More SMEs investing in office health programmes

Nutrition consultant Yam Yoke Yin showing Asia Polyurethane staff the way to prepare healthy dishes as part of the firm's health programme.
Nutrition consultant Yam Yoke Yin showing Asia Polyurethane staff the way to prepare healthy dishes as part of the firm's health programme.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Firms recognised by HPB for efforts have almost tripled in two years

It is 4pm on a Friday and the staff at plastics company Asia Polyurethane Manufacturing are already filing out of the office - to exercise.

The company of about 30 staff goes into an "early shutdown" at least one Friday a month, as part of a workplace health programme that it started in 2009.

Depending on the day's schedule, staff may go for a jog or play badminton or a few games of bowling.

Despite their limited resources, more and more small and medium enterprises (SMEs) like Asia Polyurethane are investing time and money to introduce such programmes in the workplace.

And they are being recognised for their efforts, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) told The Straits Times.

The number of SMEs which received the board's Singapore Health Award almost tripled in the two years, with a record 91 SMEs receiving the accolade last year compared with just 35 in 2010. The award honours employers who have implemented measures to encourage their staff to lead a healthier lifestyle.

Asia Polyurethane was one such recipient. Its chief executive Erman Tan said his staff had initially resisted the idea, believing that they may have to set aside extra time to finish their work.

But they overcame their reservations and since then, more of them are now looking forward to the Friday workouts, he added.

Besides workouts, the company also organises healthy cooking demonstrations at the office.

Over at Davis Langdon KPK, a similar programme that the consultancy firm first introduced in 2002 has resulted in significant health benefits for its staff. For example, the number of its employees who had high cholesterol fell from 8.7 per cent to 4.9 per cent between 2008 and 2011, said managing director Stephen Wong.

The programme has helped make the company more attractive to potential recruits amid the tight labour market, he added.

"We find that younger people are more concerned about having a work-life balance. At job interviews, some would ask if we have fitness programmes," he said.

Compared to other SMEs who have found it hard to retain their workers in recent years, the staff turnover rate at Davis Langdon has remained relatively constant - and Mr Wong believes its workplace health programme was a contributing factor.

Nonetheless, the participation rate for such programmes among smaller companies is still relatively low, said Dr Annie Ling, who heads HPB's adult health division.

Fifty-six percent of companies which have at least 50 staff run a workplace health programme, based on a HPB survey conducted in 2010. But the rate was only 27.5 per cent among companies with fewer than 50 staff.

Mr V. Balu, director of sales and marketing for Stamford Press, said the interest level of some staff in the company's workplace health programme tends to wane over time. To sustain their interest, the company allows staff to sign up for sporting events, such as marathons, and submit claims for related expenses.

While Stamford Press can tap its staff welfare fund to support its programme, which has been in place since 2005, funding is still a challenge for SMEs in general.

"We are not like multinational companies, where funds are available on a golden platter," he said.

HPB co-funds such programmes up to $15,000 per organisation under its Workplace Health Promotion grant.

Even if funding is secured, the success of such programmes ultimately depends on the level of interest and participation of staff.

Asia Polyurethane regional sales assistant manager Edson Kek, 32, said he and his colleagues were initially lukewarm to taking part in the programme and only did so because it was a "company policy".

But after shedding 10kg in the past year, he has become more enthusiastic about sweating it out during working hours. "We found that it is actually quite fun and helps us to relieve stress at work."