Analysis. Well-being programs gain ground in Romania | What are the expectations of firms and employees

Newsroom 05/09/2016 | 12:27

With employees and job seekers now expecting their packages to go beyond salary and traditional bonuses, the concept of well-being  is starting to gain ground on the Romanian market. Providing a “happy” working environment, where individuals can express their creativity and feel like they are part of the organization, might be the key for bosses to score high on the attractiveness scale for current and future generations of workers, pundits told BR.

Anda Sebesi

The psychological well-being of its employees is an important aspect for any organization. Recently, it has become a focus for both HR departments and employees of multinational companies active on the local market.

Things have evolved so far at international levels that experts in psychology can scientifically demonstrate the direct correlation between well-being and its positive impact on work performance. According to international studies, when we experience positive mood/feelings, our brain is on average 31 percent more productive than when we are in a negative, neutral or stressed mood. Researchers also found that salespeople perform 37 percent better while doctors are 19 percent quicker to make a correct diagnosis when they benefit from psychological and physical well-being. In addition, according to Fortune, the company you work for can improve your personal/family life (supporting you in your role as a parent) and health (encouraging you to give up smoking or maintain a healthy lifestyle). Miruna Andreescu, HR business partner at Avon Romania, says that well-being  discussions are now moving towards the “work-life integration” concept, which means that people are blending their personal and professional life and trying to make them both work.

At present, there are over 50 types of well-being  programs on the Romanian market, focusing on different aspects such as physical and psycho-emotional health, personal development and various hobbies. According to Creative Bright, parenting, fitness/yoga/massage, nutrition, mindfulness and photography were the most requested well-being  programs in the past year.

As Olivia Munteanu, reward manager at Vodafone Romania, says, well-being  includes many areas such as advice for a healthier lifestyle, community intervention by re-integrating parents into the workforce, events showing employees’ children what the company their parents work for does, creating a community with a common interest –sports, cycling, football, volleyball, painting, gastronomy – and organizing thematic events for psychological and emotional balance.

“From our perspective as a supplier of medical services, organizational well-being  means both prevention and the creation of healthy life habits. For many of our customers, we develop both targeted screenings for various common ailments as well as prevention and medical education campaigns,” says Fady Chreih, CEO at Regina Maria. He adds that, as a result of its long experience on the market, the company has managed to gain specialized expertise in many industries, thereby enabling it to create customized packages, starting from the needs of each company. In his opinion, just as optional health insurance is, medical packages for prevention should also be tax deductible. “It would be an additional step that would give more individuals access to such services,” concludes Chreih.

“Well-being  is a precise acceptance that a happy employee is more efficient than an unhappy one,” says Dan Petre, business developer at D&D Research. He adds that this concept is important because it is linked to positive results for both individuals and organizations, such as better individual and organizational performance, engagement and lower levels of conflict.

“The concrete parts of well-being  are linked to the way emotions interact with behaviors at work, usually recognized as engagement, burnout, satisfaction at work or workaholism,” adds Petre. He says that interest in different aspects of the well-being  concept has a tradition on the local market, noting that D&D Research has been measuring occupational stress or burnout for more than 15 years now. “However, well-being , as it is known today, has started to become more prevalent in Romania particularly in the past five years,” says Petre.

As for the tools that can be integrated in the implementation of a well-being  program, the D&D Research representative says that they have become more diversified. They range from parenting to lifestyle workshops to recreational camps and programs for personal development. “All these initiatives have to come as a solution to the needs of both the employees and organization, identified in an initial diagnosis stage,” adds the D&D Research representative.

Companies can also use wide-ranging organizational surveys that cover the dimensions of the well-being  concept. In general, if conducted periodically, these measures can prevent and avoid major crises. However, there are also companies that use dedicated programs to evaluate the level of well-being . “D&D Research has developed several such programs that include both qualitative and quantitative endeavors, which are used mainly to create a master plan for organizational intervention in order to increase the level of well-being  in a company,” says Petre.

BR supports well-being

As a unique endeavor in Romania, Business Review, D&D Research and the Faculty of Psychology through the Occupational Health Master’s Degree Program are planning to measure the well-being  of companies in Romania and their employees.

