Health and Safety
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How to start a cost-effective workplace health and wellness program

By Laura Pratt

More and more companies are aware of the importance of maintaining a healthy workplace and they’re taking initiative to offer services that can improve the physical and mental wellbeing of their employees.

A focus on workplace wellness helps attract and retain talent, reduces health costs and increases productivity, but the direct impact of those wellness initiatives can be difficult to measure when you’re trying to quantify the return on investment of a wellness program.

And that’s what many companies struggle with – proving the time and resources they invest will pay off, particularly for companies with smaller budgets and those with high employee turnover.

The good news is that a wellness program doesn’t have to be a big investment. One or two small steps toward a healthier workplace can have a bigger impact than you may expect. But how do you know where to start?

Taking the pulse of workplaces

A health and wellness program starts with getting a good idea of the health risks that exist within a company. Is there an aging workforce struggling with age-related illnesses or conditions? A younger workforce struggling with work-life balance or the demands of a young family? Are there three or four generations with different needs?

To get answers, look at the data you have available: drug and disability trend reports, employee assistance program usage reports, employee surveys and health risk assessment campaign results all provide good insight into health risks. Take advantage of tools that many group benefits providers offer such as wellness sites and organizational risk assessments that include employees’ most claimed prescription drug types, most common conditions and other areas of health risk.

Companies that don’t have this information, or the time to review it, can’t go too far wrong if they target typical Canadian health risk factors like high cholesterol and blood pressure, diabetes and mental health issues, and focus on physical activity, nutrition and mental wellbeing.

Getting started

Once companies know what health risks they’d like to target, it’s time to put an action plan in place. It often falls to HR or health and safety teams to lead the way, but if you really want to engage all employees in the program, find those employees who are already actively invested in their own health and allow them to champion the program for you. Their energy and passion will go a long way toward generating those positive outcomes you are hoping for.

Here’s a sample three-step health and wellness program targeted to helping improve employees’ cardiovascular health:

  • Promote community-based resources to help educate employees about their risks
  • Conduct a one-day screening program to identify personal health risks and steps employees can take to lower them
  • Implement a walking program and reward-based fitness challenge

The good news is that a wellness program doesn’t have to be a big investment.

Free resources

Many organizations provide free and credible resources to help you plan workplace wellness activities and get started:

  • Personal health risk assessment tools provide a solid foundation for any health and wellness program. Many group benefits providers offer a confidential online tool designed to help plan members assess their personal health risks, create their own health profiles, build a personal action plan and track their progress.
  • Health awareness days and events calendars can easily be used to develop the framework for a cost-effective program. Health Canada lists health promotion days with links to related health organizations on their website at
  • An interactive Workplace Wellness Program calendar is also available at, and includes suggested activities and free resources tailored to each date. There, you will also find links to other free community resources such as The Schizophrenia Society of Ontario, the Canadian Mental Health Association and Kids Help Phone, to name just a few.
  • Stress management tools like the virtual wellness program developed by the University Health Network (UHN) offer online exercises for stress reduction and deep relaxation.
  • Self-assessment tools can include questionnaires, information and quizzes, such as the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Meter or Work-Life Balance Quiz. These and links to other credible organizations have been made conveniently available under Self-Assessment Tools at
  • For information, ideas and tools to educate employees and ways to evaluate the success of a wellness program, can be used all year long.

Health and wellness programs aren’t just employee perks for big companies with big budgets. Companies are made up of people and so health is important to any workplace. Companies can start small by implementing one initiative at a time. They just need to start.

Laura Pratt, B.A., C.I.M., H.I.A.A., I.C.A. is the national practice leader for Great-West Life’s national team of organizational health consultants.

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