Business of Well-being

Corporate Wellness Goes Global - Successful Model in United Arab Emirates

Companies throughout the world are investing in corporate wellness programs and initiatives to help provide healthy and balanced lifestyles to their employees. One such company is Dubai-based AW Rostamani, one of the most respected and well-known businesses in the United Arab Emirates.

The AW Rostamani Group portfolio of companies is responsible for managing well-established multinational brands across the automotive, real estate, interior design and IT industries. With more than 1,800 employees and net assets in excess of US$1.5 billion, the AW Rostamani Group's success story is among the most inspired in the Middle East.

Anil Lamba, Group HR Director for AW Rostamani Holdings, said the company launched a health and wellness program at the end of 2012 and seen substantial improvements among employees. The corporate wellness program, called Layaka, means health and wellness in Arabic and promotes "Fun, Fitness and Friendship" across the nine companies that form the group, reaching 3,300 including employees and their friends and families.

Layaka is divided into two 12-15 week seasons of activity to avoid the harsh summer. Full days of activities in which staff participate in a variety of sports like cricket, soccer, basketball, volleyball, badminton, yoga, swimming, athletics and more are organized, and employees are rewarded with trophies and medals for success and participation.

Autonomous committees, composed of employees representing various departments, organize the different activities tailored to employee suggestions, with little intervention from human resources departments. "We just provide the place and the opportunity," said Lamba, who noted the committees help to improve working relationships.

He recalled when two colleagues from different departments were able to meet personally for the first time by participating in an activity despite collaborating for nine years. The committees organize transportation to the activities as well as food and beverages. Human resources distributes jerseys named for each team and representing different brands/models associated with the Group.

Committees can do fund-raising activities fro different company units. Organizational barriers melt away when interdepartmental sports teams are formed in such a way that the team captain may be a technician while the department director is a participating player.

"Barriers are broken, there is a sense of belonging and everyone focuses on being healthy and having a good time," says Lamba. Apart from outdoor activities, the organization provides indoor training facilities where 60-70 employees can take one-hour classes on healthy eating, yoga, meditation, health and safety, parenting and more.

Many of the sports activities and wellness services - like Duplays and SSY Yoga -- are organized through the help of outsourced partners. The company intranet portal informs employees on upcoming activities, news and initiatives. Photos recognizing staff participation and the winners are published in "Enrich," the are sent periodically and posters are put up around offices and staff accommodations to communicate activities, benefits  and information on health and wellness.

Yoga classes are popular. AW Rostamani has added other activities including table tennis, basketball, volleyball, caroms and the like in the break room. Lamba said most staff is away from home and live without their families. Health and wellness activities help them engage and identify with their colleagues, making the company site a home away from home and life less monotonous and solitary.

"When we started this program, our priority was making people healthy," said Lamba. "For AW Rostamani, it was never about costs. It was about investment in overall health and wellness." Lamba said the board of directors is fully committed to the program and is supportive and enthusiastic.

Of the AW Rostamani employees surveyed, 86 percent were more engaged at work as a result of the program. AW Rostamani reports a 30 percent reduction in medical insurance claims, a 50 percent drop in sick leave on the shop floor and less employee turnover(10.05 percent in 2012; 8.67 percent in 2013 and 4.2 percent in 2014 - YTD).

A handful of employees quit drinking and stopped smoking. Others have limited their use of alcohol and tobacco. Another 27 reported a substantial reduction in weight and 33 stopped eating meats taking up raw foods instead. Eleven people previously suffering from hypertension reported improvements.

Lamba said Layaka is directly responsible for employees remaining with the organization for many years. AW Rostamani entered Layaka in the Daman Corporate Health Awards, which recognize UAE companies that have been committed to and successful in corporate health and wellness. They will be held in Abu Dhabi this coming November.

Lamba said the key to a successful program is to introduce new elements. Last year, 457 people participated. This year, 530 took part, which is attributed to incorporating feedback following each initiative set in place. For example, in Layaka's third season, the format was changed so that an entire day was dedicated for a specific sport.

Families and friends of the players were invited to cheer and join in picnic-style celebrations. Magic shows and other entertainment activities were arranged for children. The challenge is to keep the activities going. People often work long hours and activities are organized on their days off.

The benefits of participation must be evident to employees. Keeping employees engaged and emotionally connected will lead them to have better, healthier lives and provide Aw Rostamania a return on its investment through increased productivity.

About the Author

Becky Crayman directs awards for MEED, a leading senior management media brand that facilitates the Daman Corporate Health Awards, the Middle East's first business awards program promoting health in the workplace and recognizing employers and individuals for outstanding achievements in enhancing employee health and wellness at work.

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