The role of wellness in the Canadian workplace has been increasingly embraced by employers as a key piece of their total health management strategy. Since its emergence, we’ve seen organizations move from offering their employees flu shot clinics and walking clubs, to having on-site chronic disease management programs to help keep employees productive, present and adherent to treatment. Wellness has moved to a strategic human capital management tool that—when done well—can engage and retain employees, increase productivity and job satisfaction, and effectively address motivators for multiple generations within a workplace in addition to improving employee health.

A trend we see emerging in the workplace wellness space is a broadening of what wellness is. This more holistic view of wellness really began with workplaces understanding the impact of psychological health on employees. We began to see widespread traction with employee assistance programs (EAPs), the development of HR policies that created safe environments for employees beyond the prevention of physical injury on the job, and, most recently, the release of National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.

Employers are now looking at wellness as an interconnected system of pillars: physical wellness, psychological wellness, financial health, and social or emotional wellness. Social wellness addresses the emotional well-being side and demonstrates the importance of an employee’s connectedness to the world outside of his or her workplace. In this category, we often see volunteerism, opportunities for community involvement, and green or sustainability initiatives such as public transit incentives or bike commuting programs. In many cases, the components of a social wellness offering have existed within an organization for some time, but their importance in terms of employee health and well-being are now being realized and harnessed. Social wellness programs are also a good opportunity for organizations to provide employees with meaningful demonstration of their organization’s culture and values, benefiting both the employee and the employer.

The movement toward a more holistic view of wellness echoes a similar movement we’ve seen in human capital management…that of total compensation. Helping employees see offerings or the benefits of offerings as a total picture also ensures employees have a grasp on both what’s available to them and the value in what’s provided.

The social wellness aspect of a wellness program is directly connected to psychological wellness, an employee’s sense of purpose and how an employee feels about his or her employer. Instituting these components can be as simple as ensuring that employees who ride their bikes to work have a safe and secure place to store them during the workday or promoting and incenting employees to participate in a day of volunteerism with a charitable organization that aligns with the values of their own organization. When information about these programs is communicated to employees, employers can use the same branding they use for the benefits program or other wellness programming so that they are seen as a part of one program and recognized as a contributor to employee health and well-being.

The introduction of social wellness into an organization can be subtle. One organization with two locations offers a small company-bike fleet for employee use for travel between the two offices. Another provides social responsibility credits to its employees, which are earned by volunteering in the community. At the end of the year, a corporate donation is made to the charity of the employee’s choice in the amount of his or her credits. A third organization includes opportunities for volunteering and community involvement, along with a profile of a charitable organization it supports, in its quarterly wellness newsletter.

Like any strategic approach to health delivery to employees, wellness programs are most effective when they are purposefully designed and have management support. Key data sources beyond claims data for making social wellness decisions include employee engagement survey results and employee feedback, demographic and employee turnover information and EAP data. Similarly, as employers continue to invest in the health of their employees, integrated data can be used to point to other strategic wellness decisions about preventable health conditions where risk is present in a population, to promote health and healthy behaviours, and to engage multiple generations in a workplace.

Kim Siddall is People Corporation Inc.'s vice-president of enterprise consulting for the West. She has more than 20 years of experience in the health and benefits industry. These are the views of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada.
Copyright © 2021 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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