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Back Issues

September 2007

Healthy Organizations - Today And Tomorrow

By: Sue Pridham

The definition of organizational health has changed dramatically over the past 25 years and will continue to evolve as quickly as workplaces change.

The trends show a movement away from a ‘treat the symptoms’ approach to a focus on prevention. Leading companies are replacing traditional health centres with comprehensive wellness programs. Annual health screenings are brought on site along with exercise facilities.

Healthy organizations are integrating health and wellness in ways that reflect the corporate culture and physical environment. Policies and procedures are becoming more employee-centric to address changes in attitudes, demographics, and business processes.

Leading organizations are also demonstrating a commitment to practices that create an environment where employees feel comfortable, confident, engaged, and supported at work. They recognize that employees are key to business success. Healthy workplaces have moved beyond a ‘nice to have’ perk to a critical and dynamic strategy at the core of business success.

Healthy organizations today tomorrow

The Conference Board of Canada reports that health information and promotion programs are the fastest growing components of human resource strategies. So what has changed in the workplace to warrant this new thinking and what are companies doing to keep in step with the times and one step ahead of the competition?

First, we no longer need to be convinced of the value of workplace health and wellness strategies. We have 25 years of research to support the business case that workplace health makes good business sense. Research has consistently shown that healthy employees are absent less, have higher morale, are more productive, and have lower healthcare costs which result in a healthier bottom line for the business and a higher level of customer satisfaction. Moreover, the effects of the workplace environment are felt throughout society – on families, businesses, and the healthcare system.

Unhealthy Workforces

Unhealthy workforces are costing Canadian organizations billions of dollars annually. Statistics Canada indicates that the cost from all causes of employee absence alone is about $8.6 billion per annum.

Second, we are now experiencing a war for talent. “Employers can no longer rely on good wages to attract key talent,” says Janet Crowe, national wellness manager at TELUS. The Gen Ys are entering the workplace with a bundle of demands. They expect that the workplace will support them not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.

TELUS believes that annual health screening programs brought into the workplace – including flu shots, blood pressure and cholesterol testing, and breast cancer screening – not only bring convenience, but peace of mind as well.

Husky Injection Molding has created a physical work environment that supports employee health and well-being.

Its five-building, 70-acre campus features a stateof- the-art, 11,000 square foot fitness centre, outdoor walking trails, a sand volleyball court, and a portable basketball court as well as bicycles for transportation between buildings. It also supports an onsite child development centre and health conscious cafeterias.

Its food services philosophy is one of the most forward-thinking in the country. Together with a naturopathic doctor and the World Wildlife Fund, they have prepared a banned/restricted food list based on pesticide concerns, antibiotic use, depletion of fish stocks, and nutritional value.

“Our goal is to offer our employees healthy food choices that promote well-being and energy,” says Glenn Atkinson, director of employee health, safety, and wellness.

More Open And Responsive

Progressive workplaces have become more open and responsive to the needs and interests of their employees. Annual employee satisfaction surveys are common and employers are taking a proactive approach to address what they are hearing. This sends a powerful message that employee ideas and concerns are taken seriously and that the company cares.

1-800-Got-Junk boasts turnover rates for its call centre staff which are far below industry standards. One reason for this is employees have a forum for openly expressing their ideas and, as a result, feel their personal lives are considered. One idea that was acted on was to provide work schedules two weeks in advance so employees could plan their personal lives.

Another company has addressed work life balance by encouraging employees to refrain from sending emails before 6 a.m., after 6 p.m., and on weekends. As well, meetings booked after 4:30 p.m. are not encouraged. These initiatives have helped to reinforce a company culture which promotes leaving work at work.

Workplace policies have become more employee friendly and flexible to address work life quality. With concerns about increased commute times, fuel emissions, and juggling work and family, more companies are expanding their ‘work from home option’ to provide optimal work life balance. 1-800-Got-Junk provides its nonsales centre staff with laptop computers for work outside the office or if they need to be close to home for personal commitments.

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