The Canadian Source Of Employee Pension Fund Investment And Benefits Plan Management

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Protecting The Most Valuable Resource

By: Rod Phillips

There have been dramatic changes in the workplace over the last decade and a half. The demographics of the workplace have changed, becoming more multicultural and older. The pace of work has changed with technologies allowing quicker access to information and a corresponding increase in expectations of performance. Most profound, however, has been the recognition of the risk and return related to organizations ʼ human capital. The recognition is that for most organizations their significant expense and greatest opportunity rests with their people.

Not too long ago the threat of Y2K gave us a glimpse of what would happen to work life without information systems and made us more alert to the need to be vigilant and prepared for threats. More recently in the Toronto area, SARS reminded us of the critical importance of our human resources. It alerted us to the potential for business and economic crises if a pandemic struck our human systems. What Y2K did to emphasize the essential nature of IT systems, pandemic planning is doing to demonstrate the mission critical nature of our human systems.

Pandemic Is Certain

We are told a pandemic is certain. We just donʼt know when. The conditions for a pandemic are right. One that is giving us particular cause for concern at the moment is the potential for a new influenza that could be caused by a genetic mixing of human and avian viruses – bird flu and human flu.

A pandemic will affect a broader range of ages and a higher percentage of the population – the Public Health Agency of Canada has forecast as much as 50 per cent – with up to 10 million people sick enough to be unable to work for at least half a day. The economic impact, estimated to be between $10 and $24 billion in Canada, would be devastating.

The medical world is responding and there has been a corresponding response in the employee assistance and workplace health world. This is one of the biggest shifts in our industry in decades – a shift to a focus on health promotion and disease management.

Good health is the surest way to avoid all forms of workplace absence including the threat of infectious illness. We have learned that good health means all aspects of health – physical, mental, and social – and have intensified our energies on designing services that support good health for working people and their families. This requires a commitment to research and the ongoing improvement of health promotion and disease management programs whose objective is to prevent illness or to relieve the burden of illness where it canʼt be avoided.

Preventive Responses

We have also joined the public health effort by providing preventive responses including health promotion and coaching, organizational health architecture, assessment, and workplace flu clinics. We work with employers and employees to understand the realities rather than the rumours about pandemic illness and how to avoid it or lessen its impact. For business leaders who understand the essential role that people play, the recognition of the critical nature of our human systems, our people, is welcome. The role of EAP and workplace health experts is to be your partner in healthy change. Recognizing and protecting the value of our workforce is a significant and permanent shift in workplace investing.

Rod Philips Rod Phillips is president and CEO of Shepell•fgi.

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