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Incentivizing Healthy Habits in the Workplace



For every US$1 invested in healthcare in Mexico, US$13 are generated by increased productivity. The country’s expanding obesity epidemic has far reaching implications, not just for the country’s mortality rate or the government’s budget, but also for the wider economic climate in the country. Not only this, but the problem is rooted deep within Mexican cultural behavior, with an unhealthy work-life balance and sedentary lifestyles becoming major contributory factors exacerbating the already critical issue.

For this reason, the Workplace Wellness Council (WWC) was set up ten years ago and it has since been working within companies to reduce the amount of absenteeism caused by chronic illnesses linked to obesity. Angeles de Gyves, Director General of the WWC believes that saving Mexico’s healthcare industry requires an integrated approach which involves education and the complete overhaul of the traditional Mexican mindset. While the US’ influence over Mexico is obvious, many aspects of the country’s working culture was adopted from Spain, including the feature of long lunches and working until late in the evening. However, in the US, people may only take 45-minute lunch breaks but they often work at the same time. They coined the term working lunch and it is perceived as normal because they leave the office at 5pm. Mexico has mixed these two ideas while blending them with the corporate cultures of multinationals from around the world, which has led to a situation where many Mexicans work like Spaniards but with the urgency of Americans. According to de Gyves, shorter hours and optimized strategies would allow for more sustainable profitability for businesses.

There are several ways in which the WWC is helping companies to implement healthier policies within the office environment. A well-rounded program, according to de Gyves, consists of five components. Firstly, a company and its employees must know their basic biometric numbers, such as blood pressure and cholesterol. After that, e-health initiatives, promoting smoke-free environments, making time for exercise, and promoting an equitable work-life balance are essential steps, which can be complemented by other focal areas such as stress management. Furthermore, each company must provide incentives to employees to participate in such programs, which can vary from industry to industry; in the financial sector, employees value days off since they work long hours, whereas in the IT industry, many programmers work from home so different incentives are needed. One increasingly popular tactic is offering snack options, where fruit, water, and other healthy snacks are delivered to workstations. Another incentive is motivational messages, which are sent to employees throughout the day to help alleviate stress. These five components are standardized across all companies. However, an SME needs to understand and adopt those components while adapting them to the company’s needs. The main aim of the Council, apart from their mission to promote healthy habits, is to drive information sharing and best practice between the major entities.

In 2015, one pharmaceutical company revealed that they had saved US$215,000 in 2013-2014 due to the WWC program. The internal structure of each company also contributes to the reliability of these measurements, with many factors playing a role such as the involvement of HR or marketing teams, the amount of staff turnover or rotation, the involvement of a Mexican operation within a global wellness scheme, and the participation of senior executives. Overall, the real objective of the Workplace Wellness Council is to make people feel responsible for changing their lifestyles. Companies or public institutions can provide programs for workplace wellness but it is up to individuals to participate.

This is an excerpt of an article published in Mexico Health Review 2015, launched on September 7, 2015 at Mexico Health Summit

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