The Ottawa Community Housing Corp.’s flexible employee well-being strategy led to a win in the Health/wellness program category for employers with fewer than 1,000 employees at Benefits Canada‘s 2022 Workplace Benefits Awards on Oct. 18.

“Our organization is happy about the win because this journey in terms of supporting employee health started about two to three years back,” says Michael Dimaano, the organization’s manager of total compensation and human resources policy. “This recognition . . . is not only an accolade for OCH, but validation that we’re implementing the right [supports] for employees, so it means a lot to us.”

Read: Who are the winners of the 2022 Workplace Benefits Awards?

In 2021, the OCH overhauled its employee benefits programs, adding two virtual services at no cost to employees and enhancing its employee assistance program to make it possible for employees to conveniently access a counsellor. It also added a peer support program that provides basic support to employees who are dealing with social, emotional or mental-health concerns by directing them to the appropriate workplace resources.

According to the organization’s EAP usage data, the improvement of clinical symptoms for employees accessing the program is at 34.2 per cent, which is two per cent higher than its provider’s client average. It also implemented a healthy living account that allows employees to allocate funds between their wellness account and health-care spending account to suit their individual health and wellness needs.

The OCH also added three additional paid days off to stave off employee burnout, as well as an employee and family discount program designed to alleviate the effects of the rising cost of living and a gym membership discount for employees and their dependants. The discount program, which offers more than 2,000 savings opportunities, has been highly successful, garnering employees an estimated total savings of $4,838 since its implementation, says Dimaano.

Read: Award finalists discuss mental health, enhanced communications amid pandemic

“It’s been less than a year since we’ve implemented it, but what’s striking is that, across the board, employees are using [the program] for leisure activities, such as travel, car rentals, hotels and airfare,” he says, noting employee needs change depending on the season, so he expects to see more purchases like laptops and school supplies come time for back-to-school shopping next year. “What’s interesting is they’re using it for the improvement of their day-to-day lives.”

The OCH also offers Wellness Wednesdays, which feature sessions focusing on topics such as physical and mental health, as well as employee education on its group health benefits, while its Brown Bag series of quarterly interactive meetings tackle relevant mental-health topics.

The organization regularly communicates with employees, encouraging them to use their vacation days and emphasizing the positive impact in maintaining health and well-being. These measures have paid off, as lost time due to injuries has decreased by 20 per cent for the first quarter of 2022, compared to the same time last year, says Dimaano.

And the journey toward supporting employees’ health and wellness isn’t stopping there. “We started this journey two to three years ago,” he says. “The first two years were heavily focused on benefits enhancement. Moving into 2023, our focus will be more on looking at procedures and policies that may affect the health and well-being of our employees.”

Read: Employers leveraging benefits, flexibility to prevent pandemic surge in disability claims