Human Capital & Careers

Get Well Soon

With ill executives costing companies time and money, that resolution to "get fit" may have to be taken seriously.
Eila RanaFebruary 4, 2008

The new year always prompts resolutions to get fit and healthy. CFOs should give this serious thought, for both personal and professional reasons. Last year, finance chiefs at technology companies nCipher and Servocell resigned due to ill health. Health problems also forced Andreas Bezold, CFO of Deutsche Postbank, to resign only four months after his appointment in 2004, leaving CEO Wulf von Schimmelmann to double as finance chief — doing his own health no favours — until a new CFO was found in early 2007.

Other senior executives could find themselves in a similar position if research from iHealth, a UK-based executive health-care company, is anything to go by. When the firm studied the results of clients’ recent medical checks, it found that 60% of the senior executives it screened had high levels of cholesterol; 50% were overweight; 40% didn’t get enough exercise; 30% had high blood pressure; and 20% had abnormal liver functions due to excess alcohol.

Companies face serious financial risks stemming from many executives’ “time-poor and highly stressed lifestyles,” says Stefan Wisbauer, CEO of iHealth. In addition, unhealthy executives may violate the terms of company-funded life insurance policies, Wisbauer claims. His firm offers a range of screening and diagnostic tests, alerting executives to early signs of health problems and offering advice on prevention.

One Goldman Sachs banker, based in Germany, liked iHealth’s services enough to consider offering them as a standard benefit to his senior team. “We recently had one of our senior people in the investment banking division take a health-determined break,” he says. With preventative measures, he’s hoping other staff won’t need such time off. “The more senior the people become, the more difficult it is to replace them,” he adds.

Vielife, a consultancy, reckons healthy employees have a direct impact on the bottom line. In October, it published the results of a year-long study of more than 600 employees at Anglo-Dutch consumer goods group Unilever, which found that workplace wellness programmes reduced employees’ health risks by 15% and led to a 10% increase in productivity at work — the equivalent of around one extra week a year per employee. In monetary terms, Vielife calculated Unilever’s ROI at more than €6 in benefits for every €1 spent. Over the course of the research, Unilever’s wellness programme cost around €100 per employee.

That pales in comparison to the benefits on offer at Pekkaniska, a Helsinki-based industrial equipment leasing group. (See “Fit as a Finn” at the end of this article.) More than €1,000 in annual health bonuses are on offer for each employee at the health-conscious company, including a €170 cash reward for anyone who can do more chin-ups than the managing director. This gives workers more incentive than most to redouble their training regimes after the usual holiday-season excesses.