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Resources, communication among barriers to successful wellness programs, says survey

Employers find difficulty measuring effectiveness, according to report


(Canadian OH&S News) — A recent survey of employers and workers across Canada has revealed some of the barriers to success that many workplace health and wellness programs have — including lack of resources, flawed communication and no framework to measure effectiveness.

Conducted by research firm Vision Critical on behalf of GoodLife Fitness, the survey questioned 200 human-resources managers, C-level senior managers and workers responsible for employee benefits, as well as more than 1,000 employees, on their views of wellness programs and their benefits and weaknesses in September. Results were published in a 15-page report, Breaking through Barriers: Delivering Health & Wellness against the Odds, on Jan. 13.

Among the findings: 62 per cent of respondents said that their programs were not tailored to their needs, although 61 per cent would have been more inclined to take part if otherwise; 68 per cent of surveyed employers believed that they communicated the benefits and availability of the programs effectively, but 62 per cent of workers were unfamiliar with the info; 53 per cent of the employers cited lack of budget as a barrier, while 41 per cent of employees did not have enough time to participate; and almost 60 per cent of those responsible for benefits found it difficult to measure the success of wellness programs.

Linda Lewis-Daily, workplace wellness-program consultant with GoodLife, noted that some the barriers mentioned by the study participants — such as being under-resourced or unable to prove return on investment — are common. She added that the survey results did not surprise her and her colleagues: “It was very close to what we were expecting.”

Lewis-Daily said that the survey had stemmed from GoodLife’s semiannual health and wellness leadership summit. “They like to bring together like-minded individuals that are interested in health and wellness and improving their organizational culture through the health and well-being of their workforce,” she said, elaborating that discussion among these participants had sparked an internal conversation at GoodLife about best practices and challenges regarding workplace wellness programs.

Companies that participated in the research included Canadian Tire, Nestlé Purina PetCare Canada, MAGNA International and University Hospital Network. John Brooks Company, which supplies spraying, pumping and filtering equipment from seven locations across Canada, won GoodLife’s Health and Wellness Leadership Award last year and also took part.

“It’s a very extensive program,” John Brooks general manager Heather Collis said about the company’s wellness program. “We’re going into our fourth year.” John Brooks uses guest speakers, boot camps, subsidized gym memberships, yoga classes and nutritional lunch offerings as ways to keep employees health-conscious.

Another ongoing feature is “Get Moving,” at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. every day. “All of us sit behind desks,” explained Collis, “and before you know it, you can find that you’ve been sitting behind your desk for four hours and haven’t gotten up. So what we do is, our receptionist comes over to the P.A. at 10:00 and tells everybody, ‘Get Moving.’” Employees then get up from their desks and stroll around the office, or even outside in good weather.

But does the program work? “A lot of people say, ‘Did you see your health experiences go down in cost?’ Actually, you don’t. But they haven’t gone up,” said Collis, adding that employees had noticeably been using less medication for cholesterol, blood pressure and mental illness.

“For some of them, it’s changed their lives dramatically,” she said. “They’ve lost weight; they’ve gone off a diabetic medication. Because they’re learning how to be healthy individuals, not just from a nutritional standpoint, but physical exercise, mental, financial.” Company surveys had yielded some very positive feedback too, added Collis.

To Lewis-Daily, workplace health and wellness programs are important today due to the aging workforce and the dominance of sedentary work.

“Chronic disease is another motivator for organizations to look at the health and well-being, try to support healthy lifestyles within their workforce, because the cost of not doing anything is just way too high,” she said. “So it really is motivating employers to take a look at what they can be doing with their own employee populations to mitigate those risks.”

Breaking through Barriers can be downloaded from GoodLife’s website at http://wellness.goodlifefitness.com/application/files/3214/4949/7977/GL4504_Corporate_Wellness_Study_3B.compressed.pdf.