Shanghai Workplace Wellness: Programs and Issues

Expat Shanghai Workplace Wellness, Health and Safety Advice

Living and working in Shanghai can be an exciting experience. The city’s embracing culture is further enhanced by Shanghai’s international influences, making life within Shanghai both rich and colorful.

As with every booming city comes health concerns for many living and working in Shanghai, especially for expats.

Health and wellness is a growing problem in the busy Shanghai workplace

We have a list of English speaking Wellness Service Providers in Shanghai below. Click here to skip directly to the lists.

Shanghai Workplace Wellness Report

Aikang Guobin (爱康国宾) http://www.ikang.com/, the largest physical exam company within China, recently revealed the health status of Shanghai’s workforce.

According to their Ikang Healthcare report "Green paper on the Health of Employees in Chinese Enterprises", the leading ailments of employees (within Chinese companies) discovered during annual physical exams include:

  1. Neck concerns
  2. Vision disorders
  3. Weight problems (overweight or obese)
  4. Gastro-intestinal conditions
  5. Cardio-vascular diseases
  6. Respiratory diseases

Ailments from the annual physical exam (APE) raised concerns regarding health conditions of the overall workforce within China.

As reported by Shanghai FESCO according to the APE, 94 percent of participants indicate ailments. Though the exam is open to debate about the necessity of certain items such as the indication of a "fatty liver", the health report does acknowledge an upward trend in weight concerns.

For instance from 2009 to 2013, thyroid disorders, osteopenia (a potential precursor for osteoporosis), and overweight issues increased annually; tripling within five years time.

In 2009, the overweight rate represented just 11.6 percent of participants, but exploded to reach 54.3 percent in 2013.

Most of the aforementioned leading ailments can be attributed to job pressure, urban disease, diet, living style, etc. Typical health risk factors for Shanghai’s overall workforce are referenced in the next section, and serve to educate Shanghai expats and native employees alike.

Shanghai expat residents also need to be aware of potential hazards regarding personal health in reference to adapting to working habits within China. Shanghai’s workforce is accustomed to frequent overtime, incessant dining out, for both business needs and convenience (causing increased likeliness of stomach and digestion ailments).

Addressing these potential hazards can be a simple matter of adhering to the steps as discussed in the sections to follow.

The first step is to identify typical health risk factors as noted in the context below.

Health and wellness can be improved by implementing company-wide policies and programs

Typical Health Risk Factors Within the Shanghai Workplace

Air quality in Shanghai:
Aside from overwhelming cigarette use, general air pollution remains a serious matter, and even more so than ten years ago. Thus, air pollution within Shanghai represents one of the leading causes of respiratory disease within the city.

Over 70 percent of Shanghai residents are highly concerned about the nature of haze and air pollution, which has become especially prevalent during the winter months in recent years.

Awareness of the daily Air Quality Index and pollution level offers a good start to preventative action. Reducing outdoor activity and investing in and wearing a quality mask during raised levels of air pollution, especially during the commute to work, represent viable options for protecting individual health.

Obesity and overweight concerns:
Obesity-related health problems and endocrine disease can be directly attributed to diet and sleep habits, as well as mental and emotional factors.

General causes associated with weight gain include high-fat food intake, long-term sitting, lack of daily exercise, long workings hours, increased mental stress etc.

It is advised for Shanghai expats to eat at home more often, and cook with healthy ingredients, as well as ensure the food in the cafeteria at your Shanghai workplace is healthy.

"RSI" – Repetitive strain injury:
Extensive office hours sitting in front of a computer can cause health concerns within the workforce.

Office workers are particularly susceptible to ailments such as mouse hand pain to lumbar disease. A stiff neck, tight shoulders, sore back, headache and mental fatigue are common problems among office staff, especially those who sit for long hours in front of a computer.

Regular exercise is recommended, based on a comprehensive workplace wellness program.

Food and diet safety:
A healthy diet may simply be considered a "daydream" if employees must choose between eating out and dining in at the company canteen.

Typically office workers obtain lunch within the company canteen or within a nearby restaurant where high-calorie food, minimal vegetables and lower hygiene standards exist as potential health risks.

Fast food outlets and small canteens in Shanghai lack food safety management procedures, signifying the norm within China.

A change in diet culture and lifestyle could also serve as a hazard for Shanghai expat staff or non-regional employees, whereas the stomach needs time to adapt.

Depression caused by extensive commuter time:
Shanghai's workforce commonly spends more than one hour (each way) commuting to work. A reported small percentage of the workforce exceeds one hour – sometimes traveling up to four hours each way.

Studies show that even commuting for more than 30 minutes (per way) decreases general happiness. This decrease in happiness contributes to growing incidence of depression within the Shanghai workforce.

