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Workplace Health Promotion Program - Ottawa-Carleton

A. Introduction

As we become more aware of how employee health has an impact on productivity in the workplace, and how the workplace affects employee health, it is increasingly important to address this issue in the workplace. Health promotion activities are critical if we are to be successful in creating supportive workplace environments.

Health Promotion in the workplace can be defined as: ...a combination of educational, physical, recreational, social and environmental policies, activities and processes, designed to promote and support the health of employees and their families.1

There are many good reasons to promote health in the workplace:

* The majority of Canadian companies state that health promotion programs will result in increased productivity, improved morale, decreased absenteeism, and improved health and wellness.2

* Stress-related problems cost Canadian business $12 billion a year, and much of that stress could be prevented.3

* Absenteeism for parental or family reasons has risen by 100% over the past 10 years. 4

* Flexible work hours, family leave policies, and supervisors with supportive attitudes are key ways employers can help.5

* The workplace is a required channel to meet the Ministry of Health Mandatory Health Programs and Services Guidelines.6

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B. The Region of Ottawa-Carleton Health Department, Workplace Health Promotion Program

We offer a comprehensive program that aims to improve the health status of adults in the workplace by both:

i. supporting the creation of healthy family-friendly work environments

ii. building and strengthening partnerships with groups and agencies that have an influence on the health of the workplace.

The Workplace Health Promotion Program began in 1986 and has evolved into a program that is respected and well-known to workplaces in the Ottawa-Carleton region. Currently the program links with over 500 businesses and works with over 25 partner agencies. A broad range of health issues are addressed in a thorough and interrelated way.

Several models/frameworks guide the Program:

* O'Donnell's Model (the Normative Systems Life Gain Model)- a workplace health promotion model which focuses program design at three levels: awareness, skill-building (behaviour change) and environmental support. O'Donnell maintains that for workplace health promotion programs to be effective, there needs to be a mix of programs from awareness (least intensive) to behaviour change (more intensive) to supportive environments, which includes programs and policies (most intensive).7

* Workplace Health System (WHS)- a comprehensive model developed by Health Canada which ensures that health is promoted in its entirety by focusing on three factors that influence health: health practices, personal resources, and the social and physical environment. It outlines a process which allows management and labour to work together to create a healthy work environment. The WHS includes three models: corporate health, small business health, and farm business health.8

* Region of Ottawa-Carleton Health Department, Framework for Health Department Programs: A Collaborative Approach-this framework outlines strategies to promote individual and family action, provide direct care, build partnerships, and influence the environment, which are important components of the Workplace Health Promotion Program.9

Our approach involves linking with different groups related to the organization, employees, workplace health professionals, and owners/managers. We provide direct service to employees in small businesses (less than 100 employees) through workshops, displays, behaviour change activities, videos and health information. We do not have the resources to reach all businesses in Ottawa-Carleton directly; however, we have found the key is working with workplace "influencers" such as health professionals and partner organizations. We partner with these professionals who promote health in the workplace by offering workshops, train-the-trainer opportunities, newsletters, resource kits and consultation services. We link with owners/managers to obtain their commitment to health promotion in their organizations and to influence their decision-making with respect to the development of healthy workplace policies.

In Ottawa-Carleton, we have learned that to be successful in influencing the workplace environment, it is essential to establish partnerships in the community. This involves not only seeking out new partners but also fostering relationships with existing groups. Effective partnerships have in common some key elements; the members are strong champions, have a clear sense of purpose, are flexible, and have good communication skills. It becomes a win-win situation for everyone.

Some of our key partners in Ottawa-Carleton include:

* Occupational Health Nurses Association

* Industrial Accident Prevention Association

* Employee Lifestyle Management Alliance

* Work and Family Network of Ottawa-Carleton

* Chambers of Commerce

* Canadian Mental Health Association

* Small Business Agencies Networking Group

* Ontario Ministry of Labour

* Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

* Health Canada

* Business Associations

To market our Program to workplaces in Ottawa-Carleton, we use a number of different strategies:

* doing regular direct mailouts to large and small businesses, e.g., newsletters, workshop promotional flyers, posters, monthly health themes

* piggy backing on existing campaigns/contests, e.g., heart health radio campaign, "I'm Quitting Smoking" contest", Summer Active

* ensuring easy access to our Program e.g., Business Health Line

* offering visual health information, e.g., video-lending library, displays on a variety of health topics

* "getting a foot in the door", e.g., Ottawa-Carleton Heart Beat, stress management workshops

* meeting the workplace's needs first, e.g., employee interest survey

* providing free consultation services, e.g., on-site, telephone

* involving the media, e.g., community newspapers, filler space, coverage of events

* establishing good relationships, e.g., word of mouth, credible source of information

* working with and through associations/coalitions/organizations, e.g., business meetings, newsletters, events.

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C. Future Challenges

We recognize that there are many challenges ahead for health promotion in the workplace. Issues that must be addressed include:

* acknowledging the changing workplace. The traditional concept of a job-working for the same organization, five days a week, eight hours a day, has almost disappeared. New forms of employment, such as contingency staffing (part-time, temporary or contract, self-employment, and telework) are now commonplace.

* adoption of new ways of working such as the use of computer technology and the Internet.

* reaching small businesses (in Ottawa-Carleton there are over 25,000 small business workplace locations).

* recognizing the importance of the "social" environment. An organization's structure, culture, and norms related to communication flow, employee involvement, morale and well-being, as well as cultural diversity have direct influences on the health of individual workers and their families.10

* understanding the political and corporate climates

* exploring the option of cost recovery for workplace health promotion services

To promote health in the workplace during these challenging times, we need to keep identifying innovative strategies if we are to realize our goal of creating supportive workplace environments.

For more information, please contact The Region of Ottawa-Carleton Health Department, Workplace Health Promotion Program, Business Health Line, (613) 724-4197.

- submitted by Pat Wilson.

D. References

1) Health Promotion in the Workplace, A BC Profile, BC Ministry of Health, 1993.

2) National Workplace Survey, Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute, 1992.

3) Employee Absenteeism, Conference Board of Canada, 1993.

4) Statistics Canada, 1991.

5) The Work and Family Challenge: Issues and Options, Conference Board of Canada, 1994.

6) Ontario Ministry of Health Mandatory Health Programs and Services Guidelines, December, 1997.

7) O'Donnell, Ainsworth, Health Promotion in the Workplace, John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1984.

8) Workplace Health System, Health Canada, 1990.

9) Region of Ottawa-Carleton Health Department, 1994.

10) Policy-The Key to a Healthy Workplace: A guide to making your organization healthier. Region of Ottawa-Carleton Health Department, 1998.