I invest a fair amount of energy in my health, I swim regularly, eat well and try to get good sleep. In twenty years of employment I can recall taking perhaps 4 days of sick leave. Employers should love people like me, I save them money! Many however think that I am being ‘ripped off’ – that I am missing out on some sort of entitlement to ‘be sick’. What if we turned that entitlement round, what if we actively encourage people to stay well, and offered a form of ‘health leave’.
It might work something like this: criteria for what constitutes acceptable ‘health leave’ offerings could be developed with employees, something like a ‘health leave menu’. I would imagine it includes things like health, yoga or meditation retreats, signing up for hikes or races, time for medical checks, cycling tours or pilgrimages on foot, detox / quit smoking camps etc. Bookings and receipts would be approved against the menu by line managers. Employees would be encouraged to share stories and photos of their health leave experience on the company intranet to encourage others to participate. Performance bonuses or bonuses for not using sick leave may include extended health leave offerings in lieu of cash. Those more cautious could offer this as a benefit based on tenure (though personally I think it sends a strong message that health matters for everyone if it is a standard part of the employment deal).
UPDATES (assumes knowledge of the original concept outlined below)
Thanks for all the feedback on the idea as described below and for the questions requesting refinement. Having pondered the concept more, I think it is very important to offer it in a way that makes it accessible to all scale organisations. I believe BUPA and some pioneer organisations could combine to make this possible. Initially when I wrote the concept I imagined organisations operating independently to develop their health menus, in collaboration with employees. Now however after all the great discussion, I think it would be far more powerful for an insurer (Bupa?) to work with a few pioneer organisations and IDEO to develop an industry accepted menu of health leave offerings that would qualify for either salary sacrificing or partial coverage through health insurance schemes. Organisations could obviously choose to add to the menu but if there was an industry developed and financially subsidised 'base' this would be very powerful. Organisations could then sign up to the 'BUPA Health Leave Offering' with all the hard work of determing what qualifies / how to assess claims etc having been sorted out centrally - this removes an ENORMOUS potential barrier because someone else has 'worked it out'.
I think the fastest way to have organisational take up is to offer it as a replacement to sick leave. The pros and cons of this have been discussed at length in the last month on the IDEO site. I think the major barrier to organisational take up may be reticence (perhaps naively) to providing 'extra' leave. By renaming and re positioning sick leave as health leave, and having an industry developed menu you basically remove all barriers to take up for any organisation of any scale.
Bupa could further encourage organisations to sign on to the Health Leave challenge by running annual awards for greatest organisational take up of Health Leave. "Winners' may receive some inhouse health offerings to provide for their people, plus obvious media exposure. Bupa could also offer companies that sign on a 'launch' event at the organisation including well known figures who clearly maintain their health (either elite athletes or other public figures who really model prevention) and data about the impact of staying well physically and mentally on work and life in general.
Ultimately, there may also be a viable fee based business opportunity for Bupa to offer to process people's health leave applications for organisations with insufficient HR processes in place.