Preventive healthcare pays off

People who feel good – both physically and mentally – do a better job

“Let your heart guide your career and your brain your lifestyle,” says Maria Zalamans of Nordnet. If you check out her business card, you’ll see the title HR manager. That means she is responsible for the human resources of the company. In other words, the people.

Nordnet is a Swedish brokerage firm with 270 employees in six countries. It is the type of company in which the employees are the key to success. Here, there are no machines spitting out products around the clock. The better the employees, the greater the chances of the company succeeding. That’s why it’s only natural that Maria Zalamans is also part of the management team.

The finance industry has a reputation for taking its toll on its (often young) workers. The average age at Nordnet is 32. But despite the low levels of sick leave, Maria is convinced that there a great deal stress and bad habits lie hidden under the surface with many. The problem with young people is that they sometimes forget to take care of themselves in their zest to perform well. That’s why it’s necessary that the company management emphasizes the importance of a healthy lifestyle and even serves as a role model.

“We offer all of our employees membership in World Class and we make sure a decent breakfast and fruit are available for them at work,” explains Maria Zalamans. “Management offers the conditions and opportunities for employees to take care of themselves and we bring up issues dealing with living a healthy lifestyle. Then, it’s up to each individual to take advantage of what we offer.”

People who feel good – both physically and mentally – do a better job. It’s as simple as that according to Maria, who considers herself an example of that. Because she’s worked out ambitiously over the years, she has been able to handle stress and stringent demands while doing what it takes to manage her private life with three teenage children.

Nordnet has a clear health policy modeled on World Class Total Care. This means healthcare, check-ups, preventive healthcare and exercise all come from the same supplier. Having access to a doctor or nurse where you go to workout is appealing to Maria, who thinks it’s a more stimulating environment than a hospital or medical center.

At the time of the interview, we were in the middle of a financial crisis we had never seen the like of before. Naturally, this has affected most companies. Everyone is scrutinizing costs and anything that is easy to get rid of disappears first. Preventive healthcare costs could easily be an example of such. But Nordnet takes the opposite approach.

“In difficult times, it’s even more important to focus on fitness and health to have both mental and physical stamina,” says Maria Zalamans. “Previously, everyone over 35 underwent checkups. Starting next year, all employees will have that option. We do this to catch any ill health in time. Sick leave is not problematic here. On the contrary, our problem lies with young, ambitious employees who show up to work despite being sick.”

Employers are allowed to give their employees a gym membership.There is no fixed amount allowed for this. It varies from location to location. But, when Nordnet wanted to add a few pairs of sneakers to further encourage people to exercise, the Swedish Tax Office came back with a resounding NO – that would be taxed as a benefit. Maria would love a more generous approach. 50 percent Nordnet’s employees have opted for a World Class membership and another 15 percent have taken preventive healthcare contribution in another form. Many also exercise regularly, either in the facility next door to the office in Alvik or at a facility close to home. According to Maria, proximity is key. It must be easy to get to the fitness center.

She also has a few particularly important tips for employers who want their preventive healthcare efforts to pay off. Create the best conditions possible for the employees, particularly in bad times. It’s best to have a whole array of opportunities so everyone can find what works best for them. Managers should try to be good role models – eat right, exercise, take a walk instead of sitting in a conference room if possible. The benefits that managers will see are clear – healthy and happy employees are more productive and thereby more profitable. That’s easy enough, isn’t it?

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