Home Month and Year September 2022 Health and Wellness at Work

Health and Wellness at Work

It’s about absenteeism, productivity and morale


In many aspects of business and the workplace, the past two pandemic years have experienced a lot of complications and unprecedented disruptions. Work routines. Work schedules. And digital communications altering work communications and other personal factors of most workplaces.

The broadsides have also impacted the popular trend of workplace health and wellness programs.

In addition to some of Calgary’s biggest employers like CP Rail, Suncor, Enbridge and others, the City is a dynamic employer of more than 14,000 Calgarians (excluding the Calgary Police Service) and has a vital health and wellness program for employees.

“When the wellness program works together with the health and safety program, it creates a more comprehensive approach to the overall wellness of the organization and those in it,” says Moira Game, human resource manager, Total Rewards & Healthy Workplace for the City of Calgary. “This means having initiatives that promote personal health and wellness as well as workplace practices that create a physically and psychologically healthy environment.

“Health promotion addresses strategies at the individual level to prevent/diffuse stress and foster resiliency, and hazard prevention addresses the sources of injury or distress in the work environment. When health and wellness programs are part of a continual improvement process to better physical and psychosocial aspects of the work environment, they can help improve creativity, cooperation, engagement, morale, productivity, and retention,” she adds.

“At the same time, they can also contribute to reduction in absenteeism, presenteeism, employee turnover, and medical leave.”

Common health issues are increasing absenteeism rates in the Canadian workforce and costing employers huge amounts of money in lost productivity.

A report by the Public Health Agency of Canada points out that chronic disease rates are increasing by 14 per cent every year, and three out of every five Canadians over the age of 20 are living with a chronic disease.

Statistics Canada recently reported that the average rate of absenteeism among Canadian organizations was 10 days per full-time employee and Canadian companies lost an estimated total of $16.6 billion due to absenteeism alone.

When it comes to health, the Canadian workforce continues to age and chronic diseases become even more prevalent. Experts agree that organizations will need to find suitable employee health and wellness programs as an effective way to manage the health of employees.

There is a consensus among business leaders and HR specialists. An undisputable fact of contemporary business life – disrupted or not – is that people are an organization’s most important and valuable asset. Retaining, attracting and supporting talent involves a comprehensive bundle of employee experience, culture, health and wellbeing. Reports and surveys underscore that there is very much a payoff: happier, healthier, more engaged employees and a company that’s thriving from the inside and out.

According to the HR industry recent metrics, a well-rounded, high-quality and effective corporate wellness program includes much more than just gym membership coverage or an office kitchen.

Some popular features include biometric screenings, workplace flu and other vax clinics, group workshop seminars, fitness activities, flexible health spending accounts, mental health and stress management and social and team-building activities.

Wellness companies in Canada support people in improving their overall health and wellbeing. In addition to making healthier lifestyle choices, wellness companies also offer services to businesses, ensuring their employees achieve higher productivity levels, boost their self-confidence, and overcome stress.

“Health and wellness programs provide a proactive approach to healthy living by providing employees with tools, resources, and strategies they can use to adopt and maintain healthy behaviours,” notes Lin Yu, occupational health and safety specialist with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). Most company health and wellness programs also provide help and skill building in areas that are useful in and out of the workplace – like time-management, personal financial planning, stress management, and interpersonal relationships.”

She points out that employee health and wellness programs are not one-size-fits all. They need to be customized to the organization. “Wellness programs are typically most effective when they address a wide range of issues and interests that are unique to the organization. Before launching a program, the company should assess the needs and interests of the workforce, to help determine what types of health and wellness initiatives should be included.

Typically, health and wellness programs include initiatives such as health spending accounts fitness incentives, flu vaccination clinics, wellness workshops, and employee assistance programs.

Although today’s health and wellness programs are diverse, from traditional basic, like company supported fitness and nutrition programs to massage therapy, communication, counselling and relationships, companies have significantly changed their attitude and now embrace the modern fact of life that workplace health and wellness programs must include mental health.

Stas show, and health and wellness experts agree, that mental illness is a leading cause of disability in Canada. Every week at least 500,000 Canadians miss work due to mental illness, and the resulting personal, workplace and economic impacts can be devastating.

The economic burden of mental illness in Canada is estimated to be approximately $51 billion each year, as well as lost productivity. Figures and guesstimates forecast that, by 2041, the cumulative cost of poor mental health to the Canadian economy will exceed $2.5 trillion. There are also indirect costs related to poor mental health in the workplace such as absenteeism, presenteeism and challenges with recruitment and retention.

More and more, employee health and wellness programs recognize that mental illnesses are real illnesses. Like other illnesses, such as diabetes or asthma, most mental illnesses are episodic. That means people have periods when they are well and productive, as well as periods. When they are unwell and overall functioning is low.

The encouraging aspect is a big change in the perception and understanding about mental health in the workplace. The stigmas are fading. As some professionals explain, “It’s ok not to be ok.”

“The City has increased its focus on psychological safety in the past five years,” Moira Game says. “We are committed to advancing psychologically safe workspaces by implementing key factors from the Canadian National Standard on this topic. We organize and champion events and learning during Health, Safety and Wellness month each year. The past few years have had a heavy emphasis on psychological health and safety.

Just like most other aspects of Calgary businesses, the past two pandemic years of lockdowns and workplace disruptions have also broadsided many employee health and wellness programs. At least, triggered glitches. “The last two years have been a time of immense change and transition for everyone,” she notes.

“At the City, we pivoted quickly to provide relevant, just-in-time health and wellness programs, services and information for employees. To support public health requirements, health and wellness programs shifted to a virtual delivery enabling employees to continue using health and wellness resources and receive timely information. We provide flexible options for wellness to suit employees’ diverse working schedules and levels of comfort and fitness.”

HR professionals and employee health and wellness program providers are adjusting. The programs are changing. Shifts from traditional work-from-office models to hybrid work models or even some divisions and companies switching entirely to a work-from-home model. The corporate wellness culture is following suit. Wellness initiatives are changing to address well-being from a different perspective. Some wellness apps are taking the forefront of virtually bringing physical and mental health to employees.

“When health and wellness programs are part of a continual improvement process to better physical and psychosocial aspects of the work environment, they can help improve creativity, cooperation, engagement, morale, productivity, and retention,” Lin Yu adds.

“At the same time, they can also contribute to reduction in absenteeism, presenteeism, employee turnover, and medical leave.”