The research will generate an Organizational Wellbeing Index (OWB), which aims to recognize and award the highest scores and positive initiatives across the indicators measured by the study.

“The OWB Index is not just the first that uses a dedicated scientific tool, but it also measures topics of great interest within corporations, like burnout or workaholism. Throughout our partnership with D&D Research, we are excited that we will be able to deliver free of charge results that will be extremely useful in the development of effective and sustainable well-being policies to the companies that participate in the study,” says Adina Cretu, marketing manager at Business Review.

The study is being conducted in seven industries: pharma & health, telecommunication, IT&C, professional services, retail, banking and finance and FMCG. The market research will be conducted between September and October and more than 15 areas will be measured, including work satisfaction, personal-professional life conflict, engagement and healthy behaviors. The project will end with a gala where companies with outstanding results and initiatives in the measured areas will be rewarded.

A selected group of companies have already been invited to participate to the study but the project is open to any company active in Romania for at least 12 months and with a minimum of 50 employees. For more details and registration, contact us at

Where does Romania stand?

According to Petre, multinational companies have embraced the well-being  concept more than Romanian ones. Local organizations’ reluctance to do so is not because of lack of familiarity, but more because they assume that implementing such programs is resource-intensive. “From our experience, we can say that effective well-being  tools and programs can be implemented in all types of companies, regardless of whether they are local, international, large or small.”

Dana Tudor Tanase, founder of Creative&Bright, shares this stance, saying that the Romanian view is still that well-being  doesn’t have a measurable impact on the organization’s bottom line and doesn’t directly reflect its performance indicators. “Despite this, there are several industries that implement such programs a lot, including IT services, financial services, the Big Four, and banking and telecommunications,” says Tanase. As for the budget that companies from her portfolio allot to such programs, she says the sum varies between EUR 5,000 and 20,000 per year, depending on their needs.

As in many other fields of activity, the well-being  concept is still emerging in Romania and is generally connected with occupational health, internal communication or CSR. “We noticed that employees are very open to well-being  programs for healthcare, work-life balance and personal development. In the past four years we have seen an increased interest in implementing well-being  programs through gamification platforms or complex internal eco-systems,” says Petre.

As trainer and coach Alis Anagnostakis, founder of Mind Learners, says, there are already positive leadership training courses that help managers create an open mindset and a framework where their teams can be happy. Encouraging autonomy, learning opportunities aligned with individual interests, clear communication of goals, creating solid and authentic links between organizational and individual values, encouraging cooperation versus competition and introducing playful elements into the work system – all have a direct impact on staff well-being . “From mindfulness programs for employees to individual coaching and more flexible processes that enable individual initiatives and the introduction of ‘gamification’ systems within employees’ learning and development processes –are all courageous attempts to create a working environment where the individual can find joy and sense,” says Anagnostakis.

In Romania, well-being  programs have started to become mainstream in the last couple of years, together with the rise in popularity of initiatives such as on-site health assessments or medical interventions (e.g. flu vaccines), on-site massage sessions, company-sponsored subscriptions to private medical clinics, dental clinics or gyms, sporting events, corporate libraries as well as fun and relaxation initiatives – from days out or parties to sponsored tickets to concerts, plays or other cultural events.

“These are just some of the initiatives that employees have started to get used to and even demand when moving to other employers,” says Madalina Racovitan, tax partner at KPMG, head of people services. Despite the growth in the number of initiatives that organizations are offering, she says that there is room for a more integrated implementation of such initiatives in the workplace.

“For example, offering perks like the above will not bring the desired impact, if this is not combined with good management practices that can have a great impact on employee stress levels and overall well-being. Although Romanians still seem to be more attracted by well-being  initiatives and benefits that translate directly into cash, organizations should focus more on extending the scope of their well-being  programs to areas outside health and fun,” says Racovitan.

An increase in autonomy, or work schedule flexibility, change management programs, open communication, value-based leadership, diversity, corporate social responsibility and personal growth initiatives can all create a sustainable positive impact on the overall well-being  of employees, and in turn, on their organizations, if incorporated in a well-being  program in a strategic and integrated manner.

