ECONOMY, HR & EDUCATION | Contributed Content, Hong Kong
Adrian Stones

Why Hong Kong needs a corporate wellness paradigm shift now


Three reasons why Hong Kong needs a corporate wellness paradigm shift now and five ways to make it happen in your company

Hong Kong scores the lowest out of eight global markets when it comes to well-being.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Cigna Hong Kong conducts an annual 360° Well-being Survey, tracking the perceptions of health and well-being of individuals by looking at five key areas: physical, family, social, financial and work health. This survey covers eight markets, including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and United States.

But, if you look back on the past few years that this survey has been conducted, Hong Kong has consistently placed near the bottom of the list.

So why is this somehow a crisis just now?

I see three factors coming together in 2020 and as we move into 2021 that make this a watershed moment for Hong Kong’s overall wellness movement:

  1. COVID-19;
  2. changing expectations of what makes for an attractive employer; and
  3. changing expectations of the corporation’s role in society
  4. Let’s address these individually.

First, let’s look at COVID-19. Hong Kong is a city where the majority of people face a clear stigma associated with seeking assistance when stress mounts and becomes too much. Restrictions on movement and social interaction, as well as the introduction of new ways of working, have taken their toll on Hongkongers.

Whereas working from home created more work/life flexibility in some surveyed markets, more than half of Hong Kong respondents said working from home made their work day longer. In the same Cigna survey, only 58% of Hongkongers agreed working from home has made their work day more flexible (compared to 76% globally), and 55% of respondents said working from home has made their work day longer.

Clearly, an opportunity lost.

Next, let’s turn to what I am witnessing with respect to the changing expectations of what makes for an attractive employer.

Anecdotally, I am hearing more and more hiring managers and executives in Hong Kong cite a couple of key differences in terms of the kinds of questions applicants pose during an interview. The top two new questions that crop up with increasing frequency are,What is your carbon footprint, and do you have a corporate wellness program?

Finally, I believe it also speaks to the shifting expectations we, as a society, have towards the role of corporations—even in Hong Kong. We are witnessing a global trend away from “shareholder capitalism” toward “stakeholder capitalism”. Simply put, people are increasingly asking the question, What are you doing to ensure that how we make money is sustainable—both for the planet and for myself?

We have a long-term wellness crisis now at tipping point in Hong Kong and increasing expectations that companies do something about it. But what can corporations in Hong Kong do to effectively address this crisis?

Put a different way, what can companies do that is not ‘wellness-washing”, or the wellbeing equivalent of “greenwashing” in the environmental movement?

There are five key things that can be done to bring about a corporate wellness revolution rooted in science, not hype:

  1. manage the paradox of “profit” and “purpose”;
  2. look at corporate wellness holistically, not reactively;
  3. admit what you know and what you don’t know;
  4. build something that changes behaviours; and
  5. measure and relentlessly pursue relevance

Manage the paradox of ‘profit’ and ‘purpose’

Effectively leading in the world is increasingly complex. Leadership today is rife with apparent paradoxes. PwC defines six of them—globally minded localist, high integrity politician, humble hero, strategic executor, tech-savvy humanist, and traditioned innovator.

I believe there is a seventh paradox of leadership that sits over top of the other six—purposeful profiteer.

Sustainability is increasingly finding its way into boardrooms and executive teams in Hong Kong. Leaders must become more adept at managing these seemingly opposing forces. Corporate wellness is an example of this type of paradox. Seen through a more traditional lens, it can be viewed as a cost to the business. Seen through the increasingly accepted lens of “sustainability”, it is more accurately viewed as a cost that is not only the ethically correct choice, but it also has measurable, tangible benefits for employees. Those happier employees will experience higher engagement and work quality, which result in increased innovation and happier customers. Happier employees also reduce the number of HR- and compliance-related incidences—and their associated costs.

And happier customers mean more profit.

Look at corporate wellness holistically, not reactively

Everyone is experiencing COVID-19 in their own, unique way. There are some common themes though—resilience, burnout, mental health, and vulnerability. These are all extremely useful focal areas whilst we are passing through a crisis. However, the day will soon come when vaccines are widely distributed and therapeutics improve to the point where COVID -19 becomes more similar to the annual influenza season in terms of its societal impact. And then, focal areas will shift again to helping people emerge from this pandemic.

