Health and Safety
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Using technology to promote employee wellness

By Chris Bruce


All employers want to create a supportive and encouraging work environment for their employees. Providing easy access to benefits that meet the needs of their employees is a failsafe way companies can demonstrate their commitment to improving the overall wellness of their people.

HR departments often make a lot of noise about dental plans or generous amounts of sick days to current and prospective employees. But, while preventative measures to promote physical wellness are important, employers can’t forget to look at proactive benefits that promote holistic wellbeing, and notably mental health, head on. 

According to The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 39 per cent of Ontario workers would not tell their managers if they were experiencing a mental health problem. Unfortunately, the stigma historically associated with mental illness still permeates the workplace. Employers need to openly discuss the importance of mental wellbeing and provide employees with access to benefits that help address mental health issues to use in whichever way they feel most comfortable. Creating a positive user experience and maximizing employee awareness of the benefits offered can be achieved with the help of the right HR technology.


Data analytics

With one in five Canadians dealing with a mental illness or addiction, there is a clear and immediate need for wellbeing benefits at work. In order to provide the best wellness benefits, organizations first have to be aware of what employees want from their benefits plan. By using technology to collect and analyze benefits data, employers can easily identify which benefits are used the most, allowing them to prove ROI on their current approach or adjust their program accordingly. 

Every employee has individual needs that can vary greatly and employers need to ensure they are catering to them. For example, nearly 50 per cent of Canadians say that money worries cause them extreme emotional distress and 40 per cent say it even causes them to lose sleep. Employers could help alleviate some of this by providing access to money management tools or financial planning services. 

Offering “wellness pots,” where employees have an allowance to spend on any activity that improves their overall wellness is a great option to give employees more freedom and flexibility. Employee Benefits Watch 2016/17 research shows that 51 per cent of employees would like a wellness pot, yet only four per cent of organizations are offering this as an option. Not giving employees the flexibility to look after their own wellness is a missed opportunity as employers that offer online wellness pots see an average 23 per cent jump in employee engagement.


People analytics

However, hard data can only tell so much. Conducting research with employees to determine what wellbeing support they find most useful gives organizations a reliable idea of what they actually want. Analyst Josh Bersin notes that using people analytics to identify what makes employees happy and what causes burnout is becoming more popular in today’s workplace. For example, one of the organizations he works with used smart badges to track their employees for six months and found that the single greatest contributor to employee happiness was “getting up and moving around.” As a result, the company moved conference rooms, started having walking meetings and moved the cafeteria and other public spaces so people could spend more time walking.

By working to pinpoint areas where stress can be reduced, or happiness levels lifted, employers can develop a positive work environment that promotes mental wellbeing. Proactively addressing negative impacts on mental wellbeing before they snowball into larger issues is an important part of supporting overall wellness.


The big picture

Failing to provide easily accessible wellness benefits can lead to problems much worse than a negative perception of the company. Mental illness costs Canada approximately $51 billion a year. In any given week, at least 500,000 employed Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems and the cost of a disability leave for a mental illness is roughly double the cost of leave due to a physical illness. Making sure employees have the support they need helps employers promote mental wellbeing, but it also helps the bottom line. 

Picking and choosing whether to support employees’ physical, mental or financial health – or not – is no longer an option. Different aspects of wellness do not exist in isolation. People suffering from poor mental wellbeing have a higher risk of developing long-term medical conditions. Companies that use technology to help employees access the care they need and get creative about improving the office work environment have the power to increase not only job performance and the perception of the business, but wellbeing overall; the payoffs for which cannot be underestimated.

Chris Bruce is the co-founder and managing director at Thomsons Online Benefits.



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