The rise of corporate “health management” in Japan
[June 16, 2021] BY Worker's Resort Editorial Team
In Japan, “health management” has become an indispensable buzzword for companies discussing their management strategies. However, the purpose and benefits of this initiative, which is also backed by the Japanese government, may not yet be widely understood.
This article explains why corporate health management is currently an important issue in Japan and the impact health protection has on business. It also shares existing initiatives from Japanese corporations.
Employee healthcare is not a cost, but an investment in the future
Let’s start by explaining the definition of ‘health.’ Although there is some debate, the definition currently widely used in Japan is from the WHO Constitution adopted in 1947, which states that “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
In Japan, where the birth rate is declining and the population is super-aging, it is implementing national policies to increase the “healthy life expectancy.” Corporate health management is one such policy.
So what kind of management approach does corporate health management refer to? Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) describes corporate health management as “the strategic implementation of employee health management from an organizational level.” The main benefits of corporate health management are as follows:
- Improves employee performance and productivity
- Reduces employee medical costs borne by the company
- Improves the company’s brand image
- Increases the number of job applicants, reduces the turnover rate, and maintains the workforce
- Strengthens the company’s internal organizational capabilities
In the past, many companies in Japan viewed employee health management as an expense, but the new definition considers it to be a “strategic investment for the future.” This is based on the idea that by investing in the maintenance and improvement of employee health in line with the corporate principles, the vitality and productivity of employees will increase, which in turn will lead to improved performance and value for the corporation. In Japanese society, where labor shortage is becoming increasingly dire, it is believed that if a company provides an environment where employees can work enthusiastically, it will directly lead to the acquisition of top-tier employees.
Japan’s Award System to “Visualize” Corporate Health Management Initiatives
In order to derive external benefits from the implementation of corporate health management, it is necessary to publicize the initiatives in a clear, easy-to-understand way.
In response, the METI established the “Health Management Companies” in 2014 and the “Excellent Health Management Certification System” in 2016 as award systems to “visualize” the corporations’ health management efforts. The purpose of this system is for the selected companies to be recognized not only by their employees, but also by job applicants, related companies, financial institutions, and the stock market as “a corporation that strategically considers its employees’ health management from an organizational level.”
The outline of each award system is as follows.
Health Management Brands
This targets companies listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. It evaluates companies based on the following criteria: “Is health management positioned in the management philosophy and policies,” “Is there an organizational structure to address health management,” “Are there systems and measures in place to address health management,” and “Are health management initiatives evaluated and improved upon.”
Excellent Health Management Corporations
This system was designed by the METI and is certified by the Japan Health Council. It is divided into the “Large Corporation Category” for large corporations and the “Small and Medium Corporation Category” for small and medium-sized corporations. The top 500 corporations in the Large Corporation Category are certified as the “White 500.” From FY2020 onward, the top 500 corporations in the small and medium-sized corporation category that are particularly outstanding and disseminate corporate health management initiatives regionally will be recognized as “Bright 500” corporations.
Health Management Brands are selected jointly with the Tokyo Stock Exchange, and therefore can be an important decision-making factor for investors who are considering a corporation’s long-term value. The METI publishes a guide, “The Promotion of Health Management,” in which it has reported that companies are actively sharing the fact that they have been selected as a health management brand in their company brochures for job seekers, annual securities reports, and CSR reports.
In addition, incentives for the Excellent Health Management Corporation System are on the rise in Japan. Specifically, some prefectures and municipalities are offering preferential interest rates and subsidies to local small and medium-sized companies, local banks and credit unions are giving favorable interest rates on business loans, and insurance companies are discounting insurance premiums.
Examples of Japanese companies that have adopted corporate health management
Let’s take a look at some of the companies that have already implemented corporate health management and what they are actually doing. The following are examples of six Japanese companies that have been recognized as either a “Health Management Brand” or “Excellent Health Management Corporation.”
Health Management Brands
Wacoal Holdings Corp. (major Japanese clothing manufacturer)
- Initiatives to encourage smokers to quit and implementation of non-smoking support programs
- Conducting a variety of health-awareness seminars
- Developing support programs that promote health in a fun way, such as walking events and incentives
- Installing devices in each business unit to detect for locomotive syndrome
TOTO Ltd. (major Japanese housing equipment company)
- Offering health-conscious menus in the company cafeteria
- Offering walking events and in-house sports events
- Sharing and exchanging opinions on health management and mental health initiatives among occupational health physicians, public health nurses, and health management staff at offices nationwide
- Providing information on health management, health consultation Q&As, etc. on the intranet.
Excellent Health Corporations, Large-scale Corporation Category (White 500)
Suntory Group (large Japanese beverage manufacturer)
- Implementing detailed medical examinations that exceed the legal requirements
- Conducting interviews with occupational health staff
- Introducing the “Health Mileage” system, in which points are awarded for walking and exercising, taking annual leave, and receiving health checkups. The accumulated points can be exchanged for prizes.
- Implementing walking events, including with overseas group companies
Cyber Communications, Inc. (Japanese digital marketing company)
- Implementing health events
- Establishment of HR system to cope with long working hours and diverse work styles
- Implementing mental health training and mindfulness seminars
- Implementing training sessions and seminars to improve health literacy
Excellent Health Corporations, Small and Medium-Sized Corporation Category
Tsuchiyama Printing Co. (printing company based in the Kansai region)
- Holding seminars about pensions
- Giving health lectures to prevent back pain
- Offering company-wide radio calisthenics
- Established the Kagayaki Support Center to promote initiatives aimed at improving employee health and satisfaction
Onocom Co. (construction company based in the Chubu region)
- Offering a communication allowance of 3,000 yen for dinner or drink parties where people from three or more departments gather.
- Offering subsidies for the use of facilities for cultural and sports activities
- Giving stress checks for all employees.
- Placing vending machines that focus on low-sugar, low-calorie foods, and those for specific health conditions
Although it may be difficult to hold events due to COVID-19, there are some things that can be done safely, such as sharing information internally on the intranet and conducting stress checks.
Start implementing corporate health management by reducing costs
While the pandemic has increased health awareness in Japan, the birth rate is expected to decline and the labor shortage will become increasingly serious.
The “Health Management Handbook 2018,” published by the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry, lists the following ten examples of things that can be done to reduce costs.
- Provide medical examination data of employees aged 40 and over to health insurance associations
- Facilitate true understanding of stress and mental health
- Use stairs and stretch in the office
- Introduce measures to prevent spreadable disease in the workplace (paying for flu vaccinations, etc.)
- Provide nutritionally balanced menus in the company cafeteria and in takeaway lunch boxes
- Implement a system to promote no-overtime days and paid holidays.
- Have public health nurses and nutritionists provide guidance on lifestyle improvement
- Introduce a smoke-free environment and a non-smoking program
- Share information on sleep and alcohol
- Have the CEO or health staff encourage regular health checkups and re-examinations
It takes time to see the results of health initiatives. But learning about corporate health management, which is becoming more and more popular in Japan, is a great start. Then, you can slowly introduce easily implementable initiatives.
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