In The Workplace

We have a low participation rate of 40% on average for our annual medical exam over the past three years. People tell us they’re too busy to leave their jobs as the exam takes about three hours to complete. Our chief executive officer (CEO) is worried that some employees may be taking illegal drugs. He’s also thinking of withholding the health benefits to those who are non-compliant, or even charge them with insubordination. What do you suggest? — Pearly Shell.

My top-of-the-mind diagnosis of your company’s low participation rate centers on how you manage the buildup to your annual medical exam. I suspect it is being treated as a routine event, with no creative flair and style injected into your announcements. That is my best guess for what is happening in your organization.

Many companies do the same thing over and over, with the result being low participation rates, which the human resource (HR) department does almost nothing to address.

Take diabetes as a common health issue. An organization can do something by using a simple practical approach. So, what’s my “simple practical approach”? I know of some companies allowing their workers to have an unlimited supply of rice for lunch in their cafeteria. 

Another organization gives unlimited coffee to their workers as part of their benefits. How does this contribute to health issues among the workers that may ultimately lead to absenteeism or prolonged absences? 

Of course, these examples are benevolent acts of management. However, the missing context is that these organizations issue regular medical bulletins to warn employees that they should take good care of their health by giving them reliable information from medical authorities. 

You don’t have to spend big money to make your employees take the medical exam seriously. The answer to your predicament lies in value-adding interventions that would make the examination process easier, faster, interesting, and enjoyable. Here are some things I would recommend:

One, issue regular bulletins about health issues. Have a baseline of actual data collected by your medical service provider and use this to convince people to take the medical exam. If diabetes and high cholesterol levels are prominent in your workforce, educate your workers on how to avoid these conditions and actively monitoring their health.

Two, make it easy for the workers to participate in medical check-ups. If you have space, allow your service provider to bring its medical team and laboratory equipment to the workplace. Major clinics can bring their mobile x-ray units and other equipment inside the premises or even the car park area.

Three, require line leaders to encourage the workers to take the exam. The idea is to give employees no reason to delay taking the exam, not even busy workloads. Make the team leaders, supervisors and managers arrange a work schedule that would rule out workload as an excuse.

Four, make employees take the exam by birth month. Birthdays are a good occasion to plant the idea in the workers’ minds that they should take care of their health. Offer healthy snack treats as they await their turn if the exam is performed in the workplace. Invite pharma companies to distribute free samples of vitamins and donate prizes like coffee mugs or t-shirts for people celebrating birthdays.   

Five, offer a ‘wellness bonus’ for workers not taking sick leave. This “bonus” does not have to mean cash. Multi-vitamins or supplements are a possibility. Whatever “bonus” you may decide on, take into consideration the savings a company may realize from reduced premiums if the health plan is not used much.

Six, organize a ‘biggest loser’ contest. This recognizes workers who have adopted diet and exercise routines with prizes suited to your budget. The more attractive the prize is, the higher the medical exam participation rate will be. Such contests are also fun and foster camaraderie.

Last, get monthly feedback from those who have undergone the medical exam. You can always improve the management of the exam process by getting feedback. Imagine the data you can generate every month. While it’s true that you can’t act on all ideas, especially those involving additional costs, it’s important to hear that the workers care about their well-being.

Management can always wield an iron fist, especially when medical costs are rising every year. However, I would advise against issuing threats like withholding medical coverage or insubordination proceedings, which should be a last resort.

It can be extremely frustrating and emotionally draining to find yourself constantly confronted with employee complaints, even if you don’t have a labor union. Sometimes, complaints are unavoidable, but do something to minimize them.

The best approach is persuasion and making the medical exam attractive in some way.


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