Written by: Charles Curtis, President of Curtis Personalized Health Management and General [...]
5 best practices to boost your workplace wellness program
My name is Charles Curtis and for the past 30 years I have been reading, consulting, discussing and writing on the ever increasing costs of poor health in the workplace and improving workplace wellbeing.
We know that costs associated with employee health continue to rise regardless of the overwhelming evidence of the positive return on investment (ROI) from effective workplace wellness programs.
So how can we determine what programs result in the positive outcome companies now must strive for?
A 2011 Sun Life-Ivey Business School study, Canadian Wellness Return on Investment Study, identified the five best practices to support optimal wellness strategy, design and implementation as:
- Leadership by example from senior and middle management creates a healthy culture.
- Policies and practices that reflect a culture of health and a commitment to a healthy workplace.
- Communication is critical. Employees must understand the employer’s commitment to employee health and wellness offering.
- Targeted programs to identify top health risks.
- Evaluate outcomes for analysis and benchmarks.
Over the past 30 years, some organizations I’ve worked with exist through a philosophy of wellness for everything they do. Starting from the top, leadership believed that organized wellness activities were to be woven into the fabric of the company. The result was continuous growth, positive energy, pride and better outcomes resulting in organization wide cost savings while allowing the wellness budget to continually grow.
Contrary to this winning approach, I have seen cases where a very small budget was given to outfit fitness centres and see how the attendance would be before any more funds were injected into the program. This “build it and they will come” approach without strong leadership or investment usually results in little engagement, accountability and ownership of the program.
Policies and Practices
A strong business case with solid policies and practices is a must in order to sustain a wellness program. The strongest programs have a team of dedicated employees supported by leadership and an outside expert to help guide them through the pitfalls of a start up or refresh. Forming a committee to establish guidelines sets the tone for a strong program. The key to this is having a solid plan and committee members that are committed to the program, the company and the people. Without a dedicated group willing to work hard and support the policies it is an uphill battle.
The best programs have the strongest methods of communications. If the communication system is not effective then it doesn’t matter if you have the greatest programs available.
One example of this, I have seen, had a middle management who believed in the program but there was little budget to promote the services. That created a situation where the organization had little “skin in the game” and left the program and sign ups to the employees without financial support, leadership or ownership. That was not a sustainable model. Opposite to that, I have seen programs that have a strong web presence, communication policy and plans. Consistent messages and programs are promoted well in advance throughout the locations and levels of organization, and supported by champions spreading the good word. Again, the return betters the more the investment and programs are communicated effectively.
Using passive forms of communication alone, such as educational handouts on fitness, health and wellness, does not achieve a positive return on investment. Behavioral health interventions will provide a much better result, establishing a winning plan for reducing those costly areas of concern and enabling the employee population of your company to flourish.
In my experience, using a health risk identification process and interest survey as a program launching point will ensure all data and health trends are collected from the beginning. This data is paramount in identifying and targeting the key areas of risk and interest in order to establish the most effective services and programs and maintain program accountability.
As a follow up to the risk identification process, it is suggested organizations develop a comparative feedback measurement to evaluate program success and establish accountability. The most successful programs are under constant scrutiny and evaluation. Evaluation can come in many forms: participation levels, participation feedback, pre and post test results and financial cost benefits just to name a few. This process forces the organization to keep on top of the program and make adjustments as needed in a timely matter.
Charles Curtis is President of Curtis Personalized Health Management and General Manager of 12 Weeks to Wellness: Premier services in providing fitness, health, wellness and coaching programs to individuals and organizations since 1985.
Business Spotlight: West Vancouver Schools
Teachers teaching teachers
On March 30th, 2017 we hosted the second annual Healthy Workplaces Extra Mile Awards, and we recently took some time to speak with one of our winners, West Vancouver Schools. As the winner of the 2017 Health Education Award, they are recognized for implementing innovative educational strategies in workplaces. To understand the challenges and rewards of promoting workplace health and wellness, we spoke to Amy Rafuse, Human Resources Advisor for West Vancouver Schools.
Amy highlighted the positive potential of workplace health and wellness programs by sharing the testimonial of an employee from a recent nutrition challenge.
“I chose the nutrition challenge for a few reasons. Recovering from a serious illness, I was rebuilding my body from the inside out…. I learned a lot from it, and found it easy that I did not need to research things on my own but rather information was provided to me with the weekly challenges.”