Rather than reacting to the crisis in front of us now, we should take a step back and think holistically about what really makes up “wellness”. The term “wellness” has been misappropriated by certain industries and that has clouded its true meaning. Wellness in its truest sense is defined as “a delicate balancing act between an individual's social, emotional, psychological and physical assets (resources) and the particular social, emotional, psychological and physical liabilities (challenges) they are facing in life and work at any one time”.

That is pretty broad.

Wellness is not just whether or not someone is sleeping or eating properly. Just because you offer a dental plan to your employees does not mean you have a corporate wellness program.

Wellness covers a wide range of components—authentic relationships, meaning and purpose, intellectual engagement, resilience, balance and boundaries, and energy and vitality. Most corporate wellness programs focus on the last three components—but that means that companies are leaving the strongest drivers of wellbeing unaddressed within the context of wellness.

Admit what you know and what you don’t know

With “wellness-washing” on the rise, it is critical that companies start with the kind of holistic definition I mention above.

Once you do that, it should become apparent that there is a lot of science behind “wellness”. The science, while relatively new, is still solid and points to tangible benefits to those who follow it.

However, given the complexity associated with defining, measuring and then positively impacting wellness, most corporations find that they just don’t have that kind of skill set internally. HR will be tasked with “making it happen”, but this is new for them, too.

There is nothing wrong with admitting that this is a new field. Find experts you can trust to bring you the science, not the hype. Bring in those experts to help you quickly ramp up. Learn all you can and make that knowledge part of your corporate playbook.

Build something that changes behaviours

Turning to a different report also released by Cigna called “Health And Wellness In Workplaces: What Works?”, they found that “programs delivered at an individual level are most successful when they aim to reduce specific health risks, while programs delivered to the entire workforce are most successful when they promote healthy behaviors in general and develop a culture of wellness in the organization.”

One-off workshops help build awareness and invariably generate high levels of participation—workers in Hong Kong are clamouring for better wellness programs at work—but then engagement can drop off if the program hasn’t been designed to maintain momentum.

Changing long-held personal habits is not easy. Doing that in an environment that doesn’t support staff? Impossible.

The best way to support staff to make these difficult changes is to design and implement company-wide programs that create a culture of wellness and are led out-front by the company’s leaders, while hyper-personalizing wellness coaching and support for employees. Two tiers, in parallel, interacting and working together.

Measure and relentlessly pursue relevance

Turning back to the paradox of ““purposeful profiteer””, companies still find it challenging to quantify the ROI of their corporate wellness programs.

The best way to overcome this challenge is to define your parameters for success up-front. Citing the Cigna report above again, the top five drivers of corporate wellness program success are cost, financial outcomes, participation and engagement rates, health outcomes and employee feedback.

Create feedback loops in an iterative, agile manner that allow you to dial up or dial down certain programs and interventions, depending on how they are being received by your employees and the kind of measurable ROI they are generating.

So, what’s next?

A corporate wellness paradigm shift in Hong Kong will take planning and effort to get it right. What works for one company may not work for the next. Large-scale corporate transformations have a failure rate of around 80%.

How are you going to ensure that your corporate wellness program doesn’t fall to the same fate?

Zenshin and its partners offer end-to-end corporate wellness program design and deployment expertise and services to corporations in Hong Kong looking to support this paradigm shift. Contact us at +852-9720-5600 or at

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Hongkong Business. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Adrian Stones

Adrian Stones

Adrian has over 23 years of consulting and leadership experience in the financial services industry.

He has led multinational teams spanning Japan, the US, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mainland China, Taiwan, and India.

Most recently, he was a Partner in a Big 4 firm, where he led client relationships across Asia Pacific for FWD and MetLife.

Adrian focuses on transforming individuals and organizations through coaching the whole person, not just the job title. He offers corporate wellness program design, implementation and management, as well as one-to-one and team-based coaching.

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