Gütersloh, 10/25/2016

Health as a Ressource

Heribert Sangs, Senior Vice President of Vocational Training, Dual Study Programs and Health Management at Bertelsmann
Lorena Israel Findley, Director of Bertelsmann Health Management

Subject: Employees
Category: Project

How does occupational health management work? And what are the critical success factors? A visit at the Bertelsmann Health Department gives insights into preconditions and opportunities of a healthy work environment.

An appointment with Bertelsmann's health management team at the Corporate Center in Gütersloh: Team leader Lorena Israel Findley is the host of the standing reception. "We could sit, of course – but a change is good for our locomotor system, so we like to take every opportunity to walk or stand," she explains. There are many actions you can take – large and small – to influence occupational health.

One larger measure is on the agenda today: the next meeting of Bertelsmann's Health Community, which is scheduled for fall in Berlin. The Health Community is the steering body for Bertelsmann's health management in Germany. It is comprised of health experts from all the divisions, works council chairs, supervisory board members, HR officers and the representative body for employees with disabilities. It meets twice a year.

But why does Bertelsmann take such a thorough approach to the health of its employees? "Because people spend most of their time at work today, the company they work for has a big influence on their health," says Heribert Sangs, who is responsible for the overall management of Bertelsmann's health management and is Lorena Israel Findley's supervisor. "Our company recognized this great need many years ago, and in 2013 set up a separate department for developing an integrated Bertelsmann health management scheme."

This department now develops and coordinates health strategies throughout Germany, for Sangs believes that Bertelsmann can only be a successful and future-proof company with healthy framework conditions and healthy employees. "Ultimately, healthy employees are the basis of a company's success and its most important resource," he says, adding that ensuring healthy employees also directly supports the achievement of a company's goals and targets.

How does modern health management actually work? And what exactly does "integrated" mean? Lorena Israel Findley gives an example: "Studies and our own experience have shown that measures only bring significant changes if they are part of a coordinated overall concept. By the 'integration of measures' in occupational health management we mostly mean not just attending a gym course during your lunch break or working day, but making work itself a healthier experience." She says the goal is to integrate health into work processes in a "systematic, goal-oriented and holistic" way.

Mainstreaming Health in the Corporate Culture

Heribert Sangs feels that there is one particularly important prerequisite for putting this into practice throughout the organization with long-term effects, and for creating a comprehensive awareness of health: "We want and need to mainstream this in the corporate culture."

So for an effective implementation of health management, he says it is important to first build awareness for the issue among a company's management. Due to their influence on work processes and social interaction, executives have a key role in ensuring a health-friendly workplace. Their position enables them to identify their employees' potential and skills, as well as when they are over or under-challenged. And they have the ability to change work processes, reduce stress and strengthen resources in order to help promote the well-being of their employees.

"You don't have to reinvent the wheel" to establish a health management scheme, says Israel Findley. The idea is to build on existing schemes and link them with other areas where it makes sense, thereby furthering the integrative approach to health management. "Here in Gütersloh, the issue of health has been dealt with in various departments for many years: by the company doctor, the occupational safety department, the Bertelsmann BKK company health insurance, in-house social services and our varied company sports offer." She explains that here as well as at sites across Germany, networking and exchange with protagonists from the HR, vocational training and operational departments, and with employee representatives, are essential to holistic health management. And, she adds, all participants benefit from the synergies.

Online networking in Germany takes place especially on the newly launched health website (www.bertelsmannhealth.de  ). In the offline world, the many stakeholders come together in the aforementioned Health Community. "This body is so important because it not only gives all the health experts an opportunity to take another look at the topics, but also ensures that the various company representatives give their input from different angles and disseminate the topics in the Group," says Heribert Sangs.

Another important step toward integrating the topic of health was the joint development of four minimum standards, which were agreed upon by the Corporate Works Councils and CHRO in March 2015 and apply to every German company in the Group. The first minimum standard states that "health-related competence" is a necessary component of the management skill set at all German Bertelsmann companies. Moreover, a permanent Health task force is to be set up at each Group company. Access to information about health services offered by the company is to be ensured for all employees. And in the future, everyone will have access to social counseling.

Analysis and Evaluation

Beyond this, several pilot projects are being run with the aim of showing examples for establishing and developing integrated health management. The participating companies proceed in six distinctive phases: initialization; analysis and identifying fields of action; measures planning; implementation; evaluation; and long-term integration into the company's structures.

A thorough analysis is of particular importance, as all further steps build on this and it allows for deriving demand-driven goals. "However, any data about absenteeism and turnover are lagging indicators in this process," explains Israel Findley. It is more important to also consider framework factors that indicate the state of health at the company, such as productivity, job quality and satisfaction, trust in management, psychosocial well-being, and attitudes to health.

In order to make health a visible, tangible part of the corporate culture and to anchor it firmly in a company's overall strategy, Israel Findley says it is also crucial that a representative of a company's management commission the establishment of occupational health management.

And when purposeful measures to improve health and productivity are then carried out at the company, they should always take their cue from the local needs and circumstances as analyzed. "When putting measures into action, it is particularly important to keep communicating with the staff," says Israel Findley. Especially with longterm measures, ongoing monitoring is also recommended, she says. The results of the evaluation can then serve as guidance for others. The spectrum of possible measures is wide, ranging from workshops and the optimization of workflows to providing armchairs and couches for relaxing, consultation hours with executives, and even the laying of soundproofing carpets – which have already proven useful in reducing stress and noise pollution.

Read more about health and other corporate responsibility topics in the magazine "24/7 Responsibility  ".