The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board is taking a more holistic approach to workplace wellness by putting financial fitness on the same pedestal as physical well-being and mental health.

“Traditionally, workplaces have focused on physical wellness and dedicated a lot of resources to it at the expense of overlooking the mental and financial aspects of wellness. We’re now seeing a strong correlation between the three,” says Lilian Riad-Allen, a senior consultant for the mental health and wellness program at the WSIB.

Read: 80% of Canadians want employer-provided financial education: survey

To remedy that, the WSIB is taking a top-down, leadership-driven approach with its senior leaders encouraging, moderating and participating in conversations to help break down the stigma around financial wellness. “We do see an impact from the grassroots, but the effect multiplies manifold if leadership buys in,” says Pamela Steer, the organization’s chief financial officer, noting she has taken an active role in advocating for the importance of financial sustainability.

To align with Financial Literacy Month, the WSIB hosted interactive sessions on financial health and wellness. The focus was on offering employees tips, tricks and techniques to reduce financial stress. By initiating the conversation, Riad-Allen and Steer also hoped to help employees overcome the fear of examining their financial situations.

In addition to nurturing open and honest conversations around financial stability, the WSIB also offers some tools that encourage employees to take responsibility for their financial well-being. For example, it runs a tuition assistance program, which subsidizes a portion of the tuition for employees who seek career development and continuing education opportunities.

Read: Will Canadian companies follow U.S. trend towards student loan assistance?

In addition, the organization recently hosted provincewide seminars aimed at educating its employees about their retirement savings plans. “We help them understand what component of their retirement savings would come from WSIB. We also talk about retirement readiness ― not just financial but mental as well,” says Steer.

Through its employee and family assistance program, the WSIB also offers anonymous access to video modules on financial literacy. The series prompts employees to think about their own financial wellness. “The focus isn’t on how much money they have in their bank account or how much they get paid.” says Riad-Allen. “It’s about what’s keeping them up at night.”

And for people who prefer the personal touch, the WSIB deploys provincewide wellness ambassadors for one-on-one interactions.

For her part, Steer writes a regular blog that, among other things, addresses financial literacy and wellness. “Originally, it was meant for just my team. But given the organization-wide interest, it now goes out to a broader audience,” she says.

“This is a difficult conversation, and the fact that people are so meaningfully engaging and reaching out speaks to the culture we’re creating around having a safe environment to discuss these things,” says Riad-Allen.

Read: Financial Literacy Month: Allstate staff get 30-minute sessions with retirement consultant

At the core of the WSIB’s wellness philosophy lies the recognition that people can’t compartmentalize themselves to be different entities at work and home. “That’s not the way people operate. We take our work home with us and vice versa. We’re almost encouraging people to bring their whole selves to work, in the hope it will add authenticity and encourage honest conversations,” says Riad-Allen.

As for the WSIB’s advice to other employers that want to incorporate financial wellness into their workplaces, Steer suggests starting small. “Don’t make it big and daunting and complex. Offer it in chewable bite sizes,” says Steer, noting that even an easy, inexpensive program, such as a lunchtime learning session, can have a pretty tangible impact on employee engagement.

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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