Shaping up with incentive-based system
Posted on July 22, 2012, Sunday
THE Health Ministry is floating the idea of an incentive-based system to encourage healthy living on the premise that reward is better than punishment.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai has suggested bosses adopt a positive approach to boost productivity by giving bonuses to workers who did not take sick leave – or did so, one might add, only when they were genuinely ill.
The latter is no feigned malady since total immunity to sicknesses and diseases or accidents (as an occupation hazard) or in daily life is more myth than reality. For the right reason, taking sick leave is justifiable.
Even so, it’s interesting to note before the policy on medical leave was implemented, companies lost an average of over four per cent man-days annually, a man-day being an industrial unit of production equal to the work one person does in a day.
With the implementation, the percentage has been less than 0.1 per cent.
Attendance records and medical health are important to an employee’s performance appraisal which can be adversely affected by dubious medical leave or AWOL tendencies among the workforce.
The ‘shape up or ship out’ approach is the norm in some countries, especially Japan and South Korea, where instead of encouraging overweight workers to exercise and trim down, employers tend to favour the healthy and the fit outright.
In the Malaysian context, some quarters have suggested subjecting employees whose waistlines exceed 74cm to 76.2 cm (29 inches to 30 inches) to some form of censure.
It’s debatable waistlines (as specified above) are a measure of wellness. Besides, getting employees to conform is hardly practical, considering not many people, even as young as in their mid-30’s, have natural waistlines of 30 inches and below other than, perhaps, marathon runners or ectomorphs. Lest we forget, not all employees belong to either category.
Even mesomorphs – much less endomorphs – who work out everyday in the gym find difficulty attaining a 30-inch wasteline, let alone a slimmer one.
For instance, the mid-sections of bodybuilders appear small but only because their shoulders are broad. A 50-inch shoulder width will make even a 38-inch waistline look small. It’s an optical illusion.
But that doesn’t mean these well-built people are any less healthy just because their waistlines are in excess of the specified 29-30-inches. Physiologically, it does not hold up.
The salient point here is the benefit of working out – not waistline size per se – that keeps regular exercisers in shape.
While the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle is not lost on Malaysians, what is needed on their part is action, not just words or thoughts.
Supporters of the incentive-based system liken it to killing two birds with one stone since employees will be rewarded for their conscientiousness while employers can recover lost man-days and increase productivity.
Another school of thought is that people should take the initiative to exercise and not be enticed with rewards to reject life as a couch potato.
Assistant Public Health Minister Dr Jerip Susil has said people should not only stay fit for work but also themselves and their families.
“That’s the gist behind the (Health Minister’s) call. It’s not so much about getting incentives for staying healthy,” he noted.
He pointed out that the impact of good health would be minimal unless Malaysians discarded their sedentary existence and made exercise part of a healthy lifestyle.
There is also a suggestion to get employees to adopt the 10,000-steps-a-day regimen. But before this can be fully accepted as a health-promoting activity, a paradigm shift in mindset may be needed for it to catch on in our society where walking up 50 flights of stairs (instead of using the lift) can be a form of torture for most.
Perhaps here is where the incentive-based system can be a strong persuader for meaningful attitudal change towards exercise as a promoter of good health. While it may not be the most ideal way to get people to shape up, it is – at least initially – better than having no way at all.
One of the biggest health issues today is lack of physical activity.
Most people dread exercise because they are either used to being sedentary or afraid working out can put unnecessary strain on their body and harm their health.
The truth is the more you move (at your level of fitness), the healthier you will be – even moderate activities like chores, gardening and walking can make a difference.
Studies have shown that adding a little movement to one’s life can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes; check symptoms of anxiety and depression; enhance self-esteem and improve memory in elderly people.
Creating a healthy lifestyle does not have to entail drastic changes. In fact, over-enthusiasm often leads to failure. Making small changes in how one lives each day can lead to big rewards.