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Wellness in the workplace pays.

Corporate dollars spent on workplace wellness strategies are coming back in the form of substantial gains for employers.

In fact, on average, an estimated three dollars will come back to the company if it invests one dollar into workplace wellness, says Brenda Stankiewicz, public health nurse with the Greater Sudbury and District Health Unit.

Workplace wellness refers to a regime developed by an organization, which enhances the health of the company and its most important asset--its employees.

In Canada, $8.6 billion is lost annually due to employee absenteeism. Research by Carleton University business professor Linda Duxbury indicates that, in any given week during 2001, seven per cent of Canada's labour force called in sick or took time off for personal reasons.

More employers are coming to recognize the importance of a balance between personal needs and work roles and vice versa. There is a huge monetary case advocating healthy work environments.

"Healthy workers are more productive," Stankiewicz says. Programs that work well, with employees are found to gain the best rewards.

For every corporate dollar invested at Canada Life Assurance for workplace wellness, they receive a return of $6.85. This translates into reduced turnover, productivity gains and decreased medical claims.

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Municipal employees in Toronto missed 3.35 fewer sick days in the first six months while on the "Metro Fit" program than colleagues who did not enrol.

Ultimately, an employer creating an environmentally friendly workplace will become recognized as an employer of choice and that may make the difference between staying alive as a business or closing shop, Stankiewicz says.

In Canada, the baby boom generation is expected to retire during the next 10 years. Smaller populations of post boomers cannot fill all the positions; therefore, employers need to keep their workers healthy and productive so they can stay in the labour force longer, she says.

Job sharing or supporting flexible hours may be key to retaining staff, particularly if they are sandwiched between caring for parents and children.

Even though maternity and compassionate leave is legislated, workplaces don't always make it a welcome option for employees. Messages given from the top may hold greater impact. Organizers of meetings could provide fruit or vegetables instead of pastries, to encourage healthy eating habits.

Inco Limited is developing health programs tailored to its workers. Having conducted their own research on employee health, Pam Tobin, superintendent for Inco's occupational and health and medicine, and contract co-ordinator Donna McNamara from MedCan Health Management Inc. are making customized programs geared to the staff's medical conditions. Using absenteeism reports and prescriptions used by employees, both women categorized cardiovascular diseases as one of the target areas. Providing information on weight control, smoking and diabetes has become part of Inco's wellness program strategy.

McNamara has developed a Web site with health information for employees and management is in the process of evaluating fitness benefits for employees.

Adopting a program like a fitness regime may be part of the answer to reducing medical claims. In some companies it may mean flexible time to encourage an extra half-hour workout time at lunch, Stankiewicz says.

By KELLY LOUISEIZE

Northern Ontario Business
COPYRIGHT 2004 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Special Report: Employee Health
Author:Louiseize, Kelly
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Oct 1, 2004
Words:524
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