Corporate health: the bottom line

Investing in your staff’s health

business-travellers_webWith more and more of the world’s workforce mobilising and a recent report stating that failed assignments can cost up to nearly USD 1 million, it really pays to look after your people. Harold Pradal, International SOS China General Manager, explains how organisations can reap financial benefits from effective employee risk management.

In search of new markets and greater profits the global workforce is mobilising in a way never seen before. Employees are now travelling in greater numbers, with more frequency and to more far flung destinations. Within this context, the health risk exposure of an organisation is increased significantly, causing a giant headache for HR staff, CFOs and CEOs. Modern mobility risk exposure means hospital bills that go on and on, complex medical evacuations and disruption of business operations. Or does it? Our recent study on Return on Prevention seems to point to the opposite.

To give this topic some background and highlight the increasing importance of mobility in the global economy, a recently released PWC report, entitled Talent Mobility; 2020 and Beyond, highlights the dramatic change in mobile workforce trends across the globe. International assignees have increased by 25 per cent over the last decade and by 2020 there will be a further 50 per cent growth. Additionally, the report points to the diversification of business travel by 2020, stating that alongside the growth of cross-border acquisition, a more mature developing world and greater security cooperation, borders will be broken down, allowing for more liberal and diverse business travel.

This will manifest itself through a change in the make-up of the mobile workforce. No longer will expatriates be made up of middle-aged men from the developed world travelling to the developing world for long-term assignments. Instead, there will be an increase in short-term assignments of staff from developing economies. One only has to look at the increase of globalisation of BRICS countries to see this trend. In the 2015 Fortune Global 500 List there are 98 Chinese companies, three of which are in the top 10. Employees from China’s leading organisations are travelling across the globe, notably to the Middle East and Africa, in droves – this is the perfect example of the changing face of global mobility.

With the diversification of mobility, corporations need to adapt the methods with which they look after those most valuable, and most at risk, staff away on assignment. As the aforementioned report states, employees are travelling to more risky and remote locations and this means healthcare is of primary importance. Indeed, it has been found that 38 per cent of business travellers suffer health impairment, ranging from minor to major health issues. Additionally, 14 per cent of business travellers are incapacitated, either for a short or long period of time. Taking corporate health seriously and implementing a stringent policy also means that staff can continue working with no ill effects on normal business operations. After all, no one can be effective working from a hospital bed.

Seeing the changing face of mobility and the increase in health risks that employees face, we embarked on a study to celebrate our 30th anniversary and to coincide with the changing business landscape. Why is this important you may ask? Well, with the Return on Prevention report uncovering that international assignments cost on average USD 311,000, and the cost of a failed assignment falls somewhere between USD 570,000 and USD 950,000, organisations need to take note.

With these serious figures in mind, how can businesses ensure that these costs are avoided? The Return on Prevention study points to a solid duty of care policy that can not only protect staff, but can somewhat surprisingly even bring positive financial returns.

The first area the report looks at is the benefits of pre-health screening – that is, a medical programme to check mobile employees for their ability to complete assignments. The study found through a cost-benefit analysis that every USD 1 spent on medical check programmes for international assignees results in a maximum return of USD 2.53. Medical checks can uncover pre-existing conditions as well as ensure that the staff member in question is fit to take the role prior to departure. If you were to think of a large multinational corporation, and how many business travellers they must have, this return per traveller is by no means small change.

The report highlights another crucial area of corporate health. In 2015, the World Health Organization reported that there have been roughly 214 million cases of malaria across the globe resulting in an estimated 438,000 deaths. Malaria for many companies—especially Chinese companies with their recent huge investments in Africa—causes significant business disruption. The Return on Prevention study reports that every USD 1 invested in a malaria prevention programme, returns on average USD 1.32. With a malaria programme encompassing employee education, provision of prophylaxis medication and a testing kit, it also reduces malaria-related deaths by 70 per cent on average – a statistic that matters far more than corporate cost savings.

The Return on Prevention study shows the importance of having a rigid duty of care policy for employees, a concept that is just taking off in China. Not only are staff better cared for and feel more highly valued, but they are also better equipped to face medical risks whilst on the road. This in turn means that employees are less likely to get sick, causing business disruption and incurring massive costs for failed assignments. Essentially, taking preventative measures is a win-win approach for businesses and business travellers: it keeps HR staff, CEOs and CFOs happy, but most importantly it keeps our people safe.

International SOS is the world’s leading medical and travel security risk services company, caring for clients across the globe, from more than 850 locations in 92 countries. International SOS pioneers a range of preventive programs, helping clients put Duty of Care into practice and strengthened by in-country expertise. The expertise of International SOS is unique: More than 11,000 employees are led by 1,400 doctors and 200 security specialists. Teams work night and day to protect clients.