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Corporate wellness programmes are long-term organizational activities designed to promote the adoption of organizational practices and personal behaviour conducive to maintaining or improving employee physiological, mental, and social wellbeing (Wolfe and Parker, 1994). In Singapore, there is a growing trend for companies to offer wellness programmes at the workplace (The Straits Times, 1994). Research conducted by the National Productivity Board in 1992 on the Quality of Worklife reported that a majority of the companies in Singapore was concerned with the need to contain rising health costs. In 1991, for example, the Singaporean employer had to spend S$252 in medical costs on each worker, which was an increase of some 6.8 per cent over the previous year (Alsagoff, 1993). However, only a minority of these companies were actually considering the implementation of wellness programmes as a viable alternative to health care cost containment. Of those companies which had chosen to adopt wellness programmes, most of them cited that the main objective in doing so was to increase employee productivity, to improve employees' welfare benefits and morale, and to enhance the corporate image of the company (Wong, 1993).
Another major concern of organizations today is the increased competition and technological changes. Global and domestic competition have resulted in efforts to make corporations "lean and mean" through cost reduction and downsizing, job elimination, reductions in "non-productive" repair and maintenance, and job speeding and combination. These changes undoubtedly will have negative effects on employee health or wellbeing by increasing the likelihood of overwork, work stress, job dissatisfaction and accidents (Wolfe et al., 1994).
Technological changes not only have resulted in reduced work concentration and efficiency, they have also created several stress-producing factors: work overload, work pressure, and job insecurity. The potential for stress and stress-related effects of technological changes is substantial (Donaldson, 1993), as are their costs to organizations (Manning, Jackson and Fusilier, 1996). This is because workers who feel stressed will not be able to perform to their fullest potential and their health may also be adversely affected thus lowering productivity levels.
Rationale for providing wellness programmes at the worksite include greater access to adults compared to other community programmes, reasonable stability of the target population, presence of organizational structures and management to support the programmes, ability to provide preventive medical services at lower costs, and opportunities to develop and provide more comprehensive, integrated health programmes than those possible through traditional medical care and public health institutions (Opatz, 1994).
Evaluation of the effects of corporate wellness programmes
In 1992, only 9 per cent of organizations in Singapore had implemented corporate wellness programmes and these focused primarily on smoking cessation and exercise and fitness. Although most corporate wellness programmes in Singapore companies are in their infancy stage and no proper health records are available for evaluation, corporate health programmes in the West have a much longer history and have been found in many cases to be related in a beneficial manner to such important opportunity costs as health care costs (Cohen, 1985; Conrad, 1988), employee satisfaction (Schauffler and Rodriguez, 1994), job performance (Wolfe et al., 1994), employee turnover (Shephard, 1992), and absenteeism (Bertera, 1990; Golaszewski and Yen, 1992). Some companies have also enjoyed intangible benefits such as improved employee morale, health and productivity, employee attraction and retention, and improved image for the corporations (Connors, 1992).
The Johnson & Johnson "Live for life" programme is one of the better known large comprehensive wellness programmes. It advocates prevention, encouraging employees to believe in working towards a healthy lifestyle and, at the same time, providing them with knowledge, motivation, opportunities and professional expertise to do so. Preliminary data comparing about 700 employees who participated in the "Live for life" programme with about 700 of those who did not have revealed encouraging results. Table I summarizes these results and demonstrates that both objective and subjective improvements have been achieved (Bellingham and Cohen, 1987).
More recent studies conducted at Johnson & Johnson (Fielding, 1994) also indicated positive opportunity costs, business-unit-wide, of health promotion programmes. These studies found positive wellness programme effects on regular exercise participation, fitness levels, patients' medical costs, employee satisfaction, smoker quit rates and on an indirect measure of productivity.
Health promotion programmes' cost-benefit analysis was also found to be encouraging A study of the Travellers' Insurance Company health promotion programmes reported a decrease in health claims, absenteeism and life insurance costs; an enhancement in productivity; and a return on investment of …