Home Month and Year September 2023 Prioritizing Employee Health and Wellbeing

Prioritizing Employee Health and Wellbeing

Workplace health and wellness is a win-win!

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From flexible work schedules and a focus on work/life balance, to reducing the stigma attached to mental health issues, corporate health and wellness are not only vital issues in Calgary business, but also important factors in the recruitment and retention of Calgary employees.

“If organizations are not prioritizing employee health and wellbeing,” cautions Melanie Fuller, director of Wellness at Alberta Blue Cross, “they are significantly struggling with the attraction and retention of their valued employees, which is the driving engine of their business and their sustainability.

The recent pandemic years have put a spotlight on the importance of mental and physical wellness. In Calgary, as in most workplaces, it has made employees and employers alike realize that a healthy workforce is not only important from a moral standpoint but also from a financial standpoint. In Calgary businesses, corporate wellness programs are proactive and offer many benefits, to both employees and their companies.

Recent surveys show that employers are doing more than woke lip service and are walking-the-walk about the concept that healthy and happy employees are more effective, engaged and satisfied in their jobs.

For employees, health and wellness is repeatedly shown to boost moods and happiness. There is documented proof that that happy people enjoy life, are better employees and better spouses, parents, caregivers and volunteers. It is documented that people who are physically and mentally fit have the capacity, and the ability, to give more to their families, communities and to their employers.

Research shows that targeted corporate health and wellness programs increase job satisfaction, helping employees feel more supported by their employers, which increases job satisfaction. They also promote healthy habits. When people have more resources to take better care of themselves at work, they are more likely to live healthier lifestyles. And the programs establish company values, which is crucial. Many people look for a workplace that values its employees, and a corporate wellness program  communicates that the wellbeing of everyone who works there is a top priority.

“We are seeing an increase in diversity with respect to multigenerational workforces, which is leading to changes in the ways employees want to feel seen, heard and valued. Employees are looking for personalized, flexible and meaningful supports rather than the traditional, one-size-fits-all, check box menu based approach to supporting their wellbeing at work,” Fuller emphasizes. “Employees want to contribute to organizations that are more aligned with their personal values, and the impact of the organization, versus the traditional drivers of only high pay.”

There’s no doubt about it! Although the various work routine and workplace pandemic disruptions had a significant impact on the health and wellness wants, needs and expectations of employees, COVID merely accelerated the new realities of workplace life. The options and programs offered by employers has been an evolving fact of work-life for years. Some stereotypical early features, like random personal days, gym memberships and massage vouchers, were initially considered more like feel-good “perks” than vital health and wellness benefits.

As part of a continual process to improve the physical and psychosocial health of the Calgary workplace, health and wellness programs can help promote good physical and mental health. As a result, they can help improve productivity, engagement, morale, talent retention and reduce presenteeism and absenteeism. “Workplace health and wellness programs typically offer health promotion tools, resources or activities that help encourage overall good health,” explains Lin Yu, occupational health, and safety specialist with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

“The programs aim to help workers engage in a healthier lifestyle, both physically and mentally. For example, it may include fitness reimbursements, smoking cessation resources or substance use education and support, offered as part of today’s workplace health and wellness programs.”

While the pandemic underscored concern about many aspects of health and wellness, at work and private life, employees now embrace the new realities, and opt for science vs. fads. “The pandemic has revealed the multidimensional and omnipresent nature of wellness,” Fuller says. “Self-care is no longer something that we do for an hour a day, a few times a month or only when we are on vacation. It is an essential focus to be embedded in daily lives and priorities, with expectations expanding in workplaces and workspaces. And it is important to for employers to focus on solid science and evidence. Wellness and wellbeing have become new buzz words for products and services, and the adoption of wellness practices is accelerating at a much faster pace than the scientific research validate, especially in areas like supplements, functional foods and commercial products.”

While the company health and wellness focus has traditionally been on physical health, for various reasons and in various ways – partially due to the contemporary phenomenon of work burnout, quiet quitting and what HR types call The Great Resignation – workplace health and wellness is anxious to get to the root of the problem, and now embraces emotional and mental health.

“There is more attention, resources and tools to address psychosocial issues like workplace stress or anxiety,” Lin Yu says. “At the organization level, Calgary leaders and managers can make sure workplace psychosocial hazards like excessive workload are identified, assessed and addressed. At the individual, employee level, health and wellness programs can offer mental wellness resources, confidential counselling services and provide information on community resources for mental health support.”

HR studies and health and wellness consultants emphasize that, for the past three years or so, the largest growing demand for corporate health and wellness remains mental health. Emerging from the pandemic, employees crave meaningful connection to support their social wellbeing, but they are also struggling with financial wellbeing due to worries like the cost of living, interest rates and inflation hitting everyone particularly hard. It all impacts mental health.

Despite flex time and remote work, there many stressors on today’s delicate work/life balance.

“In some sectors, employees are working longer hours due to the labour shortage, and they are experiencing higher rates of burnout,” Fuller notes. “Often, this leads to an erosion of their health and wellbeing and from the company’s side, an increase in absenteeism, health care costs and resignations. Changing values of employees, with a greater focus on their wellbeing, is paramount in their decisions of what work they will do and who they will work for.”

As physical and mental health gain acceptance, not as perks but essential aspects of the Calgary workplace, attitudes are changing. It was so long ago that talking about mental, at work, was avoided, not only for ‘what will people think’ worries but as perceived liability of weakness, losing a promotion or not getting a raise. And while talking about depression, anxiety and other mental health issues is becoming more common, there’s still lingering concern about being judged by co-workers and management.

The encouraging good news? Workplace health and wellness now includes mental health programs and training on resilience, wellbeing and burnout. Many Calgary companies have also started to enhance health benefits, as well as offering employee and family assistance programs to provide more mental health support. “There is less stigma and increased openness around individuals expressing that their mental health is a priority,” she says, “and they are looking for more ways to protect it and are reaching out for supports when they need it.”