Survive the downturn with a healthy, "virtual" workforce
For a "virtual" workforce to succeed, managers need new skills to lead their teams, provide flexibility and ensure consistent communication, according to Unisys Asia Pacific's Petra Buchanan.
The value of health programs, and how to prove itWorkplace models providing flexibility are vital in retaining or attracting staff and in allowing businesses to have "fast access" to the right people when market opportunities arise, Buchanan says.
However, she notes that "softer" HR initiatives, such as health and wellbeing programs, are just as important, particularly where employees are in regular contact with external bodies and are therefore ambassadors for the company's brand.
"Healthy, motivated employees are a positive reflection on the company and can ultimately benefit the bottom line," she says. "Employee wellbeing is not a simple human resources matter. It impacts the wider business."
Unhealthy and stressed employees generally under-perform, she says, and are responsible for billions of dollars in lost productivity in Australia each year. Further, employees are even more prone to anxiety and ill health during an economic downturn.
Yet health and wellbeing initiatives will be scrutinised by company boards in the months to come, she warns, as employers look to cut costs and increase productivity.
HR managers will need to prove that programs deliver a return on investment and contribute directly to business results.
They need to think beyond the benefits to individual employees to the "balanced benefits" between the employee and the bottom line - or else the programs are likely to be slashed.
HR must be able to demonstrate that health and wellbeing programs result, for instance, in an improvement in productivity and a reduction in sick leave, Buchanan says.
Return on investment metrics, she says, will be a key HR tool in 2009.
Unisys's own health and wellbeing program, developed for its 1,800 Australia-based employees by Springboard Health and Performance, is a predominantly activities based, team-oriented program with a variety of online components, including information sources and record keeping.
The program, Buchanan says, has seen an overall improvement in employee health and, consequently, a 6.6 per cent increase in job satisfaction and a reduction in sick days from an average of three per employee per year to less than one, equating to a gain of more than 3,780 productive days annually.