Health is a hot topic, whether you are in Tokyo, Amsterdam or Vancouver. Managers must set an example here, too, and prevention pays off for everyone.
Oliver M.'s colleagues all agree: It can’t go on like this. M. hasn’t arrived at work on time for months. When he does finally come into the office, his hands are shaking, and an hour later the slight smell of alcohol is impossible to ignore.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 140 million people worldwide are alcohol-dependent. In the USA, it is the number one risk factor for secondary diseases. However, it is the European region of the WHO which records the highest levels of alcohol consumption – over 20 percent of adults in Europe get drunk relatively regularly. According to WHO estimates, the costs for Europe caused by alcohol consumption are around EUR 125 billion. EUR 59 billion of this can be attributed to losses of production caused by absence, unemployment and premature mortality.
Oliver M.’s colleagues know that they have to do something, but they don’t know where to start. Subtly bringing up the problem with Oliver M. has not been very successful so far, and the boss also seemed a little out of his depth when they carefully drew his attention to what was happening.
“In the past, the companies often didn’t come to us until something had happened. It’s different now,” says Dr. Katja Krückemeyer, Product Manager in Health Management at TÜV Rheinland. It doesn’t have to be a severe case of alcohol dependency : Personal problems or difficulties at work are enough to trigger a fall in productivity or a loss of motivation. In the worst case scenario, if multiple stress factors accumulate over longer periods, the symptoms can escalate into depression or burnout.
More and more people are taking absence from work due to emotional problems. While 0.6 days of absence were recorded for every 100 health insurance customers due to burnout in 2004, this had risen to nine days by 2011, according to findings of the German Chamber of Psychotherapists (BPtK). 121 million people around the world are affected by depression. Levels are higher in rich countries than in poor ones, and the number of people suffering from depression is particularly high – over 30 percent – in France, the Netherlands and the USA: In Germany alone, the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) estimates that losses in production caused by incapacity to work due to psychological illness cost the economy around EUR 39 million (2010).
“With our Employee Assistance Program, EAP for short, we support companies in their health management in a targeted and comprehensive way,” explains Dr. Katja Krückemeyer. EAP is a professional external consultancy service which employers provide to their staff and managers. When problem situations arise in their professional or personal lives, employees have a contact person who can give them advice and support. EAP is available to all staff at the company and offers professional help in stress situations. Using anonymous hotlines or in personal, one-toone meetings, the staff can gain advice on health, psychological and personal problems and receive support in looking for further assistance.
Katja Krückemeyer makes it clear: “The consultancy we offer our staff is not therapy. It merely serves as a rst point of contact and an initial diagnosis, be- fore suitable ways to deal with the problem are found.” Despite this, consultancy takes an average of three to ve sessions, all of which remain anony- mous. The company receives an anonymous report at regular intervals. “We can use this as a basis to identify weak points and develop opportunities for improvement,” says Dr. Krückemeyer. In Oliver M.’s case, his supervisor can refer him to the expert at the external staff advisory service. The advisor is trained in dealing with alcoholics and is able to use empathy and targeted inquiries to approach Oliver M. They agree that he will seek treatment from his family doctor. Advisors and staff remain in contact and the steps towards a solution are documented in the report. “We offer a range of different packages for booking, so the TÜV Rheinland Life Care Division provides support to many smaller companies, as well as the large ones,” reports Dr. Katja Krückemeyer.
For example, a company can arrange for professional advisors to be available on the free hotline either only on workdays or also on Saturday mornings. Personal consultancy on site is also possible. As well as ex- ternal employee consultancy, there is also a series of different modules which support companies in health management. The measures stretch from work technique training and coaching for man- agers to medical check-ups.
TÜV Rheinland also offers a wide-ranging portfolio of services when it comes to occupational integration management, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. Staff who are frequently ill or who are off for more than six weeks require particular support from their employers. TÜV Rheinland takes the strain off companies in this area with professional ex- pertise in labor and social law, by using an IM Plus manager to compile, implement and monitor the integration plan, and by offering coaching. Health management starts at the very top level of management. “Obviously, managers who con- stantly rush around at high speed, ignore their bodies’ warning signals and demand top performance at all times are setting a bad example,” considers Iris Dohmen, Head of Occupational, Company and Organizational Psychology at TÜV Rheinland. She knows that there is a direct link between the management behavior of the boss and the amount of time the staff in his office take off sick. Economic pressure today forces people to reflect on their own working behavior.
“In our seminars, managers learn to recognize stress reac- tions and identify a spiral of overload,” reports Iris Dohmen. Hierarchical levels are kept strictly separated when putting the groups of participants together, and the companies themselves define the topics focused on. “We usually use current cases as a starting point and discuss these examples,” explains Iris Dohmen. According to her, the most important thing is to remove the taboo from topics. Supervisors who do not know how to behave towards an employee with depression or alcohol dependency tend to look the other way. Iris Dohmen sees company doctors playing a key role here, too. They are the first to recognize the need, notice when illness becomes more frequent in a particular department and see the helplessness of the management.
In the seminars, managers are given tools which they can use, for example, to initiate and conduct a health meeting. After all, someone who is falling back into his old ways after a heart attack needs to be spoken to. A top performer who suddenly starts to make a noticeably large number of errors needs a sensitive word. An alcoholic needs to know that he is being watched and that the company is looking after him. Health days and medical check-ups in a relaxed atmosphere which pleasantly combines diagnosis, fitness and wellness support the sense of community within a company.
After checking their heart, circulation and blood test results, the staff can slip into a warm thermal spa – raising their awareness of health-conscious behavior in a positive way. Health can only be maintained holistically – both professional and personal aspects have to be included. The health program therefore also includes diet, sports and relaxation alongside management training and occupational medicine.
“In all the check-ups we offer, doctors, psychologists and therapists must all maintain confidentiality at all times,” emphasizes Regional Head of Department Dr. Petra Göddertz. A study by the consultancy firm Booz & Company, on behalf of the Felix Burda Foundation, on the role of company prevention for the future viability of Germany as a business location showed that money invested in this area ultimately pays off. Using preventive measures, companies can reduce costs caused by illness and increase staff productivity.
In fact, the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) estimates that 30 to 40 percent of incapacity times could be prevented by measures within companies themselves. In the study, Booz & Company calculates that each euro invested in company prevention is repaid with five to 16 euros at a macroeconomic level. Half to two thirds of the saving in this calculation are due to the reduction in absence. Thanks to his colleagues’ early action, Oliver M.’s future looks bright. The earlier alcohol dependency is treated, the better the prognosis for success. M.’s company management was grateful that, with the health experts from TÜV Rheinland, they had found an external cooperation partner who has everything under control. 80 percent of German companies now recognize the benefits of company health management, but only a third of them actually implement appropriate measures.