Eight hour 'Live Well' benefit for employees believed to be first in New Zealand

Monday , 18 June 2018 by Jo Lawrence-King

Southern Cross Health Society has announced the one-year trial of a ‘Live Well’ day: offering all employees up to eight hours’ paid leave to attend personal health, wellbeing and ‘life admin’ appointments.

From 1 July 2018 all permanent and fixed term employees will be able to use hours from their work day (up to a maximum of eight hours for a full time employee, pro-rated for a part time employee) to attend, for example:

  • Preventative screening and general physical health checks
  • Budgeting or financial advice
  • Dental appointments
  • Physio appointments
  • Specialist or clinician appointments

“We think it’s crucial we walk our own talk around giving Kiwis assurance about their health and wellbeing,” says Nick Astwick, Southern Cross Health Society’s Chief Executive. “We’re leading the way by empowering our employees to be well and stay well.”

“We are not aware of any other New Zealand business offering this to its staff as a stand-alone benefit.”

The Live Well day is the latest in a range of benefits offered by the Health Society. Others include health insurance, a paid volunteer day a year, the chance to earn an extra day off as a reward for achieving wellness targets and the opportunity to ‘buy’ two weeks’ extra leave by setting aside a small portion of salary. The business also offers benefits such as activity tracking using wearable devices, influenza and shingles vaccinations, workshops and a health kiosk, where employees can get a snapshot of their height, weight, body mass index (BMI) and blood pressure.

Businesses are not legally required to give employees paid time off to visit the doctor, dentist or other health professionals when the employee is not actually sick, although some do offer a flexible approach, allowing employees time off for appointments as unpaid work, or to work the hours back. However, Astwick explains, “Flexible hours don’t fit all roles at Southern Cross, and we wanted to offer a transparent system that all employees can access.”

The Health Society will review the success of the Live Well day throughout the trial period to see whether there is a corresponding drop off in the use of sick leave as a result of employees seeking preventative health care. The business will consider extending the pilot for a further year if the impact is considered positive. The business estimates that sick leave cost the business nearly $1.5 million in 2017. With around 600 employees it calculates the cost of providing each employee with eight Live Well hours will be about $180,000 per annum.

“We hope our people will be better able to maintain their health and wellbeing by attending those important ‘life admin’ appointments and getting in early to address any health or wellbeing concerns,” says Astwick.

Health Society customer service representative Carolynne MacDonald agrees. “I find I put off seeing people like my dentist and my doctor, because after-hours appointments are so hard to get,” she explains. “The eight Live Well hours will be fantastic to help get my check-ups and finally get around to talking to a financial advisor.”

The Live Well day is part of Southern Cross Health Society’s workplace wellbeing programme. Inspired by the success of that programme, the Health Society this year launched its new offering, BeingWell, to support large and small New Zealand businesses in supporting the wellbeing of their employees.