When it comes to employee wellness programs, global employers must take a different approach to employees outside of the United States in order to reach those workers effectively, says Nick Malhomme, global vice president at Optum Health.
Unlike U.S. wellness programs, those in other countries have not yet reached maturity, and it takes time to develop those programs and increase awareness among both employers and employees. While U.S. wellness programs have been in use for about 10 years, they’ve only been implemented over the past two years in many other countries.
The health care systems in the United States and other countries are also different, which makes some global employers resistant to wellness programs, Malhomme adds. For instance, in France there is a high corporate tax rate, and because of that, French employers expect the government to cover health care costs. However, wellness programs are more than just a form of preventive health care, and it’s important that those employers see the other benefits.
“It’s about going back to basics and educating employers,” Malhomme says. “It’s about showing employers that wellness program promote engagement and productivity, and they reduce absenteeism, so there is a return on investment.”
Malhomme even finds that in some cases governments worldwide are now putting forth legislation that requires employers to cover the well-being of their employees. In fact, the European Union recently passed legislation that states employers are responsible for the psycho-social wellness of their employees while Abu Dhabi mandates that employers take care of their employees from both physical and psychological standpoints.
“Governments are finding out that they can’t afford health care,” Malhomme says. “People are living longer, and people are getting healthier. It’s a crisis everywhere you go – from Asia to Europe to the United States – so governments are figuring if they put more burden on these multinational organizations, then it’s going to save money not only in the present but also in the future.”
To implement a successful global wellness program, there are common approaches between U.S. locations and other countries, Malhomme says. In both cases, having support from senior leadership is critical, but an employer outside of the United States must also take the time to deliver the message based on local language and culture and ensure employees that their information is confidential. While the United States has stringent laws protecting personal health information, employees in other countries don’t always have that benefit and could be wary of divulging that information.
“It’s very much about ensuring that an organization knows what it wants in terms of a wellness program, but an employer should be prepared to follow it through and get the local people to deliver it,” Malhomme says. “If you can get that message right in a culturally attuned way and delivered by local people, then employees will engage in wellness programs.”
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