Critical Issues Paper: Health and Wellness

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According to workers, organizations with significant wellness programs remain a minority. Demographic evidence suggests that the current laissez-faire attitudes toward workplace wellness found in many organizations will soon need to change. It's important to understand those needs to tailor a wellness program to the organization and its people. To be successful, wellness programs must be employee driven and management supported. (Walker, 2004)

For the state of workplace wellness the question has been asked, "Is your workplace well"? (Press, 1999) The reality of it all is some of the business leaders just don't get it. Why is stress such an issue? Why is depression such an issue? It there isn't some sensitivity to that, then the willingness of the people who hew the wood and draw the water is going to become less and less evident. We are going to have some very real labour problems. (Press, 1999) Then the other underlying issue is the cost of workplace wellness programs where maintaining and enhancing health benefits can cause employer anxiety. These costs are steadily rising (Walker, 2004). Ironically, one of the solutions for reducing costs would appear to be nothing more complicated than preventative maintenance (Walker, 2004). Employers are becoming increasingly engaged in activities associated with health promotion, nutrition, fitness and other workplace initiatives to promote both physical and mental wellbeing. Companies offering workplace wellness programs rose from 33 percent in 1993 to 39 percent just one year later (Walker, 2004).

In favor of
Wellness programs are an all-round win," says Tim Kelly, Irving's director of health services. "Employees like them because they're improving their health and well-being. The company likes them because healthier workers have fewer absences-they are on the job, and doing their jobs. And everybody wins because wellness programs build team spirit, improve work attitudes and commitment, and lead to increased productivity." (Walker, 2004) Irving's success with its wellness programs isn't unique-other organizations report many of the same benefits with their wellness initiatives. For example, one major Canadian manufacturer saw lost-time injuries drop 66% after implementing its wellness program, with a corresponding 63% drop in its workers' compensation costs. Another cut its short-term disability costs in half, and saw its workers' compensation costs fall by 60%. A white-collar organization, concerned about retaining its top employees, saw attrition rates fall from 40% to 23% following the introduction of its wellness program (Walker, 2004). The good news is that organizations that have already embraced workplace wellness have pioneered a wealth of best practices for others to follow. Every workforce is unique, and so are its wellness needs. It's important to understand those needs to tailor a wellness program to the organization and its people (Walker, 2004). Some organizations gather this information formally. Hamilton-based Dofasco Inc., for example, conducted a health audit before kicking off its Healthy Lifestyles program. The program now includes Weight Watchers, smoking cessation, noon-hour aerobics, a shiftwork and lifestyles program and much more. Similarly, Irving contracted an outside provider to conduct health risk assessments for its employees. Since employee health records are confidential, the companies receive only aggregate data on their employees' health, opposite measures of cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and other metrics. They use this information to identify areas of focus for their wellness programs. Others take more informal approaches, such as gathering information anecdotally through their existing joint health and safety committee or by creating an employee-driven wellness committee. "We put out an e-mail asking for volunteers and 12 people joined right off the bat,"...
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