Customizing cultures of health can reduce costs and improve well-being and productivity among employees, despite the challenges of implementing these programs globally, according to a new study by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work, supported and published by MetLife.

Chronic disease and lifestyle-related health issues are on the rise worldwide; from 2005-2015 alone, deaths from chronic disease are projected to reach 42 million – an increase of fully 17 percent. In order to effectively plan for sustainable workforces, employers operating globally are now compelled to integrate employee well-being into their business strategies.

The MetLife Study of Global Health and Wellness describes the best practices that four multinational companies – American Express, CEMEX, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and PPG Industries (PPG) – have taken to address these trends. In countries such as India, Mexico, China, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and the United States, these employers are redefining their work cultures to positively impact employee health and wellness.

“Creating a culture of health is a shared responsibility among businesses, local governments, and employees,” states Kathy Lynch, study principal investigator, “but the results are also shared. Employee health and wellbeing is a key distinguishing factor for employers seek to be “best in class” particularly in emerging markets such as Mexico and India.”

Facing common issues, such as local health costs, American Express, CEMEX, GSK and PPG all:

  • create cultures of health across their organizations rather than isolated programs;
  • tailor program responses by country; and
  • set key performance indicators that reflect overall employee well-being.

Specifically, American Express launched its comprehensive “healthy living” program to provide improved access to care, enhanced resources for employees, and a supportive work environment. The program features a wide range of benefits in each major market, customized with local culture and social programs in mind. “At American Express, we wanted to create a wellness program that represents our employees and meets their many diverse needs, thus creating a culture of understanding and health” explains American Express.

Of course, in-country factors have challenged the implementation of each companies’ programs.

“Having a global program is not a question of translating; it is also about making it culturally relevant,” comments PPG. The company’s new initiative, “Creating a Culture of Health,” seeks to add years to their employees life by encouraging personal responsibility for nurturing well-being. However, in order to overcome local skepticism of the US-developed program, PPG leaders adapted materials and communications to the needs of different regions and cultures.