as corporations are finding their best interest in keeping their workforce healthy and active. These new age startups such as HealthAssure and others are coming up with easy-to-implement wellness programmes for employees with attractive features to encourage them to lead a healthy life from all aspects.

These include services such as:

  • Health risk management and assessment of the health gaps for a company’s employee population

  • Creating and managing wellness interventions to make improvements in the identified gaps

  • Getting access to a high class of discounted medical network. This includes onsite camps, diagnostics, pathology, specialists, counsellors and a lot more

  • Access to primary care including general physicians, dentists, cardiologist or any other specialists for the day-to-day needs of employees and the people close to them

  • Employee assistance programmes that offer confidential counselling for employees with personal problems that affect their work performance

  • Routine health checks for employees through a wide network of hospitals and wellness centres

What’s driving them?

The biggest driver of wellness programmes has to be data integration, and healthtech start-ups have a clear advantage. Software platforms, wearables, and other data sources have the potential to deliver important insights into the wellness programme options that make a difference and are important to employees. Data, combined with increased insight into the benefits employees need and use, will streamline wellness programmes and help them be more effective, which can increase their credibility.

The concept has already taken off well in the West. For instance, Fitbit’s corporate offering tracks employees’ activity and injects a dose of healthy competition into teams. Since 2015, US retailer Target has used the technology to allocate funds for charitable giving to the most active employees.

The bottom line

Non-communicable diseases such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes not only are seriously harming work force health and raising medical costs, but also having a huge impact on workforce productivity around the globe. In 2011, the World Economic Forum projected the global economic burden of non-communicable diseases to climb to more than $40 trillion by 2029.

Employers today need to wake up and realise that, a healthy workforce is key to running a profitable business. Physical and mental health is critical to both productivity and improving the top and bottom line. Leadership is responsible for profitability and a critical way to increase it is by protecting and providing for their most important asset – human capital.