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Canada's Healthy Workplace Week Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit

Mark your calendars: October hosts National Healthy Workplace Week.

What's that? You've never heard of it? Don't sweat it. Workplace health has often been looked at narrowly, giving it a fairly low profile.

But maybe not for much longer. There's a broader view of employee health emerging. It covers physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual well-being, tying them directly into the bottom line.

That could explain why this officially recognized week, now in its third year, is beginning to catch on.

Allan Smofsky, who chairs the steering committee for the Canadian Healthy Workplace Council (, puts it more bluntly: 'We can't survive without our employees being at the top of their game.' His group advocates a strategic, integrated approach that involves every major function in an organization.

The message seems to be paying off. On October 29, 2003, the council, in association with The National Quality Institute (headed by Dan Corbett, in photo left), presents its Excellence Award to this year's recipient, Statistics Canada, which employs 5800 public servants. They've instituted such programs as in-house day care and fitness centre at reduced rates, a free, confidential Employee Assistance Program for help with personal issues, social clubs to promote camaraderie, lunch and learn sessions with experts in different fields, and a compressed work week for more family time, among others.

The numbers speak for themselves. StatsCan has experienced a 91% improvement in employee turnover, 57% decrease in injuries, 71% retention of employees, and 78% satisfaction with balance at work and home.

Despite this apparent success, Smofsky, who also does business development for GlobalMedic, says 'Many employers still don't get it. They try to spend as little as possible, or they'll introduce programs helter skelter.'

That's not the way to get results, says Nora Spinks, President of Work-Life Harmony Enterprises, a leading workplace consulting firm. In her view, 'There needs to be an inter-relationship between employee health initiatives and the organization's strategic goals.'

Because of this, Spinks believes it's key to get executive buy in early on. 'If an employer's strength is truly in its people, it has to do more than put up wooden plaques in the hallway. A concerted effort that begins with support from the CEO is vital.'

Not that it's all up to management. 'Consider starting with what you yourself can control: your diet, exercise, sleep habits and stress management routines', says Spinks.

After that it's using your spheres of influence to bring about change. Chatting with colleagues and members of your work team, for example. Anonymously posting useful information on the bulletin board. Maybe even organizing a weight watchers group or talking up the merits of flex-time.

'The higher up you go, the more you can promote your vision, set the agenda and make people accountable,' says Spinks.

At the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), it doesn't get much higher than Joyce Phillips, Executive Vice President of Human Resources.

Phillips is typical of the new breed HR boss, proposing humane touches that are financially defensible. 'ROI is very important,' she says. 'We do a lot of business cases here to ensure the best use of resources.'

A case in point is the backup daycare the bank provides for its employees in several regions, locally and abroad. This week was the first anniversary of the downtown Toronto childcare centre, owned by the bank and operated by ChildrenFirst. CIBC staff can bring in their children up to 20 times a year if their regular arrangements fall through, even at the last minute. The cost is borne entirely by the bank.

'We ended up saving 2500 days of employee presence just by this initiative alone,' boasts Phillips. 'That translates into 10 years of productivity that might otherwise have been lost.'

CIBC divides employee well-being into four connected areas. One of these quadrants is health and welfare. A highlight here is the recent award given to the bank's CEO, John Hunkin, for promoting mental health. As well, the company's back to work program helps employees on disability return to work sooner, by keeping the employee connected to his or her job wherever possible. Conference calls and e-mail are typical conduits.

In addition, staff have access to an online 'Wellness Checkpoint', available only on the company's internal internet. Employees answer a series of questions to assess their health. Then they're shown a list of resources, some within the bank, some within the community, where further help can be obtained. The results of the assessment are completely confidential.

Employee Environment is another of the quadrants. This gets to the heart of the company's culture. As Phillips states, 'We must create the right atmosphere so employees and employers can create a dialogue, or else improvement won't take place and people won't use the tools that we give them.' In other words, why bother offering a tele-commuting option if users are penalized for lack of face time?

Recruiting and training are the third arm. In terms of training, virtual learning is making big inroads. The CIBC Knowledge Network lets employees access information from across the bank's departments, as a way of sharing best practices.

Recruiting-wise, CIBC has implemented Talent Scout, which rewards employees with a referral fee for giving leads that result in new hires. This way the bank saves on advertising and headhunter costs.

Performance Culture is the final part of the people puzzle. There's a new performance measurement system in place. First up is the CEO himself, whose 'scorecard' is posted online for all employees to see. This way everyone knows what the overarching priorities are.

All in all, it could well be that CIBC is on to something. Statistics Canada too, along with other innovators, such as the 50 best companies to work for in Canada (, or those listed in books like Canada's Top 100 Employers and Canada's Best Employers for Women.

As for Healthy Workplace Week, Smofsky reminds us of how mutually dependent we really are. 'This is a shared journey. No side can succeed without the efforts, voice and trust of the other.' Meanwhile, a week may not be nearly enough. 'What we don't want is for employers to exploit their workers 51 weeks a year, then pay lip service for 1. They should be celebrating what the organization is doing throughout the whole year.'

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