The 3 pillars of wellness in the workplace

Over the past decade, the way we think about wellness has changed, and so has the importance we place on it. More recently, the pandemic has turned the spotlight on just how important wellness in the workplace really is. Wellness isn’t just yoga and bubble baths (though those are great too!). It’s a holistic approach to overall health. And employers can play a big role in helping their employees get well and stay well, across all areas of their lives.

Health and wellness in the workplace

Wellness isn’t a standalone concept. All the parts of our lives are interconnected, and when one area is affected, there’s a domino effect. Because the three aspects of wellness—physical, mental and financial—are all interdependent.

Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, market research firm SOM conducted a survey for Desjardins Insurance* that looked at the interplay between these three areas. The survey showed that 85% of healthy people felt able to manage their financial stress, and 71% of financially healthy people reported being in good mental health. When things were good in one area, they tended to be good all around.

But what does all this have to do with you as an employer?

According to Stephanie Ipavec-Levasseur, Product Director, Prevention, Absenteeism and Disability for Desjardins Insurance, “On the surface it may seem that employees should be fully responsible for their own wellness, but the reality isn’t that simple. According to Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada - External link. This link will open in a new window., employment and working conditions are one of the key determinants of health. And that means there are a lot of things employers can do to try to improve employee well-being.”

Supporting employees

Ad Hoc Research produced the Report on Mental Health for Desjardins Insurance in September 2021 to identify mental health needs and get feedback about mental health supports. Respondents felt that many mental health problems are related to working conditions and that it’s up to the employer to provide a healthy working environment. Three ways employers can do that are by demonstrating empathy, being flexible and providing a safety net (e.g., group insurance).

The elephant in the room, of course, is this: Do any of the things employers can do actually work?

According to Stephanie, the answer is yes. If you truly integrate wellness into your corporate culture, there is mounting evidence that you can make a difference. Here are a few ways you can help instill a culture of wellness within your organization.

1. Physical health

According to the World Health Organization - External link. This link will open in a new window., physical inactivity is a leading cause of disease and disability, doubling the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, and increasing the risk of colon cancer, hypertension, osteoporosis and more. And employees who are physically unwell are unable to perform well at work. Healthy employees make for a healthy company.

That said, at the end of the day, people need to make their own choices about their health. But as an employer, you can nudge them gently in the right direction by providing things like:

  • A gym or yoga studio
  • Bike racks
  • Onsite showers
  • Gym memberships or discounts
  • Corporate initiatives such as a running club

If you offer employee benefits, you can also include a health spending account or wellness account with your plan. Health spending accounts help plan members pay for expenses that aren’t covered by their plan, while wellness accounts defray costs for fitness and sports activities and equipment, health-related expenses and programs, and more. These are just a few more ways you can help your plan members take ownership of their own physical health and wellness.

2. Mental health

In our hyperconnected world, it’s harder than ever to separate - This link will open in a new window. our professional lives from our personal lives. And even before the pandemic, the dividing line between work and home had started to blur. Because information is always available, people feel the need to be just as available themselves. This unlimited availability means that some workers are more stressed out by disconnecting than by staying connected.

That makes it all the more important for managers to stay on top of employees’ mental health. The good news is that you already have the tools you need!

  • Check in with employees regularly to see how they’re doing. Drill down beyond a simple “How are you?” Ask employees specifically about how they’re feeling. Ask how you can help. This type of regular check-in can help head more serious problems off at the pass.
  • Be flexible. Different employees have different needs, and those needs change over time. Don’t assume you know what they need—ask! And then be ready to accommodate employees in ways that make sense for your team.
  • Don’t be afraid to show employees when you’re taking care of your own mental health. Share with them that you’ll be in and out during the day because the daycare is closed, for example. Knowing that you’re all facing the same challenges builds trust and drives engagement.
  • Model boundary-setting behaviours. Encourage employees to set aside time to focus or even to schedule a “no meeting day.” (And don’t forget to do the same yourself!)

3. Financial health

More than a third of Canadians rank money as their greatest stress, according to the 2021 Financial Stress Index - External link. This link will open in a new window.. Eight in ten have more than one financial regret, including 45% who wish they had saved and invested more.

One way employers can help their employees is to offer a retirement savings plan. These plans encourage employees to save, but they can do even more: some plans even offer financial wellness training and education to help plan members take control of their finances and reduce their stress levels. With tips and guidance on everything from budgeting to retirement planning, offering a financial wellness program as part of your group savings plan is an easy way to set employees on the path to financial wellness.

Given the amount of time we spend at work, small wonder the outsized effects it can have on wellness. Taking the time to prioritize all aspects of employee health can pay big dividends, both for your employees and for your organization. Some tools you might need require an up-front investment (physical installations or the implementation of a benefits plan). Some existing tools may simply be underutilized (existing financial wellness or mental health supports that employees may not be aware of).

And some tools require nothing more than a meaningful connection between human beings.

* Desjardins Insurance refers to Desjardins Financial Security Life Assurance Company.

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