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It pays to promote employee wellness, but well-drafted policies are still the best prescription for a successful workplace


There are certain HR and employment law principles that are so widely embraced they’ve become almost clichéd. You’ve likely heard that happy employees are usually also highly engaged and productive, while employees are more likely to leave bad managers than the organizations that employ them. In other words: Create and nurture a positive workplace environment and you’re more likely to have a successful employee culture. 

A recent Deloitte Canada survey has sought to put the business case behind those truisms, while lending credence to the growing movement to support employee mental health and wellness.

Its much-reported survey (link to: of large Canadian companies found organizations that maintained employee mental health programs for at least one year gleaned a median return on investment of $1.62 for every dollar spent. The longer the program’s duration, the greater the return, with an ROI of $2.18 per dollar spent for programs in place for three years or more. 

As the report noted, “Wellness programs are more likely to achieve positive ROI when they support employees along the entire spectrum of mental health—from promotion of well-being to intervention and care.” 

But the report offered another piece of advice that entrepreneurs would be wise to heed, and that’s the value of leadership training. Indeed, under- (or un-) trained managers tend to be a source of ongoing HR headaches for business owners and operators—not to mention stress for employees. That’s because many managers are promoted into positions for which they lack the necessary expertise and experience. This often results in poor management and ineffective strategic decisions that can quickly spark employee disengagement, exacerbate employee turnover and produce glaring employment law oversights.

Specifically, leaders need adequate training to effectively respond to employee needs related to wellness. Think burnout, stress or acute medical issues, as just three examples. That includes encouraging empathy—communicating that the organization stands behind its employees and is willing to do what it can to help them through hard times goes a long way towards driving engagement and building loyalty across a workforce—but also a fulsome understanding of company wellness and employee-support policies. 

On that front, the report did overlook one key point that’s worth noting. Specifically, it’s important to first establish comprehensive policies within the workplace that encourage and support employees as they bring concerns forward, while setting expectations regarding their obligations, such as providing adequate medical information if they are requesting accommodation. Their entitlements regarding leaves from work, and the terms of those leaves, should also be spelled out in detail.

The aim is to ensure that leaders don’t act in a way that creates exposures to liability for the company, such as failing to meet human rights accommodation requirements or discriminating against an employee on the basis of disability. 

In the end, investments in workplace mental health and wellness programs, as the Deloitte findings suggest, are definitely worthwhile. But the very best practice for small to medium-sized organizations is to embrace a proactive approach to wellness policy design and implementation. Consider it a pragmatic way to ensure that employee wellness is promoted while helping to deliver strong bottom line performance—and avoiding costly issues such as human rights complaints, fines and legal challenges along the way. 


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