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How to Prioritize Worker Wellness

Most people spend many of their waking hours at their workplace, where they may face a fast pace of work, high demands and long hours. Over time, these constant pressures can contribute to high levels of stress, negatively affecting both their mental and physical health. With pressure at work and potentially at home, how can we address workplace stress to enable workers to thrive?

Addressing negative psychological experiences in the workplace consists of two main aspects – preventing harm and promoting well-being. In addition to preventing potential sources of mental harm at the organizational level, creating a healthy workplace also requires promoting strategies to reduce stress and build resiliency among individuals. That’s where a wellness program comes in.

As part of an overall healthy workplace strategy, wellness programs typically offer personal health resources and services and can help workers with their healthy living efforts. These programs are most effective when they address a wide range of health issues but are customized based on the unique needs of the workplace.

Elements of a wellness program

A workplace wellness program is a key part of an overall workplace health and safety program. Because wellness programs generally have many areas of focus, the elements to include and how needs are addressed may vary. Typically though, programs include a mix of individual needs along with common aspects related to the work environment. Some of these program topics can include supports for work-life balance, healthy eating, active living, mental health, and smoking cessation.

It’s important to remember that unlike traditional health and safety programs, worker participation in wellness programs must always be voluntary.

Starting a wellness program

There are a few steps to follow when developing a workplace wellness program. Have one person or group champion the program and be the main contact. This champion may be a joint committee with representatives from labour and management, or someone interested in leading the project. Like any policy or program, you will have a higher chance of success with support from senior management.

When planning your program, remember that your organization is unique, and everyone’s needs will vary. Find out your staff’s needs, attitudes, and preferences before designing your program. Ask questions, organize focus groups, run anonymous surveys, and set up other ways for your workers to provide their input. Evidence shows that the most effective workplace wellness programs incorporate individuals’ personal readiness to make lifestyle changes.

Once you better understand their key needs and expectations, be prepared to act on their feedback. Use their insights to develop a detailed plan and put it into action with the help of your organization’s leaders. Communicate the program to everyone in advance and then promote it throughout your workplace. Post it on your Intranet, hold information sessions, and hold healthy activity events as an organization. Formally introducing policies that state the importance of your workplace wellness program is also an essential step.

Lastly, you want to measure the success of your program and adjust accordingly. Monitor the progress and track results of your wellness program to help identify what is working well and what needs improvement. It has been shown that effective programs address various levels of individuals’ learning process, from awareness to knowledge and skills development, then to behaviour change.

Remember to promote well-being and protect against potential sources of mental harm at work. When people feel valued, respected, and satisfied in their jobs and work in safe, healthy environments, they are more likely to be productive and committed to their work. This in turn helps contribute to reduced absenteeism, worker turnover, and workplace injuries and incidents. Everyone benefits from a healthy workplace.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) promotes the total well-being — physical, psychosocial, and mental health — of workers in Canada by providing information, advice, education, and management systems and solutions that support the prevention of injury and illness. Visit www.ccohs.ca for more safety tips.

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