This story confirms the power of workplace health and wellness programs to transform the lives of employees. Our interview with Amy shares more about West Vancouver Schools’ inspiring wellness story!
What advice would you give to other organizations or school boards about workplace health and wellness?
Amy: Don’t get bogged down in planning every little detail before initiating workplace health and wellness. Find out what your employees are interested in, and what they need, and just start! Once you’ve started, the positive feedback and suggestions create a momentum that sustains workplace wellness. If you have a diverse employee demographic, like we do, then focus on the universal experiences that affect health and wellness. Factors like work-life balance, stress management, and relationships transcend the divisions of employee demographics, making it easier to plan workplace wellness initiatives.
How has your organization’s outlook on workplace health and wellness evolved over time?
Amy: Throughout the past year our focus has been on traditional aspects of health and wellness: exercise and healthy eating. After building internal buy-in and getting positive feedback from employees, we’re hoping to transition into a general holistic approach to workplace health and wellness. We’d like to offer mindfulness and meditation initiatives that address aspects of wellness beyond nutrition and fitness.
Have you encountered any challenges to implementing workplace health and wellness? If so, how did you approach them?
Amy: We are always challenged by budget. West Vancouver Schools is a publicly funded district so we have to balance the needs of employees and the expectations of taxpayers. It can be difficult to mitigate costs while providing good quality workplace wellness initiatives. One of the ways we cut costs is by looking for in-house experts. Since our employees are qualified across so many different subject areas we can harness their knowledge to provide workplace wellness initiatives. With our transitioning focus on mindfulness we want to arrange for a speaker to come in. After investigating options we found that a corporate professional might charge close to a thousand dollars to deliver a presentation, whereas a PhD student doing research in the field of mindfulness may be happy to speak for free.
With teaching at the core of your workplace culture how do you approach health education?
Amy: We emphasize the accessibility of information. Due to the busy schedule of school days we arrange wellness initiatives flexibly around the demands of different employee groups. We use multiple avenues to relay health and wellness information, and we engage in friendly competition across schools. With teaching being at our core, we have also used our students to educate our staff! One example of this is we had high school students prepare healthy snacks for staff during their cooking class. West Vancouver Schools are responsible for shaping the minds of future generations so it’s important for us to exemplify the benefits of maintaining health and wellness.
West Vancouver Schools excel in educating employees. They use information to inspire action in healthy living challenges and through discussions with health and wellness professionals. Navigating the challenges of budget and diverse employee demographics, they have committed to workplace wellness, and are rewarded with the enthusiasm and satisfaction of staff. We’d like to thank West Vancouver Schools for sharing their knowledge on workplace wellness!
Teachers teaching teachers On March 30th, 2017 we hosted the [...]
Business Spotlight: BlueShore Financial
Following the inspiring momentum of the second annual Healthy Workplaces Extra Mile Awards, we took some time to speak with one of our nominees. BlueShore Financial is one of British Columbia’s largest credit unions. With over 340 employees across 12 branches and a head office, they understand the challenges of implementing accessible and inclusive workplace wellness initiatives. We had the pleasure of speaking with Marni Johnson, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Communications, to hear BlueShore’s wellness story. Explore our interview with Marni to find out how workplace wellness programs enhance quality of life and help employees enjoy their work!
What advice would you give to a business to convince them of the benefits of workplace health and wellness?
Marni: It simply makes good business sense to take care of your people. They are your most valuable assets. An investment in workplace wellness shows employees that they’re valued and promotes team spirit and engagement. Since a large percentage of business healthcare costs are due to preventable conditions, taking a proactive approach to workplace health and wellness also reduces long term costs.
How would you define your organizational culture with regards to workplace health and wellness?
Marni: At BlueShore Financial we view our relationship with employees as a partnership. We do everything we can to facilitate their health and wellness. We emphasize the importance of only coming to work when healthy and encourage employees who aren’t well to stay home by offering unlimited sick days. We host weekly soccer games, paying for the rental of a local field, and invite employees to play outdoors. The CEO of BlueShore participates in the staff soccer games too!
We also regularly sponsor health and wellness related events in our communities, such as 10k runs and half marathons in Vancouver, Whistler, Squamish and other regions. We promote employee wellness at the same time by encouraging staff to participate in these initiatives by covering the registration fee.
To accommodate the health and wellness of diverse employee demographics, last year we started offering an annual stipend for wellness purchases. More than half of our staff took advantage of this initiative, buying running shoes, yoga classes, and everything in between. We give a great deal to our employees and the value of our investment is demonstrated through their energy, productivity, and commitment!