Shanghai expat managers could consider the living location of their staff and discuss this issue with them.

Frequent travel health risks:
Shanghai is one of the world’s economic centers and the central city of East China.  International and national companies set headquarter offices within Shanghai with factories and affiliate departments spread all over the country.

Salesmen, department leaders and support teams typically become frequent travelers.

The top six health risk factors (and preventative measures) for frequent travelers include:

  1. Insects: repellents, mosquito nets, antimalarial medication
  2. Ingestion: safety of drinking water, food
  3. Indiscretion: protection against HIV, STD’s
  4. Injury: accident avoidance, personal safety
  5. Immersion: schistosomiasis (avoidance of local water supply)
  6. Insurance: adequate coverage and services during travel, access to healthcare
Diet is an important component of expat wellness, with obesity levels rising

Diarrhea, jet leg, and food safety represent the leading problems that occur during travel. Frequent traveler health advice from the WHO and CDC includes:

  • Plentiful rest prior to traveling
  • Avoidance of sitting or stationary positions at length
  • Awareness of air quality
  • Regulated diet and attention to food hygiene
  • Awareness and preparation of travel across timezones
  • Preplanned itinerary prior to traveling, and collect security and health information significant to destination
  • Attendance of routine First Aid training
  • Preparation of a First Aid bag for traveling
  • Avoidance of traveling unaccompanied when in remote or potentially unsafe areas

Local Healthcare in Shanghai

In Shanghai, an Expat Manager should be aware of the lack of good preventative health guidance their employees receive from local hospitals.

Typically, medical personnel take a quick assessment of the problem and administer a prescription within a mere two-minute consultation.

Thus, implementing an in-house wellness program could yield significant dividends regarding employee health.

Lack of scientific understanding within the realm of Health Management creates another health risk for both Shanghai expat Managers and employees.

"Health Management" remains an elusive concept for many of Shanghai's employees, though it's the employers that primarily lack clear understanding of this idea.

Every year, Shanghai companies set up strategies for HES (Health, Environment and Safety), HR, and employee health etc. Typically, there exists an APE (annual physical exam) for employees, Health and Medical Insurance, Gym Card, etc.

Feedback from a Shanghai HR Manager Regarding Wellness Programs at Work

Company representatives such as Miss Li, an HR Manager of an auto parts enterprise, remarked, "We tried our best to care for our staff’s health, but employees don't take it as a benefit from the employer, since every company has this service provided."

When confronted with the issue of employee participation, Miss Li's response emphasizes the concern that without a clear understanding of Health Management employees aren’t apt to take advantage of health benefits being offered.

Awareness and promotion are essential to the success of a workplace wellness program in Shanghai.

Miss Li further reports that in her experience after taking an APE, employees commonly seek hospital-affiliated doctors for any discovered ailments.

Typically, after a ten-minute consultation and further examination, employees returned to work with medication and lack of clear understanding regarding any medical advice given. Problems then remain or worsen over time.

Miss Li recognizes the significance of self-awareness and adequate management of daily health, which includes exercise habits, nutrition, and lifestyle choices, but struggles with its promotion and development within the workplace.

Preventative health measures should be a focus in daily life as to ensure a long and healthy life.

A Shanghai Expat Manager can contribute to the health of his or her staff through:

Read the labels on the food you eat -- health and wellness are closely related to diet

Health and Wellness awareness education and training:
Improve understanding that preventative care is an essential element in managing personal health, and that daily lifestyle choices in terms of living and working habits also impact health status.

Focus will be placed on specific suggestions and advice regarding prevention of damaging health choices. 

Wellness programs designed to mitigate existing problems:
According to typical health risks and Annual Physical Exam (APE) results, companies can start from the "Health Risk Analysis- HRA" and design specific programs based on risks identified.

Improvement in the working place environment, policy changes for supporting wellness programs and hardware support to encourage employee participation.

Medical service and insurance provider selection and management:
Through preventative care, managing daily health, seeking help from corporate professional medical service and wellness providers, and awareness of the aforementioned risk factors, both the Expat Manager and employees can enhance personal health and live a more productive and enjoyable life within Shanghai.

About the Author

Dr. Sean Lizhi is the Deputy General Manager at AWB China. He is also a Registered Surgeon, Registered Safety Engineer of China, and Food Safety Manager.

AWB Health is a management consulting firm based in Shanghai specializing in workplace health promotion. AWB is a member of the Workplace Wellness Alliance created by the World Economic (Davos) Forum.

AWB offers its clients comprehensive and flexible corporate wellness programs and services to reenergize employees and maximize the company’s productivity.

Programs cover: fitness, nutrition, emotional wellbeing, medical and environmental concerns.

Visit the AWB website to find out more: http://www.awbchina.com/

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