Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen
Maximizing the longevity of talent in our workforce
I am happy to join all of you at the 10th National Conference on Workplace Health Promotion (WHP).
Last week at the inaugural Age-friendly Workforce Asia Conference, I spoke about strategies to maximize the longevity of talent in the workforce and the need to create the conditions to enable workers to work longer. This can be done by extending the relevance of the workers to the workplace, and conversely, extending the relevance of the workplace to the workers.
Helping workers remain healthy and fit for work for as long as possible is central to these strategies. The participants at last week’s conference were united in looking at employees’ health not as a cost, but as an investment. Looking through today’s conference programme, I am heartened to note that this is an important theme that will underpin both the keynote address by Professor Black and AMEX’s presentation on how business results can improve when employers invest in the health of their employees.
Health status of working adults
I wish to take this opportunity to reflect upon the health status of working Singaporeans. Chronic diseases are a key concern, 9.9% of our working adults suffer from diabetes, 23.5% are hypertensive, and 18.1% has high cholesterol. Obesity among the working population has almost doubled in the past 6 years to 11%. This should come as little surprise since only 15.7% exercise regularly. Among the working adults, 15.7% smoke on a daily basis. These statistics are sobering. The question I want to ask is can we do better for our employees’ health?
I note that this is the 10th year that HPB has been organizing the National Conference on Workplace Health Promotion, themed “New Perspectives for the Singapore Workforce”. I couldn’t agree more. Fresh perspectives are needed to deepen our understanding on how employees’ health is integral to the productivity of our workforce, and in turn our economic competitiveness.
Investing in employees’ health
Investing in a WHP programme to improve your employees’ health is, very simply, the right thing to do. And nothing tops having an employer that genuinely cares for the wellbeing of their employees. I want to bring up the example of Mr Albert Lai, Deputy GM of Hotel Grand Pacific, who is a winner of HPB’s Singapore HEALTH (Helping Employees Achieve Life-time Health) Leader Award.
Mr Lai is the driving force behind the WHP programmes in his organisation and his strong belief in the value of workplace health translates to personal attention to the health of each and every employee. For example, he sets aside time to be at the staff cafeteria during meal times to remind staff on the required 2 servings of vegetables and fruits. He also introduced smoking cessation programmes and personally accompanies smokers for their regular follow-up sessions. From 52 smokers in 2002, there are now zero smokers in his organisation.
Like Mr Lai and the other HEALTH Award platinum companies that you’ll be joining for the site visits tomorrow, we want to encourage employers to view WHP as investments in their employees.
Expanding the WHP Grant
To encourage employers to make the right investments in their employees’ health, I am happy to announce that HPB will be changing the quantum and structure of the WHP Grant to allocate funding for companies to address priority areas such as mental wellbeing programmes and targeted intervention programmes in the areas of weight management, chronic disease management and smoking cessation for their at-risk employees. These are our national health priorities and I strongly urge employers to do more for their employees in these areas.
We know that targeted programmes are usually more costly, and HPB will provide more resources for companies to do this. From next April, each company can apply up to $15,000 in Grant funding for their WHP programme, an increase from the current $12,000. The full details and guidelines will be released in early-2012.
Implementing effective WHP programmes
With the expanded WHP Grant, employers can look forward to additional resources to implement effective WHP programmes that yield tangible health benefits to employees. Targeted workplace health programmes, for example, in the area of weight-management, can bring immense benefits to employees. I want to bring up the case of Mr Khairulnizam from GlobalFoundries to illustrate this.
Until 2009, Mr Khairul’s lifestyle consisted of late night supper and little exercise. Things started to change after he attended a screening at Global Foundries’ health and wellness road-show, which indicated that he had high BMI, blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. He promptly signed up for a weight-management programme organized by the company, and lost 4kg in one month. He followed up with exercise sessions at his company’s gym and with a regular running group. He also joined a wellness group to gain knowledge on healthy diet and nutrition. He has lost 18kg in total and has completed his first marathon just last December. All these were achieved with the support of his employer, GlobalFoundries.
Co-creating solutions with the WHP industry
Mr Khairul’s commitment and journey towards better health is inspiring. One thing we learnt from his example is that health promotion activities and programmes have to be fun and engaging to draw sustained participation from employees. At the same time, the programmes have to be effective in order for companies to see the benefits of good employees’ health so as to commit to the long-term sustainability of the programmes.
HPB tells me that more new companies are tapping onto WHP consultants/service providers to implement their WHP programmes. I think there is a real need to work with these WHP consultants/service providers - professionals who are on the ground advising and helping the companies plan and execute WHP programmes.
I’m happy to announce that HPB will set aside $200,000 next year as a WHP Capability-Development Grant to support WHP practitioners to develop new and creative solutions to enhance the effectiveness of WHP programmes and improve employees’ health. More details will be announced by April-2012. This is a wonderful initiative by HPB to work with the consultants to co-create viable solutions for companies, especially in addressing the at-risk segments of the workforce. Done well, it will be a win-win situation for HPB, employers and the growing WHP industry.
It’s a certainty that our workforce profile will change quite drastically, with a larger proportion of the existing workforce ageing. We cannot look to foreign workers as the answer to the tight labour market, certainly not as freely as before. The starting point in preparing for the evolving challenges to our workforce is to help workers remain healthy, engaged and productive.
The Government, through HPB, is committed to putting in the necessary resources and infrastructure to respond to the health challenges of our workforce. We need all of the stakeholders to work together and optimize the health of our workforce.
This conference is a good opportunity for employers, employees, and WHP practitioners to come together and share ideas and practices. I’m sure the presentations will be thought-provoking and will generate many interesting discussions.
I wish you a fruitful conference. Thank you.