Recently we took some time to sit down with the City of Richmond, our 2017 Platinum level Extra Mile Awards winner. We wanted to hear more about what contributes to their culture of workplace wellness. Take a look below to hear more about this ever evolving workplace wellness program from the perspective of Alison Dennis, Disability, Health & Wellness Specialist.

What has been the most rewarding organizational outcome of promoting workplace health and wellness?

Alison: Given that we are a municipality there are so many different employee groups that are often spread out geographically. One of the most rewarding organizational outcomes of promoting workplace health and wellness has been the team connectedness when employee groups come together to participate in team initiatives and competitions. Seeing staff reconnecting with each other through fun competition and getting out of the office at lunch is invaluable. For me, personally, the most rewarding aspect has been helping my colleagues go through personal accomplishments such as achieving significant weight loss, increased self-awareness and or knowing our programs have assisted in earlier detection of cancers, heart disease and diabetes. It has also been really great to see the mandate for health and wellness come straight from our upper senior management team.

What advice would you give to other municipalities to convince them of the benefits of workplace health and wellness?

Alison: My number one piece of advice would be making sure you know what all your different employee groups want out of the wellness program, because after all, it is their program. If your programing is not what they want, they won’t use it so make sure you get out there and talk to them face to face but also make sure to follow through on your conversations. I would also recommend that you form a representative wellness committee that has members from all levels of the organization including senior management. I interview all potential committee members for suitability to make sure they have a vested interest in helping carry our wellness initiatives forward.

How has your organization’s outlook on workplace health and wellness evolved?

Alison: I have been with the organization for 18 years and have been working on health and wellness internally for close to 16 of them, so I have seen many evolutions in regards to workplace health. When we first started, the only aspect of the programing was around physical activity but that slowly evolved to including nutrition and other healthy lifestyle behaviours. Now, all these years later, our program has evolved into positively impacting organizational culture and all aspects of wellness. We now hold the philosophy; Work hard, play hard.

As a municipal organization what challenges do you face in implementing workplace health and wellness?

Alison: Like any public organization we face the challenge of a small budget so we really need to leverage community partnerships, those organizations that have a mandate to assist in programing like ours. Another challenge we face as a municipality is both the diversity of our various staff teams and how geographically spread out our employees are. We have office staff, firefighters, and an outside workforce so we need to make sure our program is flexible to their needs and schedules. I have spent lots of time talking face to face with these departments to ensure their needs are met, and now they have each formed their own wellness committees to help keep wellness alive in their areas of the operation!

In your application for the Extra Mile Awards it mentions that “your wellness program has had over 60% of the organization participate in one or more initiatives.” How do you motivate staff to participate in workplace wellness initiatives?

Alison: Face to face interactions! Build those relationships, listening to employees and being accessible to them helps us see great organizational participation. I make sure I am present at all wellness activities and I ask questions and solicit feedback at each one.

What is your favourite workplace wellness initiative that the City has done?

Alison: The City of Richmond was involved in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, so leading up to the event we decided to host our own “Warm Up to 2010 Olympics”. We had over 500 staff participate including our General Manager and our Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) over the six week program. In fact, the CAO and I competed against each other in the rowing competition! Staff recruited teams of 8-10 employees and competed in adapted Olympic events with fun twists such as chariots of fire and blind folded biathlon. We even had a tiki torch as our Olympic flame and had opening and closing ceremonies complete with team parades and a team cheer competition.

Another one of my favourite initiatives has been our coaching program. I have been able to assist my colleagues who were poised to go off work on stress leave stay in their positions and set goals to becoming a healthier version of themselves!

In the City of Richmond’s Extra Mile Award application it mentions that you’ve participated in pilot programs with various organizations and research groups. How do you connect with these opportunities and what unique benefits do they offer?

Alison: It is easy! Just phone up an organization and start asking the questions. If a particular organization can’t help you they are often able to point you in the direction of someone who can. We also hold good relationships with our local university, the University of British Columbia, so when they are conducting research that has to do with the workplace setting they know they can reach out to us to be a pilot site. It is a symbiotic relationship!

The City of Richmond cares about the health of employees. They cultivate a culture of workplace wellness through fun initiatives and removing health barriers for employees. We would like to thank the City for sharing their valuable insights into workplace health and