Working Well seeks out Canada’s best and brightest employers—those who not only support, but also promote wellness in their workplace. This issue, we take a behind-the-scenes look at the wellness initiatives of Amex Bank of Canada and Amex Canada Inc. in an exclusive interview with President and CEO Denise Pickett.

American Express in Canada operates as Amex Bank of Canada and Amex Canada Inc. Both are wholly owned subsidiaries of the New York-based American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc., the largest operating unit of the American Express Company. Amex Bank of Canada is the issuer of American Express Cards in Canada. Amex Canada Inc. operates the Corporate Travel, Travel Services Network and Travelers Cheques divisions in Canada. American Express opened its first offices in Toronto and Hamilton in 1853 and now employs 3,700 Canadians coast-to-coast.

Q: Why and how did your wellness program begin?
A: Our wellness program was initially launched to empower employees to live healthier lives. We wanted to offer new wellness initiatives; however, our problem was that there were so many to choose from. So we conducted a comprehensive needs analysis, benchmarked with other businesses and reviewed statistics related to the demographics of our workforce to determine what our areas of opportunity were.

As a result, we launched many new initiatives focused on fitness, nutrition and stress management to promote healthy lifestyles. One of our first wellness initiatives included an on-site fitness centre that offers personal training, state-of-the-art cardio equipment and an aerobics studio. For our employees outside of the Markham office, we offer a $200 gym membership reimbursed annually to encourage them to join a fitness program in their respective locations.

For all Amex employees as well as their immediate families, we offer the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) providing access to professional counselling and consulting services to address a broad range of personal issues including psychological and financial counselling, nutritional consulting and many others.

Q: What were the major challenges to overcome when implementing your wellness initiatives?
A significant challenge we have is in reaching all of our employees, because we have offices across the country, call centres and home office employees. To overcome this we have had to be creative in how we communicate to employees, and so we take advantage of a number of different channels available to us, whether it be e-mail, mail drops, seminars, fairs, etc. This strategy has resulted in more engagement with employees and more participation in our programs.

Q: Has that initial wellness initiative expanded since its beginnings? And, if so, how?
Since its inception, our wellness initiative has expanded to include new programs and services, and we have broadened our approach to wellness, focusing not only on physical health, but also on mental health and a balanced lifestyle. Some of the new programs that we now offer include:

  • Bright Horizons backup child care program that was launched in January 2007 in response to employee feedback regarding a need for this type of service.
  • Know Your Numbers. A health screening offered to employees focused on screening for the key risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.
  • Best Doctors, which connects seriously ill Canadians and their treating physicians with world-renowned specialists to confirm the right diagnosis and the right treatment.
  • National fitness and nutrition challenges to promote fitness and proper nutrition.
  • Wellness fairs. We continued our focus on increasing health awareness by hosting wellness fairs which provided employees with the opportunity to explore a variety of health and wellness options, and to make educated decisions about their own personal wellness.
  • Balanced Choice program. We partnered with the cafeteria to improve choice and visibility of healthier food options at work.
  • Monthly wellness newsletters paired with information seminars to complement each topic.
  • Expanded the flu clinics nationally to offer flu shots to all Canadian employees.
  • Relaunched the Employee Assistance Program to reintroduce employees to the many services it provides to help them better balance their work and home life. We offered information seminars to employees, training for leaders to help them identify when their staff is experiencing any challenges and know how to direct them, as well as a mass mailing of resource materials to all employees in Canada.
  • Hosted a series of financial planning seminars that address the emotions of investing, the importance of budgeting and effective money management tips for these turbulent times.

Q: What was the return on investment for your wellness initiatives?
We have definitely seen a positive return for the dollars we have invested into the wellness programs. The money that we invested was offset by tremendous savings in our short-term disability program. And while most companies are experiencing significant increases each year in mental health disorders, our cases have been declining slightly and the total days lost have declined significantly. This is a direct result of an awareness program to promote the use of our Employee Assistance Program.
Our wellness programs have also contributed to some outstanding achievements in 2008 and 2009. Most notably is the National Quality Institute’s Award for Excellence. We also received a number of employee choice awards including: The Top 30 Pension & Benefits, Maclean’s Greater Toronto Top 75 Employers and Hewitt’s 50 Best Employers in Canada. For the second year in a row, our cafeteria received the Eat Smart Award, which is presented by York Region Public Health for high standards in healthy food choices.

Q: How has the downturn in the economy affected your wellness initiatives—or has it?
We are actually focusing more on our wellness initiatives now because we want to support our employees and ensure that they can handle the stresses that a down-turned economy brings. We are offering more tools and resources to help them cope in various facets of life.
The economy has also caused us to be laser-focused in all areas of our business, including our wellness program. We are always evaluating to ensure that our programs and services resonate with employees. We want to ensure that employees are taking advantage of the programs we offer, and to do that we need to stay relevant and current.

Q: What do you foresee for the future of wellness in your company?
Our long-term vision for wellness is to build a recognizable ‘Healthy Living’ brand that employees come to rely on. Some of the short-term priorities for the wellness program include:

  • Programs and services to address preventive chronic illnesses
  • Participation in a health-risk assessment program
  • Emphasis on 24/7 availability and self-service options such as on-line tools
  • Build program awareness and encourage employees to take on more responsibility for their health and the health of their family.

Denise Pickett was appointed to her position as president and CEO of Amex Bank of Canada and Amex Canada Inc. in April 2007. She takes an active role in the community and the marketing industry, sits on the board of directors of the Markham Stouffville Hospital and is the former chair of the board of the Canadian Marketing Association.

Pickett holds an MBA in marketing from the Schulich School of Business at York University and earned her Honours BA in human biology and physiology from the University of Toronto.

She and her husband Andrew have three children: Carly (13), Josh (10) and Jack (7).

What employer would you like to see profiled in the next issue of Working Well?
Let us know by e-mailing the Editor at

For a PDF version of this article, click here.

© Copyright 2009 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the October 2009 edition of WORKING WELL magazine.

Copyright © 2021 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Working Well.

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