Healthy workers are productive workers

Being fit and healthy is not just a personal concern – your company also wants you in top shape to ensure you not only turn up to work but keep insurance premiums down.

Guillaume Mariole is the founder and managing director of Ignite Fitness and Wellness, the first provider of corporate wellness programmes in the UAE. Satish Kumar / The National
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Being fit and healthy isn’t just a personal concern – your company also wants you in top shape to ensure you not only turn up to work but keep insurance premiums down.

And as the economy surges forward, businesses know they must offer extra benefits to employ and retain the best employees, with wellness programmes top of the priority list.

In light of this shifting focus on staff well-being, the first awards in the Middle East to recognise company health and wellness initiatives have been launched. The Daman Corporate Health Awards – a joint initiative from the senior management media brand Meed and the national health insurance company Daman – covers issues such as nutrition, weight loss and work environments that foster a healthy workforce. Applications must be in by July 1.

“A healthy workforce will be a major factor in controlling the rate of health insurance premium increases year-on-year,” says the Daman chief executive Dr Michael Bitzer. “When companies’ management embraces the notion of a health-focused workplace, a healthy person is likely to perform better, benefiting from increased energy levels and lowering the chances of illness. For the organisation, that means greater productivity overall, which ultimately benefits the bottom line.”

One company applying for the awards, Rotana Hotels, launched its wellness programme through Ignite, the first provider of corporate wellness programmes in the UAE.

Ignite also runs programmes with Omnicom Media Group and Estée Lauder, and as well as fitness training, offers services such as ergonomic stress alleviation, health screenings and body composition assessments.

“What Ignite offers is very bespoke,” says its founder and managing director Guillaume Mariole, 36, from Mauritius, who juggles his corporate responsibilities with being a dragon boat crew world champion. “It depends on the culture of the employees and what age they are. Our programmes are all about providing people the tools and education to empower them to make well-informed decisions that will improve their well-being.

“This impacts corporates by reducing health premiums and absenteeism and increasing staff morale, productivity and the perception of the organisation. It also creates lifestyle habits that have a very positive effect on the overall community.”

The passing of a law in February to make health insurance compulsory for all employees in Dubai – following Abu Dhabi’s 2006 lead – is also prompting more companies to launch wellness programmes.

Daman itself has a track record of implementing well-being initiatives; it launched a separate brand, Activelife, focused on encouraging the UAE community to be more active and health-aware. Activelife organise fitness activities such as TrainYas, in which participants can walk, run or ride a bike around Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi free of charge. In-house, its sports committee arranges activities including cricket, badminton, dragon boating, football and basketball.

Naseba, a business facilitation platform for emerging markets with its headquarters in Dubai, has also gained a reputation for putting staff well-being at the forefront of its corporate strategy.

Like Mr Mariole, Naseba’s chairman Scott Ragsdale is an inspiration for his staff to follow; the American, 42, has swum the English Channel, raced the Marathon des Sables and completed seven Ironmans in seven emirates.

“At Naseba, we encourage employees to go out and make their personal lives happen”, explains Mr Ragsdale. “We have 90-minute lunch breaks so people can go to the gym, there’s a cross-fit club, a volleyball club, and a team who play football each week together. We also have a Harley-Davidson club where seven members with Harleys go on trips together. I believe there is a direct correlation between being physically active and goal-orientated outside the office, to results in the office.”

Four years ago, Mr Ragsdale launched an annual challenge – now known as the Naseba Tag Heuer Challenge – as a way of encouraging his employees to accomplish something exceptional in their personal lives. Last year’s winner of the US$7,000 Tag Heuer watch prize was a Turkish employee who was afraid of water and couldn’t swim but then obtained her advance scuba permit. This year, Naseba is opening the challenge up to the public.

Dr Bitzer’s advice for managers launching wellness programmes is to start with simple, focused activities that immediately affect staff, such as weekly runs in the park. “It’s also important to allow staff to engage with the programme by offering them the chance to include activities they are interested in, maybe creating a football team or even sharing wholesome recipes,” he adds. “Internal engagement programmes always work well when staff are able to shape them for their own needs.”

Organisations can submit their application through before July 1.

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