Lafarge Eastern Canada’s new employee wellness program is highlighting the importance of mental and physical health amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“It was always my intention to promote wellness through my communications, but when the pandemic happened, it was really the time to focus on this,” says Jessica Assaf, manager of corporate communications for Lafarge Eastern Canada and the creator of the program.

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The program provides employees with wellness resources from LifeWorks Inc. and Sun Life Canada, two providers with which the company already had partnerships prior to the launch of the wellness program. The program also includes remote physical activity sessions for employees and, earlier this month, it added the mental-health app Headspace to its suite of resources. Assaf says mental health is an increasingly important part of the wellness discussion at Lafarge, which has traditionally focused on employees’ physical well-being.

“I work directly with management and I encourage them to take 10 minutes at the beginning of each team meeting to ask how they’re doing. A lot of times it’s about the physical safety of our workplace, but over the course of the last few months, a lot of those moments have been geared toward mental health, so we can ensure our employees are fit for duty, their focus is there and they’re fully attentive to the task at hand.”

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Assaf joined Lafarge just months before the World Health Organization declared the pandemic in March 2020. While the establishment of a wellness program was already one of her initial goals, she says the pandemic kickstarted and shaped the program’s format and content. “I had to very quickly shift gears and communicate everything pertaining to the pandemic and our safety measures. In a time of crisis, I thought, ‘What kind of wellness offering can we give our employees beyond what they’re already receiving?’”

The program began by sharing existing wellness resources through the company’s newsletter. Following positive reactions from employees and the support of David Redfern, chief executive officer of Lafarge Eastern Canada, it soon expanded to offer more resources through a dedicated wellness section on the company’s intranet.

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“There was obviously an appetite for this, so I went back to our CEO and told him the employees are really enjoying this type of content and that we should consider offering more of it. We’ve also partnered with external health experts to share videos on topics like breathing better, coping with stress and the benefits of meditation.”

And while the program is coordinated between Lafarge’s human resources and health and safety departments, Assaf says its content is also shaped by a wellness committee and a team of wellness ambassadors from across the company’s various sites. “In terms of our local teams, we don’t always see how things are going there, so we’ve established a team of wellness ambassadors who are our eyes and ears and enable a two-way conversation with people in the field. We adapt our approach to what’s happening at the local level or in a specific market.”