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Essential Employee Benefits

Workplace benefits that impact the individual and the business’ bottom line


No doubt about it! In Edmonton and throughout Canada, there is a dynamic new fact of workplace life. Employers everywhere are taking more of an interest in the well-being of their employees. The COVID years proved to underscore just how important it is for businesses to support not only the physical health but also the mental health of employees.

For many Edmonton businesses, corporate health and wellness has become a vital organization priority, which not only impacts productivity, workplace atmosphere and other job-related aspects but also impacts the company’s bottom line.

The once vague topic of corporate health and wellness has morphed way beyond traditional benefits such as dental plans and quirky health coverage like massage therapy and gym memberships. Today’s cubicle conversations are about short-term counselling, flexible work hours, life balance, fitness trackers, on-demand workouts, meditation and mindfulness, stress management, collagen for age reversal, sleep products and crisis responsiveness. Some companies have gone as far as incorporating a wellness day – a way for employees to take a day off and do a fun thing for themselves.

Recent surveys show that employers are doing more than “woke” lip-service and are walking-the-walk about the concept; healthy and happy employees are more effective, engaged and satisfied in their jobs.

“There has been a growing awareness that investments in employee well-being will support employee engagement, productivity and performance. In addition, it has also been shown to reduce costs like turnover, absenteeism and presenteeism in the workplace,” says Victoria Grainger, founder of Edmonton’s Wellness Works Canada, the respected not-for-profit workplace health and performance association supporting workplace wellness practitioners and employers in building healthy, high performing work cultures.

“Since the pandemic, there has also been a growing sense of responsibility for employers to support employee mental health. Let’s face it. We are living in an echo pandemic where the rates of mental health problems have surpassed the actual impact of COVID-19 itself. It continues to directly impact employees’ mental fitness and performance.

“The majority of all large organizations in Edmonton are invested in employee well-being. In some organizations, we still have ways to go to truly integrate employee well-being into day-to-day practices. Organizational well-being, or workplace health and performance, is much more than a program or initiative. It is about having a philosophy that, in order to do well, we must be well. It is a risk management and organizational performance tactic.”

Grainger adds that Edmonton’s businesses are focused on employee health and wellness. “It’s important to note that a corporate health and wellness plan does not require a lot of investment, fancy apps or gyms. It is simply about prioritizing employee well-being with things like flexible work options, recognition, empathy, civility and respect; and ultimately, a culture that has a people-first lens.”

While shifting workplace trends have been emerging for several years, corporate health and wellness consultants are unanimous. The past two years of pandemic work disruptions, stressing about jobs, health worries and adapting to remote work routines have taken their toll on mental health and other new-normals of corporate health and wellness.

According to Amrita Maharaj-Dube at Homewood Health, dealing with the pandemic triggered stresses, anxieties and economic uncertainties that contributed to an overall surge in the demand for mental health services at work.

“A recent StatsCan survey showed that one in three Canadians reported a decline in their mental health,” says Maharaj-Dube. “The need for a comprehensive continuum of mental health services is evident.

“The most sought-after wellness services by employers include individual and family mental health support, assistance with financial and legal matters and support for leaders managing their own mental health and that of their employees. Substance use issues can be particularly challenging, especially in safety-sensitive industries where the risks of errors or misjudgment can be catastrophic.”

She explains that corporate health and wellness initiatives are often part of a broader suite of tools, resources and supports offered as part of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Surveys show that in today’s market, a comprehensive EAP is essential to any competitive employee benefits package.

Maharaj-Dube adds that conversations with Edmonton business leaders is now focused on the promotion of EAP services to employees. Business leaders inquire about the type of support needed and the frequency of access, without compromising the employee’s confidentiality and privacy.

“These insights help leaders drive internal education efforts about EAP services. EAP is one of the most important benefits companies provide to their employees. Over the past five years or so, Homewood has noticed an increased demand for corporate health and wellness services, particularly among small and medium-sized businesses seeking to attract or retain top talent.

“As with other employee benefits, choice is key. Employees are seeking flexible and easy access to in-person and virtual modes of mental health care.”

Corporate health and wellness experts point out that mental health programs and training on resilience, well-being and burnout are very popular and effective, if offered consistently. Many local companies have also started to enhance health benefits, as well as offering employee and family assistance programs to provide more mental health support.

A dynamic example of Edmonton area organizations modifying, updating and offering a broad range of health and wellness programs for employees is the City of Edmonton. The City employs more than 13,000 staff. Edmonton is a major employer and provides holistic and comprehensive workplace wellness programming, services and policies aimed at fostering a work environment that supports the well-being of employees, builds resilience and encourages employees to access resources when faced with challenges.

For example, the City’s health programs and resources include short-term counseling/crisis response and mental health training such as The Working Mind Program and Workplace Wellness Promotion (which includes Corporate Mindfulness Sessions, Domestic Violence and Our Workplace, which is eLearning focused on the moral, legal, and safety obligations regarding domestic violence and the workplace). The City also offers Wellness Wednesdays, Live Active sessions and two annual wellness fairs.

As an employer of more than 13,000 people, the City also offers other employee supports like a peer support program, workplace wellness consultations and sacred spaces (available for employees to use for quiet personal time and prayer).

“EAPs offering health and wellness initiatives are important to all employees,” Maharaj-Dube points out. “When it comes to Edmonton’s business pulse, small and medium-sized businesses are diversifying the economy and want comprehensive EAP services for their employees.

“In Edmonton, the energy sector is a major economic driver, although it continues to experience its share of hardships and uncertainties. Edmonton is also a major education hub and the new generation of employees entering today’s workforce expects a comprehensive mental health support program. It is why leading employers in Edmonton are increasingly offering these supports, to attract and retain employees.”

Grainger urges Edmonton business leaders to make corporate health and wellness a crucial priority. “I think a must-have is leaders supporting the psychological health, well-being and the performance of their people. After all, people don’t quit jobs. They quit bad managers.”