BlueShore Financial promotes a flexible work environment. How does this contribute to employee health and wellness?
Marni: A flexible work environment helps employees balance their work and personal interests. As in most workplaces, opportunities to work flexible hours differ depending on the role, but many of our employees are able to leave work early to go see their child’s school play, work out at a time that suits them, or take time to meet with an elder care resource. We know that making flexible work arrangements possible contributes to the physical and mental health of employees and their families.
What is your favourite workplace wellness initiative at BlueShore?
Marni: My favourite wellness initiative is our physical activity photo challenge. Every summer we ask employees to send in photos of their outdoor physical activity adventures and we post the photos on our employee intranet. The challenge is low cost and inclusive. You don’t have to be an athlete to participate, and you get to learn about your colleagues’ interests. I find it inspiring to see whole branches or departments of BlueShore doing the Grouse Grind together or tackling the Tough Mudder.
If you could give one piece of advice to another company around workplace health and wellness, what would it be?
Marni: Workplace health and wellness doesn’t have to cost a lot. There are two key ingredients: imagination and wellness champions. Find people who are passionate about health and wellness so that they approach initiatives with enthusiasm!
Improving the well-being of employees, clients, and communities is part of the core purpose of BlueShore Financial. Their workplace wellness initiatives are embraced by employees and supported by senior management. They see the value of investing in employee health, and encourage other businesses to take a proactive approach to workplace wellness. We appreciate BlueShore Financial sharing their insights into workplace health and wellness!
Following the inspiring momentum of the second annual Healthy Workplaces [...]
World Health Day 2017: Depression, let’s talk
Depression can be a delicate topic to approach in the workplace, but as the conversation around mental health grows, the stigma is silenced. For World Health Day: 2017 the World Health Organization is mobilizing education and support efforts around depression.
To strengthen your organization’s understanding of depression, it may be valuable to explore resources that can help to distinguish between myth and fact, and provide insight into the different ways that depression might manifest. Using educational resources such as fact sheets, posters, or handouts you can share information about the types and symptoms of depression, as well as its contributing factors and treatments. You can distribute these materials through internal communication channels or display them in common spaces such as lunch rooms or stair wells. It is also important to remind all employees of what may be available to them through your EAP (employee assistance program). By engaging in mental health education your organization empowers employees to identify and respond to signs of depression and other mental health topics.
In openly discussing depression in the workplace, employers and employees may have unique challenges and considerations to take into account. For instance, employers may not know how to accommodate mental health issues in hiring practices, and employees might wonder how to articulate mental health issues to employers. Mental Health Works offers practical strategies and solutions that employers and employees can use to address depression and mental health in the workplace.
Engaging in consistent mental health promotion supports a shift in organizational culture. It helps de-stigmatize topics like depression and encourages open discussion about mental health issues. To integrate mental health promotion into your organizational culture you can consider scheduling regular mental health hints where you share brief informational videos on the factors that affect mental health within the workplace. The videos are designed to promote discussion on factors such as workload management, psychological demands, and balance. They each have a corresponding worksheet that a facilitator, such as a wellness committee member, can use to guide conversation during team meetings, lunch ‘n’ learns, or employee orientations.
Through a combination of mental health initiatives and information your organization can confront mental health issues while creating an atmosphere of acceptance and awareness. To connect with more resources about depression and mental health in the workplace you can visit our Workplace Wellness topics page.
Depression can be a delicate topic to approach in the [...]
Brain building strategies for smart workplaces
The defining characteristics of humanity begin in the brain. The brain encodes and deciphers your entire sensory experience. It composes your thoughts, emotions and behaviours through a series of electrochemical signals. Brain Awareness Week, March 13-19, 2017 is an exciting time to introduce information and initiatives focused on brain health within your organization.
Collaborating with your workplace wellness committee you can encourage participation in brain exercises. These exercises could include any activity that challenges your brain beyond its usual routines and responses. For instance, you could start a book club where employees from all levels of your organization can come together to engage in creative discussion. This activity would enable co-workers to form meaningful social connections that support organizational culture and brain health!
Another socially interactive way to stimulate brain activity is to exchange skills or interests with a colleague. You might offer to teach knitting and in exchange learn words from a different language. To generate interest, post a sign-up sheet in a well-frequented area of your workplace where employees can fill in their name and skills that they can share with a co-worker.
