The numbers are discouraging. About 60 per cent of an employee’s day is spent sitting, more than 65 per cent of employees report having high stress levels, and more than 35 per cent are overweight. Also, 7.5 million Canadians suffer from substance abuse, anxiety, depression, or other mental disorders each year, which translates to 35 million lost work days. Over the past few years, corporations large and small have been taking a closer look at ways in which they can mitigate these statistics and cultivate healthier and more productive staff. At the same time, employees are pursuing a positive work environment that supports their overall mental and physical wellbeing.
The trend toward offering wellness programs has spread across the country, and these initiatives reflect an emerging corporate culture that fosters employee engagement and health. From companies with 20 employees to multi-national corporations with thousands, wellness programs are becoming more and more commonplace.
“The City prioritizes organizational health, safety, and wellness because we want to ensure our employees have optimal health and wellbeing, so they can better serve Calgarians,” says Samantha Kolapak, HR leader, wellness, for the City of Calgary.
This commitment is impressive given that it’s an organization employing more than 14,000 people. Whether employees are working in the community, at city-run facilities, or in City Hall, the City’s employees have access to resources that help them stay healthy in body and mind. The organization holds fitness classes at various locations, offering everything from strength training to yoga. If employees prefer to exercise on their own schedule, they receive a partial reimbursement toward an annual membership at a City of Calgary aquatic and fitness centre or a partner facility. The City also encourages employees to join one of the many Corporate Challenge teams that compete each year, supporting a healthy lifestyle and a fun way to engage with co-workers.
The City’s wellness program offers health screening clinics and mental health support, including counselling and life coaching as part of Employee and Family Assistance Services. Paired with flexible work options, corporate campaigns and lunch-and-learns addressing the importance of a healthy lifestyle, the City is putting employees’ wellbeing first.
“The benefits of offering these programs and services to employees is greater awareness around health and safety, a healthier workplace, and more engaged and productive employees, all leading to better service to citizens,” Kolapak says.
Corporate wellness programs are geared to promoting healthy choices during and outside work, which in turn boosts productivity and engagement for employees while driving down healthcare costs and absenteeism. These programs can include small initiatives like adding more healthy foods to a cafeteria, having walking meetings, or implementing standing desks as well as more comprehensive initiatives like coverage for counselling, onsite fitness programs, and supported weight loss challenges. Many companies are also adding onsite change rooms and showers to encourage employees to bike to work or exercise over the lunch hour. HR departments are reporting that these programs are driving health care costs down while improving employee satisfaction, productivity and morale. They are also a key factor in recruiting and retaining employees.
“It’s not a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have. Being able to offer wellness programs for a multi-generational workforce is critical because it’s not one-size-fits-all,” says Karina Rasmussen, managing director and co-founder of Well Street.
Well Street, based in Toronto with practitioners in Calgary and other major Canadian cities, offers corporate health and wellness solutions to companies across Canada with its proactive approach to overall wellbeing. Well Street provides organizations with customized strategies that maintain wellness through sessions focusing on stress resilience, mindfulness, fitness, nutrition, and diet.
“Whatever we offer is grounded in that foundational value that it is prevention-based wellness,” Rasmussen says. “People are learning new skills for self-care—how to eat better, how to manage stress and understand stressors, and how to apply mindfulness techniques so they can be more relaxed, calm and happy in the place they spend most of their time, which is the workplace.”
HR departments contact companies offering the corporate wellness programs that best fit the needs of employees. For many employees, a major barrier to sticking to a fitness program is time and convenience, so companies make it easy by bringing in an organization like Fired Up Fitness to run a weekly or bi-weekly boot camp or core conditioning class onsite. The benefits of a lunch hour fitness class go well beyond just improved health.
Employees from different departments get to know each other during the classes, and in some cases, they have created successful project teams that otherwise may not have formed. The fitness classes also offer a break, both mental and physical, at the half-way point of the day. Employees get their heart rates up and the blood flowing after sitting at a desk for hours, making them more focused and productive for the afternoon. By having classes onsite, employees can complete their workouts during work hours, leaving their off-time free for family. While not all employees take part in the offered programs, there is still a significant company-wide benefit.
“Research shows that companies that offer wellness programs make employees feel like a more appreciated and valued member of the team even if they aren’t actually participating in the program,” says Lauren Whitfield, owner of Fired Up Fitness.
For those not comfortable with or interested in onsite exercise, Fired Up also offers lunch-and-learn sessions covering the basics of fitness and nutrition, how to keep fit while on the road, changing bad habits, and maintaining a balanced lifestyle. Whitfield tailors topics based on the needs of the group of employees.
Customized programs are important for a group to have a positive outcome. When it comes to nutrition and fat loss, a plan unique to each individual in a group seems impossible until HR includes an organization like Slimwell in their wellness program. Slimwell is a medically prescribed and supported accelerated fat loss program. The program is focused on educating your employees on nutrition while they lose fat as quickly as a half-pound to a pound of pure fat loss per day.
“We ensure that your muscle and your healthy tissue is protected while we promote fat loss exclusively while empowering our clients with nutritional data unique and relevant to them.” says Melissa D’Souza, CEO of Slimwell.
Slimwell’s corporate programs provide individual assessments, tailoring the program to each person’s unique needs, but they aren’t on their own. Employee’s are connected with a SlimCoach in real-time daily to provide support throughout program including maintenance support. During that time, Slimwell helps clients clean up their diet, performs a food sensitivity test to see what foods to avoid, offers daily coaching and creates a personalized health action plan to keep the weight off, all guided by a holistic nutritional consultant.
Slimwell offers employee seminars and support through a phone app, which allows companies to invite all employees to take part and get healthy regardless of where they are located. Additionally, Slimwell clients have reported more confidence, energy, and even being taken off of medication for conditions including diabetes and overactive thyroid.
“Now you’ve got an engaged and supported employee. It’s truly transformative.” says D’Souza.
Corporate wellness programs are exactly that: transformative. Today’s corporations strive to support employees to be healthy, happy, and productive at work. Whether it’s quit-smoking programs, weight loss challenges, exercise classes, or mental health support, more and more companies are making corporate wellness programs a priority.