Parent or Employer?

The wellness wave: Every once in a while, there is a wave that takes over the world of work, and all corporate citizens get impacted, i.e., they start spending a lot of time worrying about it. For example, the last couple of years I can bet you have read, heard, worried and talked plenty about gender pay gap and corporate social responsibility.  The ‘Recently Added’ in this genre is Safety and Wellness.  Definitely one of the better trends, in my opinion, well worth investing time and money in. Let’s delve into it a bit to understand better.

Safety vs. Wellness: While the trend is on the right path, it puts the corporate in a bit of a fix. Let me explain. The premise in the case of employee safety is perhaps a little more smoothly defined – an employer is responsible for a safe environment during working hours, at the workplace and while an employee is performing the work expected of a role. It gets trickier with wellness. It is more holistic, as an individual’s wellness is determined by what s/he does and follows in their life both in and outside of the workplace. There are many factors here, therefore, that are external and unlinked to the employer. Hence to what extent should the employer get involved in and assume responsibility for the ‘wellness’ of employees? The right answer will emerge over a period. For the moment, we’ll focus a bit more how the trend is developing.

Fitness fitness: The popular kid on the wellness block is the ‘fitness’ buzz.  Plenty enthu-cutlet startups who have been able to crack the code for putting a user-friendly app in place, are eager to pitch about the next best thing that is going to hit the wellness market, which the corporation can ignore at its peril! That everyone, in general, must take care of their diet and fitness to stay healthy, is a basic truth.  That everybody should abide by it is a no-brainer, right? Wrong. Even my 12-year old knows it is a myth. So, when these fresh-faced youngsters try to sell you their app that will finally condition humanity to eat and exercise right, you go – Hmm, I really want to believe you. I want to keep the faith. Yet …

Costs and benefits: Fitter and healthier employees are a plus for any employer. That’s a given. That it will eventually result in lower insurance claims thereby providing better leverage at the time of negotiating the following year’s insurance premium is a collateral benefit that cannot be ignored either.

Service providers in the fitness space pitch to employers based on the premise that while most of the urban employed invest in life insurance, they leave the sunken cost of health insurance with the employer. In the case of health insurance, the role of the employer is to provide the most optimal benefit possible and absorb the cost. The fitness piece, however, asks for a more active role on the part of the employee. To what extent will s/he utlilise the benefits provided?

Ethical dilemmas: There are more significant worries than those around low return investments. Most of these tech solutions (apps and their ilk), tell you about aggregating health and fitness data of the various subscribers and providing you with a trend analysis of where your workforce stack ranks on this aspect. What does the law of the land say about this? In some lines of work, stipulations of the essential health requirements for performing specific jobs are perhaps defined and act as gateway criteria for employment onto the specific role. In some of the more developed countries where healthcare is prohibitively expensive, some employers today refuse to offer health insurance to smokers, for instance. Are we then heading towards a situation where big brother will be allowed a good peek into what so far has been ‘personal’ and ‘private’ space? Will employees start questioning the intent of the employer having access to information about the finer aspects of our lives – How much do we sleep? How much do we eat? What do we eat?

Many questions, few right answers: You know where I’m going with this.  Are we now saying that we will encourage employers to adopt methods of selection apart from the usual ones based on competence and capability? To what extent do companies exercise control over the lives of employees? An org would want to treat its workforce as people who take responsibility for themselves, take charge of their lives.  Much as how we raise our children today. The whole movement, therefore, where the employer is being besieged to take on responsibility for lifestyle aspects may turn out to be short-lived. Corporates will find it unsustainable and also perhaps, counterproductive.

Employers are just that, not parents.


*Contributed by an Employee Engagement expert from the FMCG industry.


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