Canada: Employers Slow to Adopt Formal Wellness Strategies

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By Peter Menyasz

Canadian employers aren’t adopting formal workplace wellness strategies despite clear evidence that they pay for themselves in increased productivity, according to a new report from the Conference Board of Canada.

A survey of employers found that fewer than one-third have formal wellness programs despite research showing that productivity lost to depression and anxiety alone costs the Canadian economy billions of dollars each year, the CBC said.

“Investing in a comprehensive health and wellness program is an essential part of a healthy work environment and makes good business sense,” Allison Cowan, director of total rewards and workplace health research with the Ottawa-based think tank, said Dec. 5 in a statement.

The survey of 205 employers was conducted between January and March 2016.

Two-Thirds of Employers Have No Policy

Nearly half of employers surveyed, 48 percent, reported taking only an informal approach to wellness that involves interventions less integrated with other human resources initiatives and not based on higher-level planning, while 20 percent said they offer no wellness initiatives at all, the report said.

Other findings included:

  •  Fully 65 percent of employers said they don’t have a formal wellness policy.
  •  Only 17 percent said they have a stand-alone policy and 18 percent a wellness program incorporated in another policy.
  •  Only 22 percent of employers with specific wellness staff said they require some form of degree or certification. Large organizations are much more likely to require formal certification
  •  More than half of the employers surveyed, 55 percent, reported having a committee that deals with employee health and wellness issues, and another 13 percent said they plan to create one in the coming 12 months. Only 43 percent said their committee includes participation by senior management, however, and fewer than 40 percent of respondents said the committee includes representation from the company’s occupational health and safety department.
  •  Monitoring and evaluation of wellness initiatives is also an issue. Fewer than half (46 percent) of responding employers conduct a review at least once per year, and fully 36 percent only conduct reviews on an ad hoc basis.
  •  Only 7 percent of surveyed employers calculate the return on investment of their overall wellness program.

Case in Point

The report cites several case studies of employers with strong wellness programs, including telephone utility Saskatchewan Telecommunications Holding Corp.

The company offers its more than 3,700 employees a range of wellness initiatives and programs, including presentations to staff, healthy menu options in cafeterias, flexible wellness spending accounts, lifestyle centers, and online training modules.

One of SaskTel's most innovative programs is All About Balance, an in-house employee resiliency program that offers six hour-long information sessions over a six-week period on self-care that are aimed at helping employees shape behavior, form new healthy habits, and become more resilient to stress. Innovative features include having employees track their activities and requiring them to commit 30 minutes of their own time each week, which is matched by the employer.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Menyasz in Ottawa at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at

For More Information

For more information on Canadian HR law and regulation, see the Canada primer.

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