Every article I read on the topic of workplace wellness is a nudge to embrace better work/life balance, to adjust to the stressors in my environment and, ultimately, to get closer to that idyllic state of mind that will improve my performance at work and at play. The glut of information reminds me of a hackneyed mantra: “a sound mind in a sound body.” Just as the trite expression has taken on new meaning over time, workplace wellness programs have changed and today resonate with HR and healthcare practitioners who attempt to pinpoint the impact of workplace health concerns on bottom lines.

The notion of wellness-at-work reaches back to the 1970s, when wellness was considered an add-on to occupational health and safety initiatives. We’ve since witnessed a ripple effect progressing from the development of safe workplace environments in the 1980s and emphasizing lifestyle programs in the 1990s (recall brown-bag lunches and at-work fitness programs), to dealing with work/life balance and morale in the new millennium and, finally, we’re now focusing on a holistic approach.

We know that some stress is normal, but a catalogue of studies is showing how it can lead to the development of chronic conditions. Other studies prove that people who work in high-strain jobs have higher rates of a wide variety of diseases than those in lower-stress roles.

The upshot for employers is that, left unchecked, the costs of workplace stress are not limited to those who experience the stress. The Canadian Policy Research Networks estimates that stress-related absences cost employers about $3.5 billion each year. Simply pursuing work/life policies are not sufficient. Instead, programs need to be designed with an organization’s strategic direction in mind.

There’s no shortage of evidence that the true ROI for workplace wellness accrues over time. (Read Prevent LTD by managing casual absences for more on this topic.) The trend and the preferred mode, according to prevailing literature, should be to fully integrate the wellness program with the business vision. Once the business case for workplace wellness has been demonstrated, the next step might be to develop a comprehensive health strategy before attempting any type of program. From there, the formula is par for the course: implement, monitor, measure, adjust, maintain and repeat the process.

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