Health push by Government
An interactive wellness programme for government employees will be launched next month in an effort to tackle the $12.8 million cost of public sector sick leave.
Workers were urged to take on the team-based challenge as part of a Throne Speech pledge that would place them at the front of a “strategic plan to halt the rise of obesity and diabetes in Bermuda”.
A Cabinet Office spokeswoman explained that 42,681 days were lost through illness last year, after employees each took an average of 9.6 sick days, and the figures were unsustainable.
Covering food choices, exercise, sleep and stress management, the scheme will be the first of its kind in the island's public service and is designed to develop long-lasting habits in a “culture of wellness”.
The spokeswoman said: “We must find ways to encourage healthy lifestyle choices and do all that is necessary to help make the more than 4,000 public officers as healthy as possible.”
She explained that in 2017 the Progressive Labour Party administration's Throne Speech vowed: “The Government will engage all sectors of society in a co-rdinated, strategic plan to halt the rise in obesity and diabetes in Bermuda.
“The Government will lead the way in wellness by encouraging its employees to make healthy choices, and will contribute to their wellbeing by offering programmes, incentives and education to support the journey to a healthier public service.”
An employee wellness committee was set up last year and members carried out “extensive research” before they settled on a scheme that addressed the needs of their island-wide colleagues.
The spokeswoman said that the cost of certified sick leave in 2018 was $9,687,287, with the Government's 4,455 employees each taking an average of 7.2 paid days.
Uncertified absence through illness was found to be worth $3,115,304, accumulated by an average of 2.4 days per worker.
Government Employee Health Insurance claims amounted to $63 million, the spokeswoman added. She said: “The health-related numbers within the public service are unsustainable and must be addressed from the front end.”
The spokeswoman added: “If you look closely at the numbers you will see that more than $9,600,000 was spent on certified sick days.
“This is indicative of an ageing workforce together with employees who have long-term illnesses. Our goal is to reduce these numbers by improving employees' health.”
She said the wellness committee, with the support of Derrick Binns, the head of the public service, and senior managers — introduced a Wellness in 2019 programme with a yearlong Global Challenge that will start with a “kickoff event” for participating staff members on July 10.
Teams will be made up of seven people, and the cost of $113 per head can be shared between the participant and the Government.
The spokeswoman added: “For 31 cents a day, we hope to see small changes in participants' health.
“Through the programme they will learn to make healthy food choices, understand the importance of adequate sleep, increase physical activity and begin to effectively manage stress, among other sustainable lifestyle choices.
“This is an important step for the public service. We want to create a culture of wellness.
“While there have been other options in the past, this is the first time we are introducing a holistic approach to managing the health of employees.”
The Global Challenge programme is run by Virgin Pulse, which is part of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group and “designs technology that cultivates good lifestyle habits for your employees”, according to its website.
It explained: “For over 15 years, this 12-month programme has been improving lives, boosting culture and camaraderie, increasing job satisfaction and productivity and reducing employee stress levels.
“Through an immersive and engaging experience, the Global Challenge addresses key elements of employee wellbeing including physical activity, nutrition, sleep and mental wellbeing.”
The website said that the team aspect created “healthy competition”, a support network and provided accountability.
Group members will each receive a starter kit that includes a Max Buzz activity tracker to monitor steps, sleep and the number of calories burnt.
Employees will find out how to assess their own health as they embark on the programme and will be able to measure their progress.
The Virgin Pulse website added: “Real-time reports allow employers to monitor overall health improvements across their workforces.”
Public servants will have access to an online platform and a smartphone app where they can take advantage of tips and advice and share their experiences with others involved in the scheme all over the world.
The Bermuda Government spokeswoman said employees still had time to sign up and should contact their head of department to show their interest.
She added: “With the introduction of this healthier living lifestyle tool, we anticipate public officers will, over time, adopt healthy choices.”
The sick leave total value of more than $12.8 million was an increase from the sum revealed in the 2013 Sage Commission report on spending and government efficiency, which said that employees' illness rates cost more than $10 million a year.
It said then that Bermuda public workers took an average of eight days off sick annually.