A new report, produced by The Conference Board of Canada's Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care and issued in partnership with ParticipACTION, provides a model for how Canadian employers can help employees change their behaviour around physical activity.
"With more than half of Canadians spending at least one-third of their waking hours at work, the workplace is an ideal and important setting for health promotion. Corporate wellness initiatives must fit with the organizational culture so that employees are more likely to participate," said Louis Thériault, vice-president of public policy with The Conference Board of Canada.
In addition, inactive employees must decide to change their behaviours and participate, which is a challenge in most organizations. Faced with competing priorities, employees often feel that they cannot prioritize their health.
"Our bodies' natural desires to move are affected by our information-age sedentary jobs, the ever-present lure of screens and our love affair with the car. The challenge is not just to provide opportunities to be more active, but to shift Canadian cultural norms so that sitting less and moving more are expected and accepted at work," said Elio Antunes, president and CEO of ParticipACTION.
The Moving Ahead: Workplace Interventions to Reduce Physical Inactivity and Sedentary Behaviour report identifies two broad types of initiatives that employers can implement in their workplaces to effect change: initiatives intended for the entire employee population, such as awareness campaigns, education programs, and instructor-led activity sessions, and initiatives targeting the particular needs of specific, high-risk employees, including health coaching or counselling and targeted activity sessions led by an instructor.
The report also highlights several organizations that have successfully put these types of initiatives into practice:
- Standard Life hopes to integrate its health and wellness initiatives with health and absence management. It offered a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) to its employees to determine the health risk factors that were predominant in the employee population.
- Chevron Canada has established wellness initiatives to improve and encourage healthy, active lifestyles at its Calgary headquarters. It includes on-site lifestyle centre, a "Fit-Bit" that tracks physical activity, twice-a-day Fit Breaks, ergonomic software to count key and mouse strokes, and free health screening assessments by a third party provider. Chevron Canada has targeted strategies to promote healthy lifestyles at other locations.
- RBC has developed a wellness communication strategy that includes multiple online platforms and grassroots-based programs led by local "Wellness Champions". To encourage participation in its wellness initiatives and reward healthy behaviours, RBC provides "wellness credits" for employees participating in these programs.
The Conference Board of Canada's Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care (CASHC) research series Moving Ahead: Healthy Active Living in Canada will comprise several research briefings that aim to identify cost-effective, scalable and sustainable interventions to promote and improve healthy active living. The goal of this work is to fill the gaps in knowledge and practice, and to engage government, employers, and all Canadians in working toward a culture of healthy active living.