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Companies in Malaysia have the second highest number of days lost in terms of work time per employee per year compared to their peers in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia, according to Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace by AIA Vitality survey.

The survey findings – released by AIA in Kuala Lumpur recently – placed Malaysia after Hong Kong, with a total of 67 days lost per employee per year.

The survey also brought to the fore the issue of presenteeism, which refers to lost productivity from employees who show up to work even though they are unwell. Results showed that out of the 67 days lost, 58.8 days were due to presenteeism while the remaining 8.2 days were attributed to actual absence from work.

“To put things into perspective, this means that the average annual cost of health-related absence and presenteeism per organisation in Malaysia is estimated at RM2.7 million,” said Dr Christian van Stolk, Vice President of RAND Europe, the research agency commissioned by AIA to conduct this first ever comprehensive science-backed workplace survey in Malaysia.

The study, which was modelled after the well-established Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, was also carried out in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia.

A total of 47 companies of small, medium and large sizes located in urban areas across Malaysia participated in the survey, with 5,369 employees providing feedback on health and wellbeing at their respective places of work between May 18, 2017 and July 18, 2017.

Speaking at the opening of Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace Summit held at the Hilton Kuala Lumpur recently, AIA Malaysia’s Chief Executive Officer Anusha Thavarajah said it was high time for employers to take a closer look at the health and wellbeing of their people, especially given that working Malaysians spend most of their waking hours at work.

“There has been little focus on the role of employers in championing good health at the workplace so far. As the country’s leading provider of employee benefits schemes, AIA believes that this survey serves as a fantastic platform that will not only help to promote awareness on the importance of workplace health and wellbeing among employers and employees, but will also enable and encourage constructive discussions and actions around this increasingly important topic. After all, having a healthy workforce is good for business,” she added.

Dr van Stolk said one of the reasons why employees came to work despite feeling under the weather was because of the job demands they faced.

“Research studies have shown that presenteeism can be linked to workplace policies which have been put in place to manage absenteeism. Job demands also come into play, with heavy workloads, understaffing, overtime and looming deadlines all motivating people to work even though they are in less than optimal health,” he explained when presenting the findings.

He said the survey also found that Malaysian employees reported more health risks than their peers in the other three countries. This was driven by behaviours and factors such as poor nutrition, physical inactivity, long hours spent at work, a lack of sleep and stress observed in the Malaysian respondents which negatively impacted their health.

Of the employees surveyed, 90% do not have a balanced diet, 64% reported being physically inactive where they remain sedentary throughout most of their working hours, 56% sleep less than seven hours a night with 67% reporting at least one sleep problem, 53% have at least one dimension of work-related stress and 12% experience high levels of anxiety or depressive symptoms.

Malaysians also work the longest hours – on average 15 hours more than their contracted hours each week, compared to employees in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia.

“It is not surprising that 97% of Malaysian employees have an AIA Vitality age that is higher than their actual age – higher than in Hong Kong and Singapore (95% respectively) and Australia (86%).

“They also have the highest AIA Vitality Age Gap compared to their actual age, where the bigger the gap, the unhealthier they are. In Malaysia the gap is 5.5 years, compared to 3.6 years in Hong Kong, 4.5 years in Singapore and 3.4 years in Australia,” Dr van Stolk pointed out.

However, it is not all gloom and doom. The good news from this survey is that Malaysian employees are very motivated to change their lifestyles – 90% have indicated that they want to lose weight, while 65% are eager to improve their levels of physical activity.

Associate Professor Dr Wee Lei Hum from the Faculty of Health Sciences at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, the local academic partner on the study, said employers have a huge role to play in enabling employees to act on their motivation to change.

(From left) Assoc Prof Dr Wee, Anusha and Dr van Stolk discuss workplace health during the AIA Vitality survey press conference.

“The key to successful behavioural change is through the promotion of health and wellness strategies in the workplace and making sure that they are ingrained in the organisational culture. This can only be achieved with strong support from employers,” she said.

Of the employers surveyed, 91% said they offer at least one workplace intervention programme to their employees, although Dr van Stolk observed that more needed to be done by employers to increase awareness and take-up rate.

In Malaysia, 58% of employees on average participate in at least one intervention. However, only 14% of employees are aware of all the health and well-being programmes offered by their employer.

Echoing his sentiment, Anusha said the Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace by AIA Vitality survey was designed to be a catalyst to get employers to place employee health and wellbeing at the centre of their corporate strategy.

“Armed with insights and data on their employees’ health and wellbeing, companies can now pursue proactive interventions that can affect positive behavioural change among their people.

“Over time, we believe that these interventions will help companies provide better workplaces to attract and retain people, improve employee engagement and ultimately increase business productivity. It will be a win for the employee, a win for the employer and a win for Malaysia,” she remarked.

For more information on the 2017 Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace survey findings, visit

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