Today the average employee does work that is mostly sedentary and ‘work' usually means sitting in front of a computer for hours at a stretch. The only physical activity would probably be walking to the conference room, the wash room or the cafeteria. Added to this food at the workplace is usually a calorie laden affair. Endless cups of coffee and packets of cigarettes are consumed to get through the stress of the workday. And when the employee finally gets home, he grabs a bite and hits the bed. A lifestyle like this is only a recipe for disaster.

The repercussions show up as poor eyesight, spondylitis, discomfort, fatigue, tension, depression, irritability and obesity. Long term effects can be chronic problems like heart disease, diabetes etc. The lack of care affects not only the person concerned, but also his family.

As for companies, the poor health of employees leads to increased absenteeism and lower productivity which can have a drastic impact on the bottom line. It can also mean increased health care expenditure for the employer.

Smart companies realise that employees are their biggest assets and if they have to enjoy their work and give their best to it they need to promote employee wellness. This awareness has prompted companies to adopt and execute employee wellness initiatives. Some of them are providing access to healthy food and facilities to exercise at the workplace and promoting better work life balance. Information on health related topics, regular medical checkups or providing medical insurance for employees and their families are other initiatives. Though the investment on these schemes are on the higher side, the benefits far outweigh the cost as employers have realised that this creates an all-round positive impact.

And the desire for wellness is not confined to employers. A CII-Mckinsey 2009 study of corporate employees corroborates that more than 20% want to have a healthy lifestyle. And it is about time employers and employees focussed on wellness. Indians tend to work the longest hours and Indian companies are at the top of the stress graph according to another study.

These factors make Indians sitting ducks for lifestyle diseases. In fact a study by the insurance company MetLife says that major health concerns in India are cardiovascular diseases and diabetes due to stress, smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise. And the predictions are dismal, more than 57.2% of the population is likely to be affected with diabetes by 2025 and the WHO says that around 60% of deaths in our country can be attributed to lifestyle diseases which can become widespread if changes in lifestyle are not made.

Indian companies have woken up to these facts and according to a Mercer 2009 report two out of five companies have started wellness programmes. While some companies reward employees for losing the extra weight, others promote employee workouts in on- campus gyms. For some employers it is providing healthy food at the cafeteria while others provide employees with online health advice and some even sponsor events like marathons or yoga/ meditation workshops for employees.

HCL is one company that has taken the issue of employee wellness seriously and has realised the benefits of having a healthy workforce. For the company employee wellness is an organisational responsibility. Towards this end, HCL has directed resources and energy towards targeted employee health and wellness initiatives which motivate employees to change their lifestyles. The company has instituted a Wellness Council which spearheads the wellness programmes in the organization.

The Wellness Council promotes best practices among employees to improve the quality of life. It acts as a forum for employees to share information on health topics and meet those with similar interests and concerns. The council also provides information to employees on wellness initiatives in companies across the world and shares insights, tips and success stories. It also conducts surveys, sessions to gauge the wellness quotient of employees.

HCL also provides telephone counselling for employees to help them address issues in their personal and professional lives. Medical screening camps are held regularly to screen employees for asthma, diabetes, hypertension etc. Sessions on alternative therapies are conducted for employees besides yoga and meditation camps. Other initiatives include promoting healthy food habits, women's health, providing in house gyms, weight management advice and grooming and personal care tips and a newsletter dedicated to wellness issues.

In keeping with the employee first philosophy HCL has introduced MITR - an Employee Assistance Program that provides HCL employees and their immediate family with comprehensive information, personal development and counselling services over the phone at all times. For women employees and the unique issues they face while meeting multiple roles, HCL has a dedicated helpline where issues like stress, prioritization and issues related to child care, parenting etc are discussed. The core philosophy of HCL's wellness initiatives is that they can motivate employees to lead a better quality of life and encourage them to work in an efficient manner.

Another company that has successfully implemented wellness initiatives is Amara Raja Batteries.

The company believes that wellness initiatives ultimately lead to healthier and happier employees and helps build employee loyalty and engagement. Programmes include AR Speak, an employee engagement survey conducted every year to understand the views of employees on different aspects of the organisation. The survey helps the employer to gauge the feelings of employees and respond appropriately. Amara Raja provides a medical health policy for employees and their families. Information is provided on a regular basis on health issues through health bulletins on an online portal and also posted on notice boards in the regional language to benefit factory workers.

Regular safety and health workshops are held for all employees especially the factory workers. Such workshops have brought down incidents of work related injuries. Initiatives like bicycle rallies have increased the fun factor at work and information sharing on health have helped employees understand and appreciate the value of a healthy lifestyle.

These companies have reaped the benefits of having a continuous and comprehensive wellness programme for their employees.

A corporate culture that values healthy living makes employees realise the management's concern for their health and well –being.

Wellness programmes decrease stress, improve the physical and mental health of employees, creates a safer, happier work environment and increases productivity. Consequently employee engagement is better. With such benefits more companies should start wellness initiatives and reap the benefits.

Hema Gopalakrishnan