Accounting for Employee Health

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When Canadian employees at PricewaterhouseCoopers get sick, they can call up a new internal website that offers help and an unusual personal invitation -- to walk into the CEO's office and talk confidentially about their health challenges, reports The Globe and Mail.

PwC is not alone in its desire to be recognized as a leader in building a wellness into its culture. Conference Board of Canada surveys reveal that health information and promotion programs are quickly becoming important components of human resource strategies. According to The Globe and Mail, the reasons reflect the soft and hard edges of capitalism: Companies with such programs report higher employee engagement, as well as bottom-line savings.

“Wellness programs will become more critical as the work force ages, thus intensifying the focus on managing disability and health, said Ruth Wright, a senior research associate studying human resources issues with the Conference Board.

Skilled workers already enjoy a seller's market in terms of job possibilities. For recruiters, a key selling point is a supportive culture. "It's not just about programs -- it's also about leaders, and how they comport themselves. Do they walk the talk?" Wright said.

PwC's CEO Chris Clark learned the positives and negatives of his company's wellness culture firsthand. Last summer, he went through successful treatment for cancer that originated at the base of his tongue. After learning of his diagnosis, he reached out to internal and external support networks.

He told The Globe and Mail that during the experience, he vowed to replicate in PwC's wellness program -- the same sense of a community of support. Many companies provide information on health care and benefits to help people navigate tough times. But PwC approaches health care from a holistic angle, serving as a guide for prevention and general health, as well as advice and networks when illness occurs.

The heart of PwC's culture is its new internal website offering information, details on benefits, the firm's employee assistance program, and absentee options for personal sickness, or for a family member and the company's contribution policy for fitness classes and memberships.

Clark received a positive prognosis after treatment but realizes he faced issues in how the firm should be run during his three-month-plus absence. He addressed the problem by creating a senior committee to manage operations while he was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.

Clark realizes that all firms face big challenges in balancing the official side of managing absenteeism -- getting people back to work, demanding forms and doctors' signatures -- with the heightened sensitivity of sick people.

His experience has added to the years of PwC work on health and employee policies.

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