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How Senior Leaders Can Blaze a Trail for Creating Healthier Workplaces in China

Executives at companies around the country are acting as role models for a healthy lifestyle.

Leadership behaviors can have a trickle-down effect. (Photo credit: https://stocksnap.io/photo/79D5XRLWLJ)

A 2016 corporate health benefits survey of more than 10,000 employees of 2,000 Chinese enterprises highlighted chronic health concerns that China is facing today: sleep deprivation, high blood pressure, neck pain, and high cholesterol. The survey spotlighted the importance of executives’ roles in advocating healthy lifestyles and leading by example.

Leadership behaviors can have a trickle-down effect.

Chinese real estate developer Vanke’s president Liang Yu started his running routine in 2010, to celebrate his 20th anniversary with the real estate company. In the same year, Vanke’s founder and chairman of the board Shi Wang reached the summit of Mount Everest for the second time, 7 years after his first success.

Wang’s efforts of defending the title of the oldest Chinese national to summit Everest inspired Yu. He wanted to lead a more active lifestyle. Within two years, Yu dropped 14 kg and conquered Everest in 2013. Soon after, Vanke launched its nationwide initiative of Run for Fun. The company has organized running events for its employees, real estate owners and the general public. More than 200,000 people in 60 cities have participated in them.

Vanke also provides incentives for managers to support employees’ wellness efforts. A manager’s bonuses and promotions are linked to his or her team’s health performance, like body mass index and fitness level.

Chinese culture tends to be group and community-oriented. Team offsites, sports clubs, and group challenges often work well. And all of these require committed, engaging, and persuasive leaders.

“In my previous company, a C-level executive in his 60s is a wellness role model,” says Elaine Lu, a Shanghai-based human resources director with over 20 years of experience. “He cycles to work every day, and takes part in the group sports after work. Other employees feel less self-conscious about joining him at various activities.”

Other companies ask managers to raise awareness of personal health by setting goals with individual team members. Managers at the elevator manufacturer KONE China spend five minutes at the beginning of their annual performance review setting employees’ personal health goals with detailed steps, according to the joint report by Human Resource Excellence Center and JLT Essential published in 2016. They are recorded as non-bonus goals, which are reviewed and approved by managers.

Every company also has its most health conscious employees, Lu says, and it’s imperative to utilize their leadership to influence and mentor.

Jabil Circuit China, who was shortlisted in Mercer China’s Best Innovative Health Practices, selected 89 employees out of 16,000 to be the company’s health ambassadors. They are called “Big Brothers and Big Sisters” by the employees.

In addition to organizing health events, these health champions and mentors offer on-the-ground health education, encourage employees to use Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services, and promote annual checkups. Employee break room usage has increased 17%, and the annual checkup of psychological disorder rate has dropped 11% at Jabil China.

Dr. Thomas Yang, an expert in health management with over 14 years of experience in clinical medicine and occupational health, has seen an increasing interest in launching or expanding an EAP among Chinese companies. Although the majority still direct employees to psychological counseling as a first step, he says Chinese leaders are broadening their horizons. “By using EAP, domestic companies focus on managerial issues and on increasing productivity. Foreign companies want to make their employees happier, so more emphasis is on work life balance, sleep management, etc.”

Originally published at journal.thriveglobal.com

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