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A company health program that marries business interest and employees’ interest

Employee health and well-beingShould employees’ general health be the concern of the company, or is it a private matter altogether? How can a big organisation help its employees look after their own health, and make them more conscious of their lifestyle?

One of the participants in the Best of HR project shared with us his story of introducing an All-Employee Health Program into his organisation. This is what the manager responsible for the program said:

“Well-being – one of the three major factors in job performance”

There are three main factors that determine an individual’s job performance:

  • their professional competences and skills
  • their motivation
  • the employee’s general health and well-being

Companies are usually very active when it comes to recognising and developing employees’ skills; for example, using competence-based interview techniques during the recruitment process, or through on-the-job training. They also try to place a lot of emphasis on motivation: more and more companies run regular employee engagement surveys so that they can work out how best to motivate their staff.

However, employees’ general health and well-being is usually deemed to be out of the scope of the HR department.

But in our company of 500 employees, most of whom are manual workers performing physically demanding tasks, we believe that it is worth investing in our employees’ health: it is beneficial for the individual and it also makes sound business sense: healthy employees are more focused, more motivated, take fewer days off sick, and are generally fitter to perform well.

Two years ago we launched our “Sunflower Program” with the aim of raising employees’ awareness of their own health by providing everybody in our company with regular medical check-ups, feedback and professional advice.

“Our health program is the new pillar supporting our organisational culture”

The “Sunflower Program” is part of a bigger concept. For many years we have fostered an organisational culture where informal relationships and friendships are important and where people can appreciate their own contribution to the company’s success. We organise regular team-building activities, all-employee meetings, and family days when even retired colleagues are invited. We are a community and we care about our people.

Their health is important to us too, and they clearly appreciate this care. So our health program is not just based on a cold business calculation – it is also a gesture of real care.

“How we introduced the programme and how it is currently working”

  • From a management-only approach to an all-staff solution. In our company regular health screening for managers has been part of the benefits package for years, so the idea of regular medical check-ups wasn’t new. However, offering this to 500 employees, including all our factory workers, was a big step.
  • Money matters. The company bought this service as an option in an insurance policy. We received a good offer from the insurance company, making it affordable for us.
  • Different employees receive different services. First of all we determined a health-risk category for each employee, according to their age and their job description. We created a two-dimensional matrix to determine the level of cover. We didn’t want to overcomplicate things, so we stuck to a simple 4×4 matrix: 4 age groups and 4 job categories depending on how hard and stressful the given job is. “Low-risk” employees are entitled to have a check-up every two years, whereas colleagues who are ranked as “high-risk” have an annual check-up, plus they receive some additional services.
  • What we have checked. The basic check-up includes a blood test, a stool test, a general physical examination, an abdominal and a carotid artery ultrasound, plus an eye test. On top of this, all women can opt to have a gynaecological examination, while all men can have a urological examination.
  • Cooperation with the trade union. I made sure to involve the union in the preparation phase: it was important that not everything was decided by the management. The union conducted a survey among employees to find out what types of medical exam they would find important. Based on these employee requests, we added the eye test to the list.
  • Medical evaluation and lifestyle advice to all employees. After the medical exam employees don’t just receive their results; they also get a detailed evaluation, together with appropriate medical advice, in written form. This evaluation also includes suggestions about lifestyle-changes, etc. In this document the doctor uses everyday language rather than medical jargon so that every employee understands what it means – after all, the goal is to raise their awareness and to encourage them to lead a healthier life.
  • The medical centre comes to the factory. In Budapest there is a central medical centre in town where all employees go for their check-up. In the countryside however, where most of our blue-collar employees work, a mobile medical centre equipped with all the necessary equipment goes to the factory.
  • Participation in the Sunflower Program is naturally not compulsory. Nonetheless, it operates on an opt-out basis. Each year all employees who are entitled to have their check-up during the year are scheduled for their medical exam unless they explicitly state that they would like to opt out. But this is very rare – over 95% of our employees take part in the program.

“How we know that it has been a success”

  • Fewer sick days. Absenteeism is probably one of the best KPIs to measure the success of such an initiative. Absenteeism in our company has gone down since we started the Sunflower Program.
  • Discovering medical problems at an early stage. Saving an employee from suffering a serious illness is perhaps the program’s most conspicuous success. There have already been occasions when a medical problem has been uncovered during a regular check-up that would have been much more serious had it been diagnosed later.
  • Satisfied employees. Two years after introducing the “Sunflower Program” the union conducted a survey of the employees. We received some very positive feedback from that. People are satisfied with the program; it clearly makes a difference to them not only physically but also emotionally.


The manager submits that these days, in the age of globalisation and given that information is more and more easily accessible, perhaps the real difference between brands and products on the market is reliability; in other words, whether the company can reliably provide the same high quality over a period of time. He suggests that those companies who have a stable background of healthy and engaged employees have a better chance in the market place. This is why he believes that it makes perfect business sense for the company to look after its employees.