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Workplace wellness programs: what are they all about?

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Typically, wellness means “the condition of good physical and mental health”, but what is a “workplace wellness program”? What are the advantages of having this kind of program, and how does an employer start one up? defines wellness program as “a comprehensive health program designed to maintain a high level of well-being through proper diet, exercise, stress management, and illness prevention”.

Sure, adults should take the initiative to take care of themselves on their own outside of the workplace. Notwithstanding this fact, there are some significant reasons for employers to implement a wellness program in their workplaces.

Employees can benefit by having this kind of program in the following ways:

  • Increased level of physical fitness
  • Increased opportunity to focus on taking care of oneself without the distractions of family and social life
  • Increased stamina
  • Decreased stress levels
  • Increased self-esteem, energy and overall well-being
  • Increased sense of teamwork among employees
  • Effective maintenance of healthy weights and body mass indexes
  • Decreased incidents of absenteeism and presenteeism

Not only do employees benefit when workplace wellness programs are in place, but employers also benefit due to:

  • Improved recruitment and retention of valuable employees (many employees actually seek out employers that have wellness programs)
  • Increased morale in the workplace
  • Decreased health care costs from illnesses and injuries, including workers’ compensation and sick leave claims
  • Increased productivity due to decreased absenteeism and presenteeism
  • Enhanced corporate reputation
  • Increased positive feelings from knowing that the employer is helping improve the lives of its employees

There are several topics that can be included in a wellness program. For instance, the focus could fall into the categories of physical fitness, financial wellness and health promotion (for example, addictions, mental health, nutrition, stress, safety, sleep, eye and dental care). Numerous topics can be presented; it’s just a matter of deciding which ones are most applicable in your workplace. Information is available for free on the Internet, and an employer can also hire a consultant to develop a solid plan containing certain themes for the program.

The wellness program could be presented in various ways, including informative lunch seminars, offsite presentations, guest speakers or hands-on sessions in the gym with a personal trainer. The employer could also create fun competitions between teams of employees in order to bolster motivation and performance. The frequency, location, materials and presenters really depend on the needs and preferences of both the employees and the employer.

How does an employer set up a wellness program? The following steps are recommended:

  • Identify the need for a wellness program in your workplace
  • Assess the benefits of the program
  • Establish a wellness committee
  • Assess employees’ wellness needs and interests
  • Develop a mission statement, goals and objectives for the program
  • Design the program
  • Develop a timeline and a realistic budget
  • Select wellness program incentives
  • Obtain internal and external support for the program
  • Promote the wellness program
  • Implement the program
  • Routinely evaluate the program’s effectiveness and success

In my experience, my favourite wellness program as an employee was one where the employer had a gym and a personal trainer available for the employees. I’m wondering: does your company have a wellness program? If so, what are your favourite features of your program?

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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