Workplace wellness has become a hot topic for corporations and employers in Canada. And for good reason.
The statistics are staggering: The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) has reported that 30% of short- and long-term disability claims and 70% of disability costs resulted from mental illness. The annual cost of these issues, no surprise, is greater than $50 billion (MHCC). Add to that that in any given week, more than 500,000 Canadians will miss work because of mental illness and poor mental health, and the picture is made clear: mental health and wellness is a real concern in workplaces across the country.
The ‘Goliath’ of workplace wellness
However, solving the problem is no easy feat for supervisors, managers and employee service providers. Creating and implementing workplace wellness programs for employees that are realistic and effective takes time, costs money and requires a working knowledge of employee values, wellness strategies and the best approaches being used elsewhere in the field.
For those managing small businesses, workplace wellness is an even bigger Goliath. That’s because many companies that implement employee wellness programs are giants that have the resources and staff available to create programs themselves (Aldana, 2018). And if not designing their own programs, these megacorps have the big bucks to hire independents who can do the work for them (WellSteps).
On the contrary, small businesses are usually left to design their own wellness programs using the limited staff and resources they have available. So, while small businesses are doing their best to create mental-health programs to combat stress, deal with overload and reduce absenteeism, the employees who take on extra work to implement these programs often end up stressed, overloaded and absent in the process anyway. When these employees work in front-line customer service and client-care environments, you have the perfect storm for psychological fatigue.
“… small businesses are usually left to design their own wellness programs using the limited staff and resources they have available.”
The Ontario Ministry of Labour knows this. That’s why in 2018, through its Occupational Health, Safety and Prevention Innovation Program, it gave small organizations grants to implement workplace wellness initiatives.
Helping workers Thrive in the Workplace
One of these programs was the Thrive in the Workplace initiative in Guelph, ON.
Taken on by local registered charity the Career Education Council (CEC), the project aims to increase employee engagement, decrease absenteeism and equip workers with the tools they need for stress management at work. Thrive offers free workplace wellness workshops to local employers in Guelph, in which employees learn about wellness concepts, the physiological stress reaction and strategies to mitigate negative mental health at work and at home.
An important portion of the content is the section on effective customer service and team communication strategies, which includes effective strategies for receiving feedback while also paying attention to self-care. This section aims to help those working in often emotionally laborious positions meet their well-being needs.
Each workshop also features interactive exercises, games, quizzes and contests that keep employees engaged and excited about making and using wellness plans in their own lives.
One way that interactive components are facilitated is through the use of the Thrive in the Workplace app, which is free for download on Android and iOS phones. The app features all five modules of content that are usually taught in workshops, with videos, written content and quizzes offered for each of the modules. In addition, the “Take 5!” section of the app offers employees five-minute exercises they can do at work to enhance wellness.
Because the CEC’s mission is to bridge the gaps between the current and future workforces, Thrive in the Workplace workshops are also offered to students in Grade 10 careers classes, Grade 12 leadership courses and others. This is made possible because of CEC partnerships with the local Upper Grand District School Board and Wellington Catholic District School Board. Targeting this demographic is key to the CEC, as many of these students have already started to – or are likely to soon start – jobs in front-line customer service and client-care positions.
In 2018, the project provided 4,259 students with resources for wellness at school and at work, as well as 30 workshops for employees and students throughout Guelph and surrounding areas including Wellington, Dufferin, Kitchener, Waterloo, Halton and Hamilton. Additionally, 2018 saw the gathering of data for future resources and the development of the Thrive app.
In 2019, the project will expand by giving employers outside the regions reached in 2018 the chance to deliver Thrive training to their employees. Through webinar coaching sessions, employer participants will learn how to facilitate workshops for their staff or how to lead their employees through the wellness modules found on the app for training. By engaging employees in training through workshops or on the app, employers can take first steps in improving wellness in their facilities.
By supporting their employees’ well-being, employers throughout Ontario will have the chance to combat the mental-health concerns that are challenging Canadian workplaces today. Hopefully, in the future, grassroots projects like Thrive will continue to have an impact and help employees to strengthen their well-being at work.