“I think that we are still far from the moment when constructive and collaborative cultures and concern for the happiness of individuals that work in organizations become the norm, but I can see encouraging steps in this direction,” adds Anagnostakis.

According to Dana Tudor, chief inspired officer at Buticul de Inspiratie (Inspiration Boutique) and communication, employer and personal branding consultant, while in the past six years lifestyle courses for employees were a dream that was not compatible with business objectives, things have changed dramatically. “Now it is more obvious that HR programs are more and more in line with international trends. Companies understand that the well-being  of their employees is an essential resource that determines their performance.”

How firms promote staff wellbeing

Benefits such as lunch vouchers, medical services and insurance and paid time off while on vacation, annual bonuses and salary raises have almost became standard. In other words, companies need to adapt their bonus structure for employees according to their demands if they want to retain and make them happy. As pundits say, employees and candidates are increasingly choosing to work for companies that have a wider approach to their employment offers.

“During the interview, candidates are interested in other benefits aside from the salary. And many times they are attracted by those companies that invest in their personal life,” says Munteanu of Vodafone. She adds that both in recruiting and retaining, life insurance and medical subscription have become a major factor. “It is very important for every employee to have two basic needs – health and safety – covered,” adds Munteanu.

Raiffeisen Bank, Vodafone, Orange, Telekom, Arcelor Mittal and Avon are some of the companies that have included well-being  programs for their employees in their HR strategy. For example, Arcelor Mittal set up a program called Leadership through the Power of Example through which the company facilitates the creation of an environment where its employees discuss the strengths and problems of their safety at work openly. “If we were to translate into numbers our investment in safety at work, it is an annual investment of EUR 840 per employee,” says Craciun of Arcelor Mittal. She adds that last year, the company launched a free package of additional medical services for its employees. “Also, both our employees and their families get financial support for treatment in the event of an incurable or severe illness. In addition, they benefit from free transportation if they need medical assistance abroad,” adds the HR manager. She says that each year the company runs activities for ear and eye protection, specific medical investigations, campaigns for vaccination against seasonal flu for all of its employees and periodical lung, blood pressure and glucose tests for those who work in the primary zone and rolling mills (steel) one. “We have also a pilot program that offers counseling for those who want to give up smoking and we already have 80 employees enrolled,” says Craciun. In addition, Arcelor Mittal has an indoor and outdoor sports facility where employees can play football, volleyball, basketball, handball, badminton and ping-pong.

As for the evolution of medical packages, Chreih says that they have diversified a lot, both in terms of users (large and mid-size companies, SMEs, start-ups and individuals) as well as the services offered. “The demand for medical packages increases every year and, looking backward, the number of our subscriptions has doubled in less than four years. At present, we have over 360,000 subscriptions,” adds the CEO of Regina Maria.

 Elsewhere, Avon Romania offers its employees medical packages, life insurance, fresh fruit on a daily basis, education sessions on prevention through partnerships with dental clinics and access to a gym network in Bucharest and all major cities. “An interesting benefit we started last year is a personalized support program for all employees: paid therapy sessions in partnership with psychologists,” says Andreescu. In addition, the company offers Bookster, an online library where every employee can borrow a book, based on a subscription paid by the company.

Also, Avon has an internal development program for its employees, which has been rolled out for several years. It’s about YOU is a training program with a strong personal development touch, as the topics are suggested by the employees: parenting, fashion, nutrition, craft workshops, improvisation, mindfulness, health and prevention sessions and the now-famous desk massages. “Three years ago, our main objective was to enhance work-life integration for employees by giving them the opportunity to do something for themselves during work hours and to encourage them to take a much needed break from the daily frenzy. Now, we are also moving towards personalization and the program will be split into smaller actions for each department, as per specific needs and preferences,” says the representative of Avon Romania.

Elsewhere, Vodafone Romania created an identity for its well-being concept last year, called Re-Fresh, through which the company intends to encourage its employees to lead healthier and more balanced lives. The project included a series of workshops on health, dentistry, nutrition and sports, and a fruit-bar, lemonade bar events, smoothies, bikes and massages at the office. Last year, the mobile operator combined two components, the well-being  concept and volunteering with the aim of raising money for social causes. Additionally, it provides parking and showers for employees who cycle to work, while those in Bucharest, Craiova and Brasov can borrow Vodafone bicycles and earpieces for free.

