Putting the focus on wellness in the workplace

Graphic by Shannon Millar

Graphic by Shannon Millar

Project Health has been striving to make workplaces in the Waterloo region healthier environments for the past eight years. To do this, they provide a variety of services to workplaces that want to better support their employees in becoming healthier individuals.

“Our goal really is to work with local workplaces to create healthy, supportive environments for their employees,” explained Gretchen Sangster, a public health nurse who works with Project Health. “Our services are directed to individuals in the workplace who influence employee health and wellness.”

To help workplaces, Project Health provides consultation and support, networking sessions, displays and other resources in addition to referrals to community organizations.

Sangster continued that there are three spheres to their comprehensive workplace model. One is healthy and safety.

Although this isn’t their expertise, it naturally comes into the equation when encouraging workplaces to provide healthy environments for their employees. The second is individual health practices and behaviours, which does fall within their expertise. The third is an organizational culture change.

“The most important part is what the employer can do in creating those supportive environments because otherwise it’s left to the individual,” Sangster said.

Trinity Village started working with Project Health four years ago. One of the changes they made was implementing an employee wellness program. Their focus was both on mental and physical health of their employees.

“Something we really focus on at Trinity is it has to be a good place to work and a good place to live — it can’t be one without the other,” said Debby Riepert, cheif operating officer of Trinity Village.

They’ve also done things such as implementing an initiative to encourage people to quit smoking, collaborating with the

Alzheimer’s Society on mental awareness, implementing a bike share program, holding challenges around nutrition information and hosting fresh fruit Fridays. Last year they implemented a staff schedule care system which allowed employees to pick up shifts and change their availability from home.

“Last year with that program … we were able to better develop an absentee program based on actual data,” Riepert said.

“We reduced overtime, we reduced sick time and outside agency staff that we used to call in.”

Riepert said they decided to work with the project because of the importance of ensuring caregivers are also cared for.

“Giving them opportunities to keep them strong, to do the work that they’re doing and mentally well to handle,” she continued.

According to Sangster, research shows that when a focus is put on wellness in the workplace it reduces injuries, illness and absenteeism and increases morale and productivity.

“It also increases job satisfaction, decreases employee turnover and it creates an improved corporate image for workplaces,” she said.

Not only does Project Health provide employers with strategies to make their workplace more supportive — such as providing healthy food at meetings or ensuring employees have a fridge to keep their lunches in — but also put policies into place to accomplish this same goal.

Sangster explained one of the reasons Project Health was started was because it was a way to “reach a number of people across social-economic status, from all walks of life, all genders, all ages.”

“The workplace is a natural way to go to get good health promotion messaging.”

Going forward, Sangster said they want to continue to increase workplace wellness in the community.

“So continuing to give new ideas to those workplaces that already … have an understanding of workplace wellness, but they’re always looking for new strategies,” she said. “But also to get more workplaces that may not be in contact with us, or that are just starting out to be able to assist them with understand a comprehensive approach to workplace wellness.”

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