Katherine Sheehan speaks at the 2012 Healthy Outcomes Conference

This is Part 1 in our coverage of the 2012 Healthy Outcomes Conference, held in Kelowna, B.C. Stay tuned for more coverage coming soon on BenefitsCanada.com.

When Katherine Sheehan, assistant vice-president, HR, with Dalhousie University, started at the institution, she found there were a number of wellness initiatives across campus.

“Our leaders, unions and employees have all contributed to initiatives in the workplace related to wellness. The problem was, we weren’t linking any of that together, and we were a little behind in our thinking about what contributes to a healthy workplace,” she recalled.

Through a workplace survey, her team discovered that employees felt the university was not interested in their personal wellness and well-being.

Sheehan knew how she was going to address this challenge: through collaboration. “The HR and executive teams started by going out and listening to our employees. Then we moved on to more formal consultations. We created an HR forum at Dalhousie to hear from people who have HR functions in their unit, but who are not in a formal position, about what was actually happening,” she said. This allowed the HR staff to better understand what was working for the employees and what wasn’t.

Then HR created a healthy workplace collaborative at Dalhousie, which involves faculty and staff across the campus, with the goal of creating a healthy workplace. “It’s helped us to share information, expertise and ideas, and it’s making us more effective in actually reaching our goals,” she explained.

The lesson Sheehan learned through the process was about authority. “It’s not really what collaboration is all about. If we’re truly talking about collaboration, HR needs to take a step back, and partner and be willing to work with the other parties around the table to hear their agendas. Give people who aren’t necessarily in positions of authority the opportunity to lead and have their voice heard.”

Watch: Katherine Sheehan talks about creating organizational health

But collaboration isn’t easy. Kathy MacNeil, vice-president, people, and Dawn Burstall, director, healthy workplace and diversity, with Capital Health (a district health authority in Nova Scotia) know all about those challenges. Working closely with Carla Anglehart, director, organizational development, with Health Association Nova Scotia (a member-driven health organization that supports the district health authorities in the province), these two organizations have launched a number of initiatives aimed at improving employee health and learned some valuable lessons along the way.

The need to bring in outside experts was one lesson, said Burstall. When it came time for flu shots, her team launched a program called Know It Live It to make people more aware of their health numbers. “We partnered with the flu clinic and hired licensed practical nurses who confidentially measured the waists, blood pressure and blood sugar of employees,” she explained.

Another lesson was getting executive commitment, noted Anglehart. The CEOs from the nine district health authorities all recently signed a healthy healthcare leadership charter. “It’s a commitment to make quality work environments and organizational health a  strategic imperative,” she explained.

As a result of this, a provincial organizational health committee has been established, which is working with the Health Association to create meaningful indicators to produce a report card for the province that measures organizational health by examining a number of quality work/life indicators.

The foundation of successful collaboration is clarity in communication, added MacNeil. “Also, be prepared for some rocky roads and bumps in the process, and allow for that.”

For organizational health to truly succeed, co-operation between senior management and those in key wellness roles within the organization is critical. At a panel session at the conference, two representatives from three large corporations shared their examples of successful collaboration efforts.

Dr. Alain Sotto, chief physician, wellness division, and Scott Martin, vice-president, labour relations, safety, wellness and corporate security, with Ontario Power Generation (OPG), looked at the five major disease states that account for the vast majority of the organization’s health costs.

“In 2011, the drug and absenteeism costs associated with those five disease states were $17.2 million,” said Martin. “There’s a very strong business case to put a framework in place and a corporate health strategy in place that tackles these things.”

Sotto explained that OPG’s strategy was to focus on mental health because it was creating more than one-third of those costs. OPG partnered with MEDACA Health Group, a workplace health consulting company, to ensure that employees were assessed by a psychiatrist within two weeks of going on leave, as well as launching other mental health programs. These collective programs reduced OPG’s absenteeism in days lost related to mental health by 16.2% from 2010.

Dr. Alain Sotto speaks at the 2012 Healthy Outcomes Conference

At TELUS Communications, Janet Crowe, director, wellness and work life services, and Sandy Innes, vice-president, compensation and benefits, have developed a strategic intent aimed at building collaboration and health within their organization. “Our health strategy was developed to look at organizational-level health, team member health and individual health,” explained Crowe.

TELUS worked together with its provider to get executive buy-in and launched programs to address chronic illnesses (such as diabetes and heart disease) that affect their employees, targeting those three levels.

Ana Lopez, director, HR, and Sandra Hentzen, executive vice-president, HR, with TransLink, had a different challenge to face as a publicly funded transportation organization in British Columbia.

“Our people goal is to build an aligned, engaged, accountable and customer-focused team,” said Lopez. “Corporate wellness is a key initiative, because we need to have healthy employees in order to be productive and to deliver the service to our customers.”

So Hentzen and Lopez launched a number of wellness initiatives, including wellness fairs, to engage employees in a dialogue about their health. They invited providers to share healthy lifestyle tips, used internal occupational health nurses to run blood pressure clinics and brought in organizations such as the Mental Health Association to talk about important issues. “The employee feedback we get is invaluable,” said Hentzen.

These partnerships highlight a key message from the conference: when organizations help their people, it also helps the business. It’s only through internal and external collaboration that wellness programs—and the employees using them—can thrive.

Leigh Doyle is a freelance writer based in Toronto. leigh.doyle@gmail.com

Get a PDF of this article and other coverage from the 2012 Healthy Outcomes Conference.

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Benefits Canada.

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