Brain health is also dependent on lifestyle factors such as healthy eating and physical activity. To promote healthy eating in your workplace consider planning Lunch ‘n’ Learns and providing nutritious foods for staff in attendance. If you don’t have budget for this check with your employee assistance program provider to see what they can offer in terms of free Lunch ‘n’ Learns, and encourage employees to bring healthy food to share. To address physical activity in your workplace your organization can develop a physical activity policy or review and update your existing policy. A comprehensive physical activity policy outlines the range of resources your organization will allocate to create opportunities for physical activity. To access physical activity ideas that you can implement in your workplace look to our Workplace Wellness topics page.
You can access more information on boosting brain health through the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada website. They provide a range of fun activity ideas and a brain health brochure that can enrich the minds of your employees.
The defining characteristics of humanity begin in the brain. The [...]
A natural solution for workplace wellness
Modern workplaces are often centered in cities and can require prolonged screen-time. They can expose employees to a high degree of sensory stimulation which may lead to mental exhaustion. To lighten the sensory overload of your work environment and transform your workplace from a potential source of stress to a solution for it, try incorporating nature into your organizational culture.
You might do so by forming an employee walking group and going to the nearest park or green space during breaks. Alternatively, you could encourage employees to keep desk plants or to showcase natural scenes on their computer desktops. These small actions would energize employees by decreasing stress while increasing productivity.
If your organization is looking for a way to help employees unwind and unplug you can join the 30×30 Nature Challenge. This initiative from the David Suzuki Foundation encourages individuals to spend 30 minutes in nature for 30 days. In addition to providing daily tips for interacting with nature the Foundation also offers free workplace toolkits that include activity plans, posters and resources to help you implement the Challenge in your workplace.
Among the materials in the workplace toolkit is a global study that shows the benefits of biophilic design: a method of design that integrates natural elements into urban structures. According to the study employees with natural light or plants in their workspace report a 15% increase in creativity as compared to those without any links to nature. Meanwhile, research in neuroscience demonstrates that alpha wave activity, which signifies a relaxed but alert mental state, increases through interaction with nature.
For organizations looking to build new workplaces or enhance existing spaces, biophilic design makes a strong case for honouring ties to nature. To incorporate nature into your work environment you can use earthen tones for interior walls, and introduce indoor plants. You can also consider creating vertical gardens that optimize space planning or use organic moss materials to create an accent wall display. By converting your workplace into a green space you can promote the prosperity and productivity of employees, and attract bright new individuals as well!
Using nature to support workplace wellness is simple. Whether you choose to take meetings outside, with the added benefit of physical activity, or bring the outdoors into your workplace through biophilic design, connecting with nature provides measurable benefits to employee health.
Modern workplaces are often centered in cities and can require [...]
February is Heart Month
The heart is one of the body’s major organs; it pumps fresh oxygenated blood out to the body and sustains life. This February as you pay attention to matters of the heart, take note of your heart health as well, because it has a profound impact on your wellbeing.
Since the average working Canadian spends about 60% of their waking hours in the workplace, it is an important environment in which to implement strategies that promote heart health. Heart Month is the perfect time for your organization to set a collective goal to improve the heart health of your employees. You could do this by adding small doses of exercise, such as stretch breaks or step challenges, into your workplace routine. You might also choose to focus on healthy eating by swapping out sugary drinks, such as pop, for a healthier alternative such as fruit infused water. To substitute the sweetness of the sugary drinks you could encourage employees to exchange sweet messages or expressions of gratitude. This practice would create a socially supportive atmosphere that relieves stress and boosts employee moral!
Using internal communication channels to speak to supervisors, management, and employees you can better understand what areas of heart health could be addressed in the workplace. To help employees identify individual risk factors and areas for improvement you can share the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s free online risk assessment. This tool specifies health and lifestyle factors that are heart health risks, assists with goal setting to improve your heart health according to specific risk factors, and provides additional resources to help transition to a healthier lifestyle. It provides focused feedback to individual employees and can help jump-start your wellness program. If employees are willing to share the results of their risk assessments, your organization can use this information to propose collective heart health goals that are targeted towards the most prevalent heart health risks. By supporting health initiatives in the workplace your organization has the potential to gain the wholehearted appreciation of its employees and experience an increase in productivity.
You can access more resources and information regarding heart health at the Heart and Stroke foundation website. To get in touch with educational materials or to find actionable ideas for improving heart health in the workplace you can visit our Workplace Wellness Topics pages.
The heart is one of the body’s major organs; it [...]