Creating Wellness

Chances are that you have participated in a wellness program at work. Programs such as help with smoking cessation, diabetes testing or nutritional counselling have existed in Canadian workplaces for the last 20 years.

Research by Karen MacNeill, a UBC doctoral intern studying workplace wellness, suggests both employers and employees are happy with the results. Employers report a decrease in absenteeism and short-and-long-term disabilities, and a rise in productivity and job satisfaction. Offering a wellness program can enhance a company’s reputation and make it an employer of choice.

As the workforce ages, wellness programs will become even more important as a way to retain talent and help older workers maintain their health.

Last year, David Baxter, a leading authority on the impact of demographics in the workplace, warned that the coming labour shortage brought on by the aging population will require companies to emphasize illness-and-injury prevention. Employers will also strive to be an employer of choice in a shrinking labour pool.

Older and younger employees can influence their workplaces to maintain or expand wellness programs in the interests of enhancing their own health. Although wellness programs can be costly, the costs are offset by a productive and happy workforce and a positive reputation for the employer.

Wellness programs should ideally encourage staff to adopt health-enhancing behaviours in seven areas of life:

1. Physical Wellness
Programs that encourage staff to take part in sweat- producing exercise for 20-30 minutes at least three times per week contribute to wellness. Helping people stay away from fatty foods or eating in fast food restaurants helps. Encouraging personnel to eat fruits and vegetables as well as foods high in fiber is part of maintaining physical health. Protecting yourself from the sun and refraining from drinking and driving also improve staff’s sense of well-being.

2. Social Wellness
Wellness programs that support healthy relationships both at work and at home are helpful. Employees can be encouraged to behave fairly, resolve conflict in a respectful manner, take time to enjoy family and friends and help others in need. Offering people a chance to learn more about parenting, being a good friend or maintaining professional work relationships is important.

3. Emotional Wellness
Employers can help staff understand how to express anger in a manner that does not hurt others. Learning to negotiate well, make decisions and learn from mistakes can help staff be more productive and happier. Employers can give employees tools to set realistic objectives, take responsibility for their actions as well as offering employees ideas about how to relax without drugs or alcohol.

An aspect of emotional wellness that workplaces are increasingly addressing is sexual health. Questions from parents about teen sexuality or healthy long-term adult sexual relationships can be answered as part of wellness- oriented information sessions. Sexual wellness includes being comfortable with one’s level of sexual involvement, feeling positive about oneself sexually and ensuring that sexual needs don’t interfere with other needs in one’s life, such as using Internet porn during working hours.

4. Intellectual Wellness
Giving staff opportunities to develop intellectually is important. Companies can encourage staff to engage in continuing education that develops them in their role. Or, organizations can provide a means for staff to stay informed about current events or community issues. Helping staff remain curious and interested in alternate or opposing viewpoints on workplace, community or national issues can stimulate conversation and creativity.

5. Occupational Wellness
Wellness initiatives that target obtaining adequate feedback about how staff perform on the job are important. Programs that encourage employees to book time with managers to ask “How am I doing on the job” before a scheduled annual review provides staff with the feedback they need. Helping staff tackle work-life balance issues and how to negotiate their workload helps too.

6. Spiritual Wellness
Discussing how to live a purposeful life, helping staff understand how their values influence their work and offering information about different religious or spiritual traditions can increase sensitivity to others at work. Discussing issues related to meaning, death or crisis could offer staff information that helps them cope with change.

7. Psychological Wellness
Leader-development programs aid in creating psychologically healthy workplaces. Executive coaching and training programs that help staff manage their responses to interpersonal stress (e.g., being assertive when one’s instinct is to withdraw) can increase staff wellness levels. Learning how to be self aware, less negative, and more empathic at work contribute to a healthy organization.

Programs that educate staff about mental illness are important elements of a wellness program. Helping people understand depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, alcohol dependence and the like can aid in developing increased understanding and reducing the stigma attached to mental health problems.

Wellness programs have evolved along with our understanding of what wellness is. It is no longer the narrow field it once was: that is, promoting physical activity or having the annual medical check-up. Wellness now encompasses the breadth of human experience.

And while this new understanding of what it means to be healthy and well may seem too broad for some, future indicators are pointing to the workplace as being the optimal environment for maintaining and promoting well-being.

As companies embrace wellness in its largest sense, the organization, its employees and families will benefit.

Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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