The route to employee happiness

Many international studies have found that an organizational culture characterized by forgiveness, kindness, trust, respect and inspiration can make employees feel happier and more productive. As Harvard Business Review magazine (HBR) says, hundreds of studies conducted by pioneers of positive organizational psychology demonstrate that a workplace with a positive work culture leads to improved employee loyalty, engagement, performance, creativity and productivity. The same source says that the most powerful way leaders can improve employee well-being  is not through programs and initiatives, but rather through day-to-day actions. For example, data from a study run at the Karolinska Institute, and quoted by HBR, show that having a harsh boss is linked to heart problems in employees. On the contrary, leaders who are inspiring, empathetic and supportive have more loyal and engaged employees.

For example, one Fortune 500 corporation in the Bay Area in California has a system in place whereby the CEO is immediately informed if an employee contracts a major illness or has experienced a personal tragedy. Within 15 minutes, no matter how busy he is, the CEO makes time to call that person and offer his support.

A similar approach was put into practice last year on the occasion of the tragedy in the Colectiv night club, in which several Oracle Romania employees lost their lives or were injured. Safra Catz, CEO at Oracle Worldwide, came to Romania to offer her support to the victims’ families and friends. “I spent the past days in Bucharest together with other global leaders from Romania and I met with the teams affected and stood by the families and friends of our employees. All of our attention is focused now on the needs of our employees, their families and friends,” stated Catz at the time. She is ranked as the 12th most powerful woman worldwide, according to Fortune.

 Elsewhere, Mihaela Craciun, HR director at ArcelorMittal Galati, says the company launched a transformation program in 2009 in which a communication portion has recently been included. It was developed over ten months when all the employees met personally with the CEO of the company and its operational managers and debated issues related to the improvement of health and safety at work.

 According to HBR, our greatest need, after food and shelter, is social connection — positive social relationships with others. Therefore, if organizations manage to create work environments characterized by these interactions, they can benefit from very low staff turnover and enjoy superior results for both employees and companies.

 ‘Presenteeism costs 10 times more than absenteeism’

Despite the fact that well-being  has only recently been introduced into Romanian culture, studies show its positive impact on the local society. According to a study conducted by PwC Saratoga in 2015, and quoted by Creative & Bright, regarding the absenteeism ratio generating additional costs for companies, absences accounted for 2.2 percent of working days last year.

This represented a cost of EUR 703 / employee across the market, with retail posting a lower annual cost (EUR 440/employee) and the pharmaceutical sector a higher one (EUR 1,132/employee). “The health of employees has a real impact on a business, whether we speak about high efficiency and productivity or costs generated by long sick leave,” says Chreih. In his opinion, there is a need for a major long-term national educational and information campaign from both public institutions and private companies. “Such an endeavor needs a national medical infrastructure that covers both rural and urban areas,” says the representative of Regina Maria.

In addition, according to Arnaud Bernaert, senior director, head of global health and healthcare industries of the World Economic Forum, global leaders are becoming increasingly focused on truly understanding the health and productivity of their populations. “We need standardized global measurements and comparative data to help nations identify their biggest opportunities for improving the lives of the people within their borders. These insights will guide future investments in health and well-being.”

 According to EHS Today, one of the biggest US magazines for environmental, health and safety management professionals in the manufacturing, construction, and service sectors, “presenteeism” (costs businesses 10 times more than absenteeism. As the publication says, presenteeism impacts not only workers who are “absent but present,” but also their coworkers. According to a GCC Insights report by Global Corporate Challenge (GCC) quoted by the title, on average, employees cost businesses the equivalent of three months per year in lost productivity. The report found that while employees were absent from work an average of four days per year, they confessed to being unproductive on the job for 57.5 days each (about three working months). As one of the authors of the study says, companies that intend to improve their productivity should focus on reducing presenteeism.

“This study indicates that businesses are focused on the wrong measure of productivity. Absenteeism is not the major culprit. Businesses use absenteeism rates as an indicator of engagement and productivity because it’s easy to quantify,” says Olivia Sackett, GCC Insight’s data scientist. Although 57.5 days per year sounds very high, it corresponds to a person working at 75 percent of their maximum productivity level. The cost of presenteeism to businesses was also 10 times higher than absenteeism. Absent workers cost employers around USD 150 billion per year, but those who went to work and were not fully productive cost USD 1.5 trillion per year.

GCC’s study on presenteeism included nearly 2,000 employees and was validated against the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Workplace Health and Productivity Questionnaire (HPQ).

Last but not least, the Center for Mental Health calculated in 2015 that presenteeism from mental illness alone costs the UK economy GPB 15.1 billion a year. It has been linked to errors, lower performance, lower well-being and the exacerbation of existing health problems – causing greater productivity loss than absenteeism. Those with a supportive work environment, defined as having supportive colleagues and a good relationship with managers, felt they did not have to go to work when ill, and were both more satisfied with their jobs and healthier. People with a positive outlook were more likely to be willing to carry on with their work while sick.

 Generation Z needs flexibility

As Racovitan of KPMG says, one key element in designing attractive benefit packages for the younger generations is not the choice of benefits, but their flexibility. While 10 years ago, many employees were happy with benefits packages that included health subscriptions and meal tickets, the younger generations want to be more in control and choose their own benefits. “Flexibility is key, and it will continue to be for Generation Z which will soon enter the workforce. We are speaking in Romania about so-called ‘cafeteria benefit plans’ (plans under which employees can choose from various benefits those that fit their needs best, up to a specified cash value) and we believe that this is a trend that will continue to grow in the next couple of years,” she says. “Solid HR practices are not necessarily ‘one-size-fits all’ and we encourage organizations to continue to understand their own employees and build their own programs, which would produce best results in their own contexts.”

As Anagnostakis of Mind Learners says, more and more managers are interested in how they can create a positive environment for their teams beyond the effectiveness of the business. “Organizations are becoming more aware that in a world where the definition of work is changing, new generations come with a very different way of thinking. Instead of the cult of work and sacrifice that we see in employees of around 40, youngsters expect the organization to be open, the job to be fun and the work program to be flexible. They come to the interview and say: ‘It is important for me to be happy – what do you do to help me feel like this at work?’,” says the representative of Mind Learners.

Andreescu of Avon says that in Romania, Millennials (e.n. individuals between 18 and 34) have strong views when it comes to their own well-being. As she explains, they prefer to disconnect rather than integrate their work and personal life. “They still check emails sometimes after work hours, but they are comfortable doing it as long as it’s on their own terms and because they are the ones who make that choice,” she says. “We are living in a VUCA world (e.n. volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) so companies, regardless of their size, have started to understand that the way we work has changed, people processes and concepts like employee engagement have transformed and employees expect to have autonomy in making decisions and delivering results,” says Andreescu.

Employer branding

More companies in Romania now focus on the concept of employer branding, in an attempt to retain their employees more easily. “Employees are your first brand ambassadors. Positive emotions like being proud of your job, your team and your projects are enhanced by truly understanding your role within the company, its mission and vision and what differentiates it from others. If this is not happening, the employees will find another job where they feel good,” adds Andreescu of Avon.

As Richard Branson once said, “If you run a business, put on top your employees, then your consumers, and then your shareholders.” “Authentic employer branding that is not limited to a cleverly-packaged recruitment process is an important factor in increasing employee loyalty and retention. It is also an effective tool in attracting candidates who fit the values and demands of an organization,” says Tudor of Buticul de Inspiratie. According to Boston Consulting Group, employer branding is ranked fourth within HR programs for its impact on profit.

In such a context, the personal value a company offers its employees starts to become more important, with the most innovative ones looking for ways to offer their teams valuable experiences. “At international level, the creation of work-life balance is an outdated concept and is being replaced by ‘how to blend work and life’. The phenomenon is influenced mainly by new technologies that blur the line between professional and personal life,” adds Tudor.

But despite the “employer of choice” concept becoming more popular lately, many employers still don’t understand the importance of becoming a favorite employer. “This concept is representative of a totally new concept of corporate culture and means that people choose to work for a specific company, dedicate themselves to its success and remain loyal despite being pursued by extremely persuasive recruiters,” says Craciun of Arcelor Mittal.




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