Occupational health and safety legislation for all jurisdictions in Canada requires employers, in some fashion, to take all reasonable precautions to ensure the health and safety of their employees. Over the years, health has grown from the protection of employees from occupational diseases to employee wellness. Wellness is a broad category with primary areas including health promotion, health protection and prevention services.

Depending on the organization, the promotion of being healthy or being "well" has fallen to both health and safety and human resources departments. No matter where the responsibilities of "wellness" fall within your organization, an employer at one time or another will need to make a determination as to whether the promotion of "wellness" at the workplace actually works in keeping employees well. The generally accepted belief is that the health of employees can directly affect the bottom line through decreased workers' compensation and health benefit costs. But is this true?

The findings of a new Harvard study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on April 16, 2019, raised the question about the effectiveness of wellness programs. The study evaluated a multicomponent workplace wellness program offered by a US employer. The study found that "among employees of a large US warehouse retail company, a workplace wellness program resulted in significantly greater rates of positive self-reported health behaviours among those exposed [to a wellness program] compared with employees who were not exposed, but there were no significant differences in clinical measures of health, health care spending and utilization, and employment outcomes [absenteeism, tenure, job performance] after 18 months."

Implementing a wellness program that "fits" the culture of the workplace is key for the success of the program and for a continued, long-term benefit to both employees and the employer. Understanding the health and wellness needs of employees can be done by surveying employees, reviewing absenteeism rates and determining root causes for workplace injuries and illnesses. Only by understanding the evidence on hand at the workplace for the causes of injuries and/or illnesses, both occupational and non-occupational, will an employer be able to successfully promote and achieve wellness in the workplace.

Selecting a program is only the start. Employers ought to monitor and measure the usage of the program, and review the statistics from workers compensation and health benefit plans to determine if there is significant improvement in the health of their employees. The program will need to be reviewed periodically to capture any organizational changes including changes in the workforce.

Employers need to be wise consumers of these programs. They need to ensure the costs for any program they adopt for their organization is appropriate for their employees; i.e. employees are actually using the services and benefiting from long-term healthy lifestyles and behaviours.

"Looking after my health today gives me a better hope for tomorrow." - Anne Wilson Shaef ( Dr. Anne Wilson Schaef is an American author who has been described as "one of the most important thinkers of our time". Her books fall into two categories: 1) theoretical commentaries about the society and how it is functioning or not and 2) books for personal growth and healing.