Business of Well-being

Trends in Corporate Wellness in China

The rapid pace of China's development, growth, modernization has been an astonishing feat and one that has some of the world's best minds contemplating the nation's next steps on a global stage. And as China's market has developed and expanded, so have the needs of the people.

Many of China's growing middle and upper classes now work in offices, spending long days sitting at the computer, feeling stress and pressure, and struggling to achieve work-life balance. Does this sound familiar?

While many still believe that the Chinese lifestyle and diet, traditionally plant-based, low sugar, and low cholesterol combined with ancient traditional Chinese medicine practices are a basis for longevity and low risk of disease. The reality is that the modern Chinese person is increasingly overweight, inactive, sick, and stressed.

Today, over 100 million Chinese people are overweight or obese. China has the highest diabetes rate in the world-over 100 million diagnosed. China holds 27 percent of global cancer cases. And while many modern nations have made great strides to lower smoking rates and promote smoke-free environments, China still struggles with high rates of smokers especially among men.

China's modern health problems have begun to mirror those of the West and are exacerbated by China specific conditions and issues including air pollution, poor water quality, soil contamination, inefficient health care, etc.

It's no surprise that employers have seen this shift among its workforce and have recognized the need to address the increasingly poor health of employees, both white and blue collar. And with health care costs in China expected to hit $1 trillion by 2020, companies should be looking for ways to minimize their financial burden and help their employees stay healthy.

With China's health care and hospital system struggling to manage burgeoning medical needs, it is clear that corporate health and wellness can play a central role in mitigating this impending crisis. Additionally, unlike in the U.S. where employer- borne medical costs drive many corporate health initiatives, the Chinese employer foresees financial benefits and return of these programs through deeper staff engagement and retention.

This is critical in China where talent is scarce and talent retention is at the front of every employer's mind. For the past 18 months, At AWB Health Management, we have witnessed a real growing interest and demand in corporate wellness from both local and foreign companies based in China.

There is also a public change in mindset from workers. A 2014 Bloomberg article, "Is Work Killing You? In China, Workers "Die At Their Desks" exposes the extreme work culture in China where white-collar workers feel such pressure and stress to the point of fatality.

Reports of multinational company employees in their twenties working overtime and on weekends, collapsing at their desks, and working themselves to exhaustion and in extreme cases death are not uncommon in Asia.

This excessive, always-on work culture has garnered a lot of attention and condemnation from the public on Chinese social media sites. It would appear the Chinese people are ready for a shift towards better health, better work, and better life quality.

To support changing the work life of the employee, educating management and business owners appears critical. To that extent, AWB Health Management launched "Workplace Wellness Trendsetters" social media groups available on LinkedIn and WeChat to attract and support professionals who are interested in establishing workplace wellness in their corporations.

Through these channels and networks, AWB conducts bi-annual surveys to gauge the workplace wellness climate among Chinese companies and MNCs operating in China. The most recent survey from November 2015, showed 40 percent of respondents' had a fairly comprehensive program, and another 40 percent had some offerings but not a systematic program.

Among the companies who have comprehensive programs, there tend to be two approaches; the first is to start in HQ and then expand to regional offices and the second is to immediately begin offerings and services in multiple offices. AWB has seen success among both strategies with a key feature being digital communication and plans to move increasingly digital and mobile.

Another key factor to success is strong leadership commitment and strong top-down communication to motivate employee participation. Chinese culture tends to be group-oriented and individuals can be shy so team activities, group challenges, and engaging leaders are a must.

AWB has seen success among it 's China-specific designed offerings such as a smoking cessation phone coaching program, a healthy restaurant guidebook, group weight loss program, and group fitness challenges.

AWB Health Management is a Chinese company that provides comprehensive workplace health consulting and solutions to Chinese and companies across China. AWB Health Management couples international best practices with local Chinese cultural and societal expectations. AWB's health management solutions are tailored to fit Chinese needs.

It is a member of the WorkPlace Wellness Alliance from the Institute of Health Productivity Management as well as CEO Roundtable on Cancer for China. At the base of every AWB program and service, is an emphasis on education and awareness so to introduce new health and wellness concepts to the Chinese.

Learning works best to enhance program participation and impact supported by strong online support via WeChat and an online mobile platform that creates communities, stages activities and challenges and delivers content.

While awareness has increased recently, progresses are still timid regarding the enormous size of the workforce and the challenge. However we are optimistic change will accelerate as the younger, more educated generation is eager to learn how health and wellness can drastically improve their quality of life.

On the other side, the older generation is still very receptive to the Chinese Traditions and Culture of Ying & Yang, balance through Tai-Chi, and QiGong, a traditional Chinese medicine-based diet.

Rejuvenating a new healthy lifestyle for China through Corporate Wellness has a promising future in China.

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