Home Month and Year September 2023 Physical and Mental Health & Wellness

Physical and Mental Health & Wellness

It is personal and it affects the bottom line


There is an undisputed new business fact of life about corporate health and wellness. With many employees spending a third of their day (or more) working, the employer and the transforming workplace play a significant role in employee health.

The focus on corporate health and wellness is changing, sometimes dramatically. While some companies, big and small, increase salary ranges to attract new talent, others are implementing flex times and adding to company perks, bonuses, staff discounts, upskilling and financial wellness benefits.

Recent HR studies show that it may not be enough. Many workers have changed their definition of “success.” They now prioritize work-life balance, mental health and having a meaningful job over the cliched steady paycheck.

In the Edmonton workplace, and throughout North America, HR and experienced professionals are making employee mental and physical wellness a strategic priority; and, while it may be a forgettable, distant memory, the pandemic disruptions have made a dent in employee and employer attitudes and the realization that a healthy workforce is not only important from a moral standpoint, but also from a financial and business standpoint.

Of course, the wants and needs and expectations of employees are vital to achieve and maintain personal health but the facts, figures and trendings show that health and wellness options and programs offered by Edmonton employers are also directly and indirectly important aspects of the business’ bottom line.

For employees, health and wellness is repeatedly shown to boost moods and happiness. It may sound sappy and trite but there is proof that happy people enjoy life, are better employees and better spouses, parents, caregivers and volunteers. It is documented that people who are physically and mentally fit have the capacity, and the ability, to give more to their families, communities and to their employers.

On the company side, businesses that prioritize both mental and physical health within their work cultures reap the ROI because workplace health and wellness programs offer significant benefits. For Edmonton-based companies, while the momentum is encouraging, corporate health and wellness is a work in progress – and the Edmonton workplace continues to be re-defined.

“As part of a continual process to improve the physical and psychosocial health of the workplace, health and wellness programs help promote the good physical and mental health of the employee,” explains Lin Yu, occupational health and safety specialist with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). “But it is also shown to be valuable for improving productivity, engagement, morale and also effective for impacting presenteeism and absenteeism in the workplace.

More and more, effectively targeting company health and wellness options and programs is also a potent tool for recruitment and retention.

“We have certainly witnessed that if organizations are not prioritizing employee health and wellbeing, they are significantly struggling with the attraction and retention of valued employees,” notes Melanie Fuller, director of wellness at Alberta Blue Cross, “which is ultimately the driving engine of the business and its sustainability. In some sectors, employees are working longer hours, often due to labour shortages, and it is causing higher rates of burnout, leading to an erosion of their health and wellbeing and an increase in absenteeism, health care costs and resignations. Changing values of employees—with a greater focus on their personal wellbeing – is paramount in their decisions of what work they will do and who they will work for.”

As Edmonton’s big and small 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,” says the upbeat and respected 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. “It is simply about prioritizing physical, mental and life balance with things like flexible work options, recognition, empathy, civility, respect and ultimately a culture that has a people-first lens.”

Yu adds that, “Workplace health and wellness programs typically offer health promotion tools, resources or activities that help encourage overall good health. These programs aim to help workers engage in a healthier lifestyle, both physically and mentally. For example, it may be fitness reimbursements, smoking cessation resources or substance use education and support offered as part of workplace health and wellness programs.”

She points out that with increased awareness on mental health issues in recent years, health and wellness programs may also include more resources and tools to address psychosocial issues like workplace stress or anxiety. Also, some organizations also offer employee assistance programs that connect workers with confidential, short-term, counselling services.

“More and more, when we talk about workplace health and safety, we are referring to both the physical and psychological well-being of workers. A company’s wellness program should complement the existing health and safety program to address mental health challenges at both the organization and individual levels.

“At the organization level, leaders and managers can make sure workplace psychosocial hazards like excessive workloads are identified, assessed and addressed,” Yu continues. “At the individual level, health and wellness programs can offer mental wellness resources, confidential counselling services and provide information on community resources for mental health support.

She acknowledges that the role of the workplace is not to diagnose or to treat any illness, mental or physical. However, the company can certainly offer support and accommodations.

“Workplaces can play a supportive role by reducing the stigma attached to mental health issues. For example, education and training can help everyone understand how their actions and words matter.”

Most corporate health and wellness professionals emphasize the contemporary topic of mental health. Given the lessons learned during the pandemic disruptions, due to remote work infringing on work-life balance, an upsurge in burnout situations and other common workplace broadsides, mental health is becoming as much of a corporate health and wellness issue for employers as conventional physical health.

Fuller tracks the workplace trends, “For at least the past three years, the largest growing demand remains mental health. Emerging from the pandemic, people are craving meaningful connections to support their social well-being but are now also struggling with financial well-being due to interest rates, increased taxation and inflation hitting everyone particularly hard. All of which have impacts on our mental health.

“Also in demand is the support for more preventative resources to enhance resiliency and self-care to protect against burnout. The pandemic has revealed the multidimensional and omnipresent nature of wellness. Self-care is no longer something that we do for an hour a day, a few times a month or only when we are on vacation. It is an essential focus to be embedded in our daily lives and priorities with expectations expanding in workplaces and workspaces.”

Grainger urges companies to – now more than ever – make corporate health and wellness a crucial priority.

“I think a must-have is business leaders supporting the physical as well as the psychological health, well-being and the performance of their people.”

The experts are unanimous. Companies that prioritize wellness create stronger connections with their employees, who are likely to be happier and more engaged. Creating a vibrant health and wellness program is good for Edmonton employers and Edmonton employees.