J&J sets holistic approach to boost workforce energy levels as companies combat stress

By Kavita Chandran

While many in the West look to the East for answers on ancient wisdom and spirituality to fight modern stress, Asia Pacific is facing its own crisis – employee health risk. Long working hours and tight deadlines are affecting wellbeing of many in the region’s workforce. More than ever, big companies are introducing wellness programs because of increased incidence of sick leave and productivity slowdown.

Companies such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Google have wellness initiatives in place that serve as perks for new employees – from gym memberships, to yoga and meditation, to nap pods, and much more. But one company that’s focusing on driving wellness in a way that makes its employees more “energized”, both physically and mentally, is Johnson & Johnson (J&J), the global healthcare conglomerate that opened its new Asia Pacific office in Science Park, Singapore, this year. J&J leverages its Human Performance Institute (HPI) wellness unit to focus on helping individuals connect with themselves, their purpose and, in turn, their contribution to the company.

Studies show that about 56 percent of employees in Asia Pacific suffer from elevated levels of stress, and only 65 percent are engaged with their work. Employee health risks such as stress, lack of physical exercise and poor nutrition are the foremost workplace issues that contribute to productivity slowdown, according to the 2017/2018 Global Staying@Work survey by Willis Towers Watson.

In Singapore alone, lost productivity due to staff on sick leave could reach $3.3 billion a year by 2030, according to a study done by Mercer and Marsh & McLennan last year – Cost and Productivity Challenges of Ill Health in Singapore.

And so, J&J was smart to choose Singapore as its AsiaPac hub for wellness courses. Holistic in its approach, the HPI program aims to boost energy for performance, focusing on the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of participants, as well as encouraging individuals to be aligned with their personal mission. The HPI course is open to those outside the company too.

“We have seen that a structured, evidence- based approach that helps employees understand their purpose is most effective in bringing about behavior change and can have a significant impact on wellbeing and productivity both at work and outside,” said Lowinn Kibbey, Global Head of J&J’s HPI unit.

J&J claims that 75 percent of employees who took part in the training reported reduced stress levels 18 months after the program, and 91 percent expect it to result in significant gains in productivity. The company has set a goal for 100,000 employees to do the 2-day wellness course by 2020.

“At HPI, we help people manage their energy levels, use stress as a tool for good and connect with a deeper sense of purpose,” said Bobby Sheikh, the AsiaPac head for J&J’s HPI unit.

The training puts strong emphasis on “purpose” and helps employees identify what it is that drives them as individuals in the workforce and beyond, reflecting J&J’s healthy and mature understanding of cognitive behavior and the spiritual side to each employee.

“It’s a risky thing because some (employees) may identify a purpose that means not working for us,” said Sheikh. “And that’s fine too.”

Kavita Chandran is a health & wellness columnist, ghostwriter for books, and an author. She is the editor of  Yoga Journal Singapore, and has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, CNBC and TheQuint.