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Healthy Competition Boosts Workplace Wellness

By Cal Warren

New options for workplace wellness programs are on the rise and it’s a good thing since pressures for employers to offer health related services are also on the increase.{mosimage}The key factors that are driving employers to implement workplace wellness programs or “freshen up” existing ones are several fold. According to Healthy Alberta, today’s new employment marketplace is forcing employers to be competitive in order to attract and retain top-notch employees. You can be assured that many of Canada’s top 100 employers have very good wellness programs.

Statistics Canada figures suggests another factor is the unprecedented levels of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, all of which are affecting productivity to the tune of billions of dollars in Canada alone. With the rise in “inactive” versus “active” work due to automation and changing industry in Canada, time spent on the job is compounding the problem. Above all, employers are starting to feel it in the pocketbook through the increased costs of short-term and long-term disability premiums.

Employers in Canada have been shielded more than the counterparts in the U.S. from directly burdening the cost of employee health issues. Many U.S. work-related heath-care premiums and disability rates are now being set according to the levels of obesity, hypertension, and other health indicators of the employees with rates are charged accordingly. Health programs have other rewards beside lower rates. Many smart Canadian employers have been reaping rewards from health programs since the 80s including the likes of BC Tel (now known as TELUS), Siemens, and General Foods.

Now with combining pressures, almost all employers are being forced to react, directly or indirectly, regardless of size, and offer workplace wellness programs. TELUS has reported a $3 return for each dollar invested in wellness and now new technology and research has been developed that can show a return on investment of $4 or more for every dollar invested according to the Canadian Council on Integrated Healthcare. In addition, research published on the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses web site shows by promoting being active and providing incentives to be active, employers improve alertness, reduce absenteeism, reduce injury, and decrease short-term disability compensation.

Workplace wellness programs run the gamut from the simplest form of healthy eating posters in the lunchroom to full onsite fitness facilities. Some simple ideas to get started include making fresh fruit and water available, changing dress codes, and providing change rooms. Other effective options include offering group walk breaks, providing accurate pedometers to staff, setting aside space for safe bicycle lock up, and contracting a workplace wellness trainer to help each person create an individual plan.

Components of a wellness program

The most successful programs have a champion at the top who is able to demonstrate the importance of the program to the company. Programs can either be managed by a wellness professional in-house or contracted out. Employee committees often drive wellness initiatives. The National Quality Institute provides information and training on how to initiate a workplace wellness program. A wide variety of government resources are also available, such as ActNow BC’s Healthy Workplace, resources and the federal government’s Active Living At Work.

Workplace wellness programs usually include one or more common components such as a health risk assessment, healthy eating, physical activity, smoking cessation, and stress management to name a few. Each organization will have its own priorities based on the nature of the business and employee situation.

Offering fun and friendly competition through workplace challenges using both virtual pedometers and accurate digital pedometers has been gaining in popularity. Lori Armstrong, VP of StrengthTek, a complete workplace wellness service provider located in Ottawa, states that they have been very successful offering fun challenges, such as their walking program. “It is an ideal way to get a workplace wellness program off the ground, particularly when timed with Canada’s Healthy Workplace Week.”

Ed Buffet, one of the leading founders of workplace wellness in Canada, reports that using workplace challenges as a method for delivering healthy eating, physical activity, and stress management initiatives delivers great health benefits. Additionally, clients have reported increased morale, teamwork, and camaraderie.

Tracy Steere, the in motion project leader for the Fraser Health Authority in the lower mainland of BC, implemented a new workplace challenge earlier this year. Employees at two hospitals, MSA General Hospital and Mission Memorial Hospital, were invited to put together teams of 10 people to compete in a virtual race to Panama.  Seventy-five teams were quickly enrolled and she reports, “the talk at the water cooler very quickly became all about the challenge”. Employees loved the competition and exceeded the goal; some teams almost made it back, as well, during the 13-week program.

The removing or reduction of physical education in many of Canada’s school systems over the past 20 years may now also be having an impact. “Individuals don’t always have the knowledge or confidence to initiate healthy lifestyle changes. Empowering employees with easy tips for healthy eating and supporting physical activity initiatives in the workplace leads to improved wellbeing at work and at home,” says Lee-Anne Kennedy, an RN and certified diabetes educator. As founder and CEO of StepsCount she believes, “individuals’ benefit from information that allows them to make informed choices about their health. The workplace is a great catalyst for creating positive change that will spill over into our families and our communities.”

Helping employees understand what it takes to achieve health benefits is a worthwhile endeavor. Studies show that daily activity levels should be 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise or 10,000 steps.  That’s roughly seven kilometers a day or an hour of running. Many people need help to reach this level.

Whether you use in-house resources or a consultant, a good way to get a program up and running quickly is to use one of the many programs now available that can easily be plugged into your worksite. Some programs can be in place within four-to-six weeks. Workplace wellness consultants will help you develop a business case, provide demonstrations and trials of products as well as offer case studies of successful initiatives to help you make the best choice for your company.

Services available

A range of services are available, many using new technologies and Internet to access employers across Canada including:

•     CoreHealth Technologies offers a turnkey solution that includes health assessment, team building, physical activity, and nutrition challenges using virtual pedometers with online mapping to chart progress and results.


•     Government initiated web sites such as Canada’s Healthy Workplace (Oct 22-28) Week offer strategies to get started and resources wells to help businesses learn more.


•     Lifeworks Health Systems are experts in On-Site Wellness Management, including management of fitness and wellness centers, spas, wellness services, fitness programming, and team building.


•     StepsCount offers validated pedometers and creative tools to help your organization get stepping towards a healthy future. Their newest tool, the Portion Plate, is designed to battle ‘portion distortion’ and help employees make healthy nutrition choices.    


•     Tri Fit is a leading provider of creative solutions to enhance health, energy and performance that provides a broad range of fitness, health and wellness services for companies and organizations.


Many wellness companies will help you develop a business case, provide demonstrations and trials of products as well as case studies of what has worked with other employers to help you make the best choice for your company. Whether it is offering training and personal development or helping employees to be healthier in our less active business world, it’s a win-win for everyone. Developing workplace programs has a return on investment both for business and for people in cash value and the softer elements of employees needs

Experts agree, workplace health and wellness initiatives play a key role in improving and maintaining productivity and morale. Make your move towards a healthy workplace – it’s an investment you’ll be glad you made!

Other resources

•     Healthy Alberta:

•     Statistics Canada:  

•     Canadian Council on Integrated Healthcare:

•     “Heart Health, Workplace Wellness & Return-on-Investment”,

a report by Buffett & Company featured in the November 2004 issue of Canadian Healthcare Manager

•     American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, Inc.:;

Cal Warren, B.P.E., is director of marketing and sales for CoreHealth Technologies. As a member of a team of professional nutritionists, doctors, personal trainers, educators and software developers all with a passion to help people be more active, Cal directs CoreHealth Technologies towards a leading role in the preventative health industry. Graduating from UBC in Physical Education and later completing a Business Administration Certificate program from Okanagan College, he has worked in the fields of recreation, business and coaching for 22